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The G.O.P.'s Hillary Clinton

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Like most conservatives, Lynne Cheney says Hillary Clinton drives her crazy. But the two have a lot in common. Each is smart, educated and controversial. While Hillary inflames people on the right, those on the left are equally apoplectic about Cheney, who headed the National Endowment for the Humanities under the Reagan and Bush administrations. Each has an air of certitude. When Cheney hosted CNN's now defunct Sunday version of Crossfire, she once closed with the line "And from the right--and right on most issues--I'm Lynne Cheney." She will not be cowed by protocol. "It's not the kind of campaign where they say, 'Gosh, could you muzzle your wife, Dick?'" she says.

With that kind of attitude, it's not surprising that her NEH tenure was quite a ride. Under her predecessor, William Bennett, the agency had waded deep into the culture wars--was Columbus a hero or a villain?--and Cheney kept the heat turned up. "I always think I'm just talking good common sense." For every traditional Endowment-funded project like the public-TV series The Civil War, there seemed to be just as many that stirred controversy, like her 50 Hours scholarly report, which set back-to-basics culture for college students. At the same time, critics say, she imposed her political views on grant selection. "She was hostile to anything that was multicultural or feminist," says Don Gibson, who headed the public-programs division under Cheney. Friends say the attacks took a toll. "She expected it, but it always hurts," says ex-arms negotiator Ken Adelman, a longtime friend.

Like Hillary, she has been criticized for not giving enough credit to others in her writing. In 1987, while chairwoman of the Endowment, Cheney published a booklet titled American Memory, spotlighting how little history teens know. Drawing on research gathered by an neh-funded advisory panel, Cheney used her publication to scoop the panel's main researchers, Chester Finn Jr. and Diane Ravitch, whose book on the subject was to be published 10 days later. Asked why she did not credit the two, Cheney replied at the time, "It did not occur to me that this was necessary." Finn acknowledges the hard feelings. "We were peeved at each other," he says. "We had done a fair amount of the heavy lifting." In the Clinton years, Cheney stayed in the spotlight. One editorial she penned: "Kill My Old Agency, Please."

A great storyteller who lavishes attention on her grandchildren, Cheney writes potboilers. In one she co-wrote, a Vice President and former Defense Secretary dies at age 59 of a heart attack during sex. "Carnal arrest," she dubbed it. She also took a swipe at the Veep position: "Under the Constitution, the only thing the job calls for is waiting, waiting for the President to die or be impeached." Now Lynne Cheney is a woman in competition to become First-Lady-in-Waiting.


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Cover Date: July 31, 2000

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