Cheney’s Lynne Problem

“[T]he Cheneys themselves are an interesting couple. At one point, Dick Cheney was secretary of defense and Lynne Cheney was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, kind of the material and moral defense of western civilization. They’re a very formidable pair. Everyone who knows them has regard for them.”–William Bennett, Face the Nation, July 23, 2000

What is Bennett smoking? It’s true that Dick Cheney–whom Bush reportedly is on the verge of naming his running mate–enjoys a certain bland respectability. But Dick’s wife, Lynne Cheney, who succeeded Bennett at the NEH, is a shrill opportunist who could prove to be a serious liability for the Republican ticket.

Lynne seemed pleasant enough 12 years ago, when Chatterbox (then a reporter at Newsweek) lunched with her. She confessed that, although she was supposed to be the nation’s high-culture guardian, she’d just spent her summer vacation gulping down Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. Chatterbox was charmed. Chatterbox was also impressed by her passionate advocacy of national standards for teaching American and world history.

Chatterbox had to revise this favorable opinion after the presidency passed from the Republicans to the Democrats. Almost immediately, Cheney started campaigning to abolish the NEH and savaging her former grantee, UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools, which was about to issue the very national standards she’d commissioned. Cheney maintained that the panel, whose draft report apparently mentioned Harriet Tubman six times and Paul Revere not at all, had tilted leftward after Clinton’s election. In fact, as Chatterbox’s Slate colleague Jacob Weisberg pointed out in a 1996 column for New York magazine, Cheney had herself OK’d some of the more vapidly left-wing content while running the NEH. Moreover, at least one of Cheney’s allegations about the draft report–that it ignored the framing of the Constitution–turned out not to be true. Passages in a subsequent draft drew Cheney’s ire for various inoffensive assertions, such as, “the Great Depression was one of the great shaping experiences of American history,” and, “at the beginning of the twentieth century, Western nations enjoyed a dominance in world affairs that they no longer possess.” By then, Cheney had acquired an almost Stalinist resolve to kill off national standards at all cost. She proved to be such a transparent phony that sympathetic panel critics like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and John Patrick Diggins had to denounce her. (To read the latest version of the standards, click here.)

More recently, Cheney held court at a vituperative anti-Hillary Clinton panel at the (usually more sober, and nominally less partisan) American Enterprise Institute. (Click here for a Slate dispatch from the event.) There, Lynne criticized Hillary for occasionally holding her husband’s hand (“It is just so distressing to me”), and questioned whether Hillary’s credibility “has in any way been undermined by her unsympathetic attitude toward the women alleged to have been imposed upon by her husband.” The latter formulation may give us some taste of what Lynne Cheney would sound like on the campaign trail. Cheney actually had the gall to call Hillary–get this–a hypocrite!