Political warrior, not political wife

Outspoken spouse of Bush's VP choice might make Cabinet

July 28, 2000|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Even as Dick Cheney was tapped this week to be George W. Bush's running mate, there was, and still is, a buzz around town that the Texas governor, if elected president, will make Cheney his education secretary - Lynne Cheney, that is.

The 58-year-old wife of the GOP vice presidential nominee, who will be highly visible at the Republican National Convention next week, has a sterling resume, a loyal constituency and a fiercely held political agenda.

A vociferous cultural warrior who took on "political correctness" as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Reagan and Bush administrations, Lynne Cheney is, in fact, a large part of the reason social conservatives are applauding Bush's choice of Dick Cheney.

"Social conservatives are ecstatic about the Cheneys," said Marshall Wittmann, a political analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"Dick Cheney is a conservative, but Lynne Cheney is of the conservative movement. She is very much a part of the neo-conservative cultural critique of the left-wing influence in the culture.

"He has the gravitas and she has the Kulturkampf," meaning she carries the conservative torch in the struggle over cultural issues.

And while he is contemplative and quiet, friends say, she is vivacious, outspoken and, at times, combative.

"You don't pick a host for `Crossfire' who's a shrinking violet," said colleague Karlyn Bowman, referring to Lynne Cheney's stint several years ago as the conservative co-host of the CNN talk show.

After the high school sweethearts from Casper, Wyo., came to Washington in 1968 as a young married couple - the former football team captain, to work as a fellow in a congressional office; the ex-homecoming queen, to work on her Ph.D dissertation ("The impact of Immanuel Kant on the poetry of Matthew Arnold") - they emerged as a formidable political duo.

Even in the past several months, while Dick Cheney headed Bush's vice presidential search team, Lynne Cheney advised the presidential candidate on education policy.

"They have a perfect power relationship," said Victor Gold, a longtime friend who co-wrote a novel with Lynne Cheney about a vice president who dies in a compromising position.

In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" Tuesday night, Cheney said of his wife, who was by his side: "She has always been my most valued adviser. And I can assure you she always gives me straight advice, exactly what she thinks."

In fact, Lynne Cheney, who has written several books and worked as a writer at Washingtonian magazine, is known for saying exactly what she thinks - even if it causes a stir.

One of the most controversial chiefs of the NEH, the agency that awards grants for historical and educational pursuits, Cheney incensed scholars by rejecting grant proposals that dealt with liberal theories such as feminism or multiculturalism.

She also criticized colleges that abandoned reading lists of the great books of Western culture and especially took aim at a proposed set of voluntary national standards for American history.

The curriculum, she argued, was obsessed with political correctness, focusing on America's shortcomings and everything from the Ku Klux Klan to the Sierra Club while leaving out some of the nation's heroes such as Albert Einstein and the Wright brothers.

"She thought there was a core humanities tradition - a Western tradition - that every person should be exposed to, from Homer to Shakespeare and Milton," said Lee W. Formwalt, executive director of the Organization of American Historians, explaining Cheney's general philosophy.

"Some of us thought the humanities needed to be looked at in a much more global way, especially as American society becomes more multicultural, as we become more diverse."

At the end of the Bush administration, Cheney, a mother of two grown daughters and grandmother of three, left the NEH and set up shop at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where she still has an office and works on education issues.

She has grown "more determined" in her conservative principles through the years, says longtime friend Kenneth M. Adelman, a former arms negotiator.

Those who know the couple bet she will be the more aggressive of the two on the campaign trail. She has not been shy about commenting on the Clintons, for instance.

"What really drives me crazy is when Hillary acts like the happy wife," she said in an issue of American Enterprise magazine.

"Walking hand in hand off the helicopter together at critical moments. It's just so distressing to me."

Associates also bet that, should she land in the vice president's mansion, she will be as high-profile as ever and as devoted to education issues as ever - whether she is education secretary, as friends say she would like to be, or not.

"She won't have to look around for a project," said Gold.

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