Hillary Clinton “makes John Kerry look like a model of consistency,” Lynne Cheney tells NewsMax in an interview at the vice president’s residence.
“She has so many positions on Iraq,” says Cheney, sipping a latté served by a Navy steward. “I was trying to think how we would we have described it when I was growing up in Wyoming,” Cheney adds. “There’s one expression my father used to use: She has more positions on Iraq than Carter has Little Liver Pills. Another one was: She has more positions on Iraq than a dog has fleas.”
Cheney is in a nostalgic mood because she just came out with her new book, “Blue Skies, No Fences: A Memoir of Childhood and Family.” The vice president’s wife grew up in Casper, Wyo., population 18,000, but it could have been anywhere in small town America. [Editor’s Note: Get Lynne Cheney’s book at a great price — Go Here Now.]
For anyone who remembers when Elvis was hot, the Lone Ranger dominated the airwaves, and milkshakes cost 40 cents, Cheney’s portrait of the ’50s is a gift. Cheney brilliantly captures and evokes a lost era of innocence.
“America had come through the Depression; we had triumphed in war; and the people of Casper, walking heads high down Second Street, reflected the mood of much of the nation,” she writes in the book. “The country seemed to be in control of its destiny and individual Americans in charge of theirs.”
An Innocent Time
Back then, children grew up feeling safe.
“Adults issued standard warnings (Don’t get into cars with strangers) and made us memorize our phone numbers, but they didn’t see any need to frighten us,” she says. “In their view, crime had to do with criminals, not with ordinary people.”
Sitting on a white sofa in the first floor library of the vice president’s residence, Cheney recalls the Simon & Garfunkel lyrics:
Time it was and what a time it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
“We weren’t jaded, we weren’t cynical, that wasn’t part of our world,” Cheney says. “Television was family hour all the time. It was a family event. I think one of the problems with television now is not only the cultural messages it delivers but the fact that it splits up families. There’s some things you can watch with your kids and some things you can’t. Every time my grandchildren walk into the room, if I’m watching a program that has adult content in it — maybe it’s just ‘Law & Order’ —but it’s something they shouldn’t see, and I say, ‘oh, oh, turn the TV off.’”
Thus, instead of uniting families, television now splits them, Cheney notes. At the same time, the media and politicians view the government and national institutions with unrelenting cynicism.
“I was just this morning going through the channels looking for something to watch, and I saw an advertisement on MSNBC for Keith Olbermann’s program,” Cheney says. “And his topic was, ‘Did the Bush administration concoct a phony terror threat to get votes from the Congress?’ You know, the very idea that the president would do that, that any national leader would make a phony terror threat. It’s just beyond imagining that cynicism could have become so corrosive. Moreover, it undermines the notion of how serious the threat against us is, and it’s very serious.”
Meanwhile, the Democrats have been hijacked by the “virulent anti-war left,” Cheney says.
“Candidates who want to become the nominee end up catering to the positions of an extreme fringe group,” Cheney observes. “I think that puts us in a strong position for a general election. It’s going to be hard to make that U-turn, from being extremely out on the far-left wing to being in the middle where you have to be to garner a majority of the votes.”
As for Hillary Clinton, given her waffling and “shading of the truth” about how her positions have shifted, it’s amazing that Hillary is even a candidate, Cheney agrees in response to a question.
While her husband Dick Cheney has served as vice president, Lynne Cheney has made about $2 million by writing books, giving half to charity. In addition, she and her husband have given nearly $7 million to George Washington Hospital, the University of Wyoming, and a scholarship program for students in the District.
During the course of her research for the book, Cheney spent time at the Library of Congress going through newspapers and in Casper checking old reverse directories and interviewing former classmates. She also consulted scrapbooks kept by her mother of clippings about her baton twirling; she won the senior state championship in 1956. Looking at the scrapbooks reminded her that, by the time she was in high school, she was sometimes identified in the Casper Morning Star only by her first name.
“Lynne Returns from St. Paul Winter Carnival Festivities,” one headline said.
“This was the result, I suspect, of repetition and exhaustion,” she wrote. “My mother got my name in the paper so many times that everybody involved got tired of writing the whole thing down.”
During our interview, the phone rang. Mary Cheney, who gave birth to a son last May, is calling to ask her mother for the lyrics to “Three Little Fishes,” a 1939 hit song she used to sing to her when Mary was a baby.
“Down in the meadow in a little bitty pool swam three little fishies and a momma fishie too,” Cheney says to her daughter.
While kids in Casper learned to read with the “Dick and Jane” series, Cheney’s teachers knew that the way to get kids to read was to teach them to sound out letters — the method known as phonics.
“Everyone in Dick and Jane was white, which didn’t strike me or my classmates as noteworthy,” Cheney writes. “Everyone in our school was white.”
Respect Taught Early
Casper had so few African-Americans that when one got on a bus, Lynne’s mother whispered in her ear,” It’s just like clouds, Lynnie. Some are light, and some are dark.”
Cheney remembers sitting silently, partly because her mother wanted her to be silent and partly “because this was such startling information,” she says. “What did people have to do with clouds?”
Looking back, she realized that her mother was trying to tell her that no matter what their color, people are just people, a notion that was held fairly widely in Casper. Still, textbooks contained no references to Booker T. Washington or Harriet Tubman.
As a sixth grader, Lynne thought that sex was “something you had once in your life to start your baby machine in motion.” Another sixth grader clued her in that it was necessary to have sex every time you wanted a baby.
For supper on Sundays, Lynne’s mother always made chicken and noodles, which she served implausibly over mashed potatoes. The effect was to leave everyone “pleasantly stupefied for hours after we ate.”
The dish was made in a pressure cooker, a common cooking utensil in those days. Periodically, the pressure cooker would explode, coating the kitchen in broth and leaving bits of chicken hanging from the ceiling.
Cheney’s paternal grandmother was a Mormon, but Cheney’s father rejected the religion. He had a drinking problem and died when his liver gave out. At one point, she says, her family had had financial difficulties — she never knew the details — and her parents would argue late into the night. They finally had to sell their house and move to a one-bedroom apartment. Later, they were able to buy a house again for $8,000. Lynne wondered if her parents would get divorced. That was something as unheard of as pre-marital sex in high school.
Lynne’s mother worked at the police department, giving her certain privileges.
“The dean of girls at the local high school came in to pay a parking ticket, and while she was in the courthouse, she got another one, which my mother, seeing the injustice of it all, tore up,” Cheney says. When a relative got a ticket for running a red light, he swore the light had something wrong with it. “My mother, seeing the injustice of that, too, took care of Myrtle’s ticket,” Cheney says.
The Romance That Almost Wasn’t
In those days, boys paid for everything. After going to the prom, movie dates were the next most expensive date, then Coke dates, and then Tuesday night at the Canteen, when the only investment was gas for the car. On Saturday nights, it was cool to cruise aimlessly between the Brig and the A&W Drive In.
In 1958, Cheney was walking out of Bob Lahti’s chemistry class. Fellow classmate Dick Cheney asked if she wanted to go to the Eclat formal with him.
“You’re kidding,” she blurted out.
He took that to mean, “What? Me go out with you?”
That wasn’t it at all. Lynne, a straight-A student who was elected homecoming queen, knew that Cheney, who was smart and good looking, had broken up with the blond cheerleader he was dating. But Lynne was not expecting he would ask her out.
“Fortunately for me, our children, and our grandchildren,” Cheney writes, “he stayed around long enough for me to explain.”
“Preserve your memories,” go the rest of the Simon & Garfunkel lyrics Cheney quoted to me. “They’re all that’s left you.”
Whether your comfort food is matzo ball soup, barbecued ribs, chocolate cake, or just a good read, Lynne Cheney’s book fills all the crevices.
Editor’s Note: Get Lynne Cheney’s book at a great price — Go Here Now.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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