Lynne Cheney On The VP, Gays And Her Book

Lynne Cheney headshot

As the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney is the nation's second lady. But many people see her husband's title as just a technicality and believe that he really is the man running the country, not President Bush.

"Well, that's not the case," she told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver. "And Dick would be the first to tell you that."

For almost seven years, Lynn Cheney and her husband have lived in the vice president's house in the nation's capital. You would think by now that Cheney is used to the criticism of her husband, but she said it still dismays her.

"Most of the time it's just surreal," she said. "Because there's such a disjunction between the kind of criticism and the man I've known for more than 50 years. He is a terrific guy. He's very strong and I think that sometimes that's the basis of a lot of the criticism."

They may seem to be the ultimate Washington power couple, but Lynnie Vincent and young Dick Cheney started out in a very different world - a world she describes in her new memoir, "Blue Skies, No Fences."

"Casper Wyo., population 18,000 when I was born, was large enough to hold the surprises of civilization, but small enough that the prairie was close by - for some in our town, right out the front door - stretching on forever, under the great curving sky," Cheney wrote about her hometown.

In her book, Cheney tells the story of both her husband's family and her own traveling across the west to settle in Casper.

"Well, my father's people were Mormon, and had immigrated not long after Brigham Young had settled Utah," she told Braver. "My great-great grandmother came from Wales. Went through this perilous crossing of the ocean, lost her husband, lost a child. Kept heading West, you know."

For her first interview about the new book, Mrs. Cheney took Sunday Morning to some of her old haunts, like downtown Casper, where she and her parents came on Saturdays to people-watch.

"My mother would say, you know, 'There's Willicine Lynnie, you remember Willicine?' And I would remember Willicine because she'd give me a home perm that did not work very well," she said.

Bad perm or not, she went on to become a star baton twirler, winning the State Championship. Her first date with Dick Cheney, Number 20 on the high school football team, took place at a dance in a cabin. The Vice President asked her to dance and Cheney replied: "You're kidding."

"And he took that to mean, 'What, me go out with you?'" she said. "But actually, I was just surprised. But he was this great-looking guy that sat next to me in chemistry class and I really meant, 'Wow, that's terrific.' And fortunately for our children and grandchildren, he gave me a chance to explain."

But their romance at Natrona County High School hit a few bumps. During their senior year he dumped her for a cheerleader. But Lynne's grandmother came to the rescue.

"She took me downtown to Cass' department store, which was, you know, quite a high end department store as far as we were concerned, and bought me a black lace sheath dress," she said.

She looked so fabulous that Dick Cheney could not resist, and today Lynne is her husband's staunchest defender.

"He is strong," she said. "He does have convictions. He wants to move forward."

Lynn Cheney, of course, can speak for herself. With a Ph.D. in English Literature, she served as Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and she was a Conservative culture warrior on CNN's "Crossfire."

But though she was a tireless campaigner for the Bush/Cheney ticket, she avoided controversy after the election, writing a series of bestselling children's books.

"Life is difficult enough when you have a spouse in one of these large jobs, I think, without my complicating it further," she said.

Her new book is largely a celebration of the joys of growing up in the West in the '40s and '50, which Braver's husband helped publish along with several others of Lynne Cheney's books. In "Blue Skies, No Fences," Cheney acknowledges that her world of prom dates and being homecoming queen was not open to everyone - African Americans, for example. And she writes that the times "were hard on kids who were gay." It's an issue that Cheney is sensitive to as the mother of a gay daughter.

"I think the society has evolved," she said. "I've evolved in my way of thinking, but I think the whole society has evolved. You know, my mother had a rule which was people are just people."

There has been some speculation that with her knack for politicking, Lynne Cheney might launch her own political career, once her husband's term is over. One article called her the "GOP's Hillary Clinton." But Lynne Cheney says not so fast.

She says she is confident the Republican presidential candidate will continue Bush/Cheney policies, even though some critics say that this administration will go down as the worst in history.

"I think when the history books are written, one of the most remarkable facts about this administration will be that we have not been attacked since 9/11," she said. "It was the policies of this president and this president helping him that kept this country safe."

Even the unpopular war in Iraq will prove to be a good decision, Cheney said.

The Cheneys are well aware that they have only a little more than a year to live here in the Vice President's house and say they are ready to start spending more time in Wyoming.

"We have been doing this for 40 years," she said. "And you know, I really look forward to a life where, you know, we can stretch out a little bit more, put up our feet up, look at the Tetons."