The trite expression about the vice president being a heartbeat away from the presidency has suddenly taken on significance -- not because there's anything wrong with President George W. Bush, but because of the problems Vice President Dick Cheney is experiencing with his heart.
Cheney, who has had four heart attacks since 1978, underwent quadruple heart-bypass surgery in 1988 and suffered a mild heart attack last November, was back in the hospital Saturday for a new pacemaker.
In March, doctors used a balloon to open a partially blocked artery in a procedure known as an angioplasty.
Each time, Cheney has assured the American people that he's in good health and that the tinkering being done to the equipment in his chest is designed to strengthen and regulate his heartbeat.
Uncertainty: We have no doubt that the vice president's health is as good as he says it is, but we wonder just how much longer he can carry on the duties of vice president given the uncertainty of his condition. Yes, Cheney has access to the best medical treatment in the world and has heart specialists at his beck and call, but the number of hospital visits suggests that he is not 100 percent.
And that raises a question about presidential succession. If, for some reason, the president is unable to fulfill the duties of his office, is Cheney healthy enough to step in and ensure that the country does not skip a beat?
The American people and this nation's allies must have confidence that the second in command is strong enough to become the first in command. Therein lies the concern about the condition of his heart. This is a vice president who has become the administration's point man on such important issues as the energy strategy and is also the bridge between the White House and Congress.
Is Cheney up to the challenge?