It’s an unelected, unofficial federal job with a high public profile–Second Spouse–but with no pay and few benefits, other than a free residence for at least four years.
Still, two apparently intelligent and capable women are now vying for that position and they could hardly be more different.
In one corner you’ve got Lynne Cheney, a former Wyoming high school homecoming queen who married her high school sweetheart–Republican vice presidential nominee Richard Cheney–and grew up to become a vigorous conservative and outspoken critic of liberal causes such as multiculturalism in education, affirmative action and federal regulation of tobacco.
In the other is Hadassah Lieberman, the Prague-born daughter of Holocaust survivors whose second marriage–to Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman–has vaulted the former marketing professional into national prominence. Until now she has worked quietly behind the scenes in low-profile jobs or for charitable causes.
Both women are concerned with education. Both are fervent supporters of their husbands and stake claim to the “family values” high ground. But Cheney is a well-known conservative pundit, steeped in Republican ideology and with political ambitions of her own. Whether opining on television, writing a racy novel or advocating education reform, she draws sharp criticism and high praise.
Lieberman, on the other hand, tends to elicit blank stares or the question, “Hadassah, who?” Where Cheney tends to court controversy, Lieberman avoids it. She supports a variety of charitable causes and keeps her opinions about policy matters private.
The Bush and Gore camps did not return repeated calls for comment for this story.
The potential “Second Spouses” have kept low profiles during the campaign–natural for Lieberman, but not for Cheney.
Cheney Dons Mantle of Feminism to Promote Agenda
Lynne Cheney opposes what she calls the “politics of victimhood,” a reference to traditional liberal feminism. Instead, Cheney considers herself a new breed of feminist, one who espouses empowerment through “economic equity.”
A self-described “great fan” of Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Cheney served as the conservative, anti-liberal-feminist on many TV public affairs shows. In the mid and late 1990s she appeared on programs such as “This Week With David Brinkley,” “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer” and “Today.” From 1995 to 1998, she co-hosted CNN’s “Crossfire Sunday.”
Cheney holds a doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin and has a long history of scholarship and advocacy for what she terms reform in education, a cause she has promised to pursue if she becomes Second Spouse.
In numerous public appearances and newspaper opinion columns, Cheney has argued that the U.S. education system has been damaged by “moral relativism” and “political correctness.” She believes the current emphasis on multiculturalism should be replaced with a “back to basics” approach.
She favors national standards to measure student achievement in secondary schools; phonics to teach reading; school choice in the form of vouchers; teaching from a Western-centrist view and eliminating federal funding for bilingual education.
Gov. Bush tapped Cheney to help revamp the Texas education system and has called her a “woman of many accomplishments” and an “incredibly important member of this team.” As a result, political observers speculate about a possible cabinet post for Cheney, a definite, break-from-the-tradition proposition.
Cheney has said she is not interested, but if chosen for a Bush cabinet it would not be her first federal appointment. In 1986 Ronald Reagan appointed her chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a job she held until 1993. After leaving the post when Bill Clinton was elected, Cheney campaigned to eliminate the agency, charging it was “mired in political correctness.”
While she chaired the endowment, Cheney imposed new rules for evaluating funding proposals. The rules and the people Cheney chose to implement them drew protests from those who said the new process made it difficult to get funding for projects with multicultural themes. The Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton opted out of two federal grants rather than comply with Cheney’s rules.
She also drew criticism for her skewering of “The Africans,” an endowment-funded documentary that she called “an anti-Western diatribe.” She refused to allow the agency’s logo to be used in the show’s credits.
Another documentary received kinder treatment. Cheney okayed funding for Ken Burns’ now classic documentary on the Civil War and has called it one of her greatest achievements as the endowment’s chair.
Cheney is Fellow at Conservative Think Tank
Cheney is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. She has also worked as a journalist, scholar and novelist. She edited Washingtonian Magazine from 1983 to 1986. In 1992, she co-founded the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, an Arlington, Va., think tank.
She wrote a book called, “Telling the Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense–And What We Can Do About It.” It examines what she calls a moral and intellectual crisis caused by disdain for objective truth and principles in social and political institutions. Cheney also co-authored a history of the House of Representatives with her husband.
Those books are a marked departure in content and tone from her novels: “Executive Privilege,” a 1979 story about the presidency; “Sisters,” a racy Western romance (which includes lesbian love affairs) published in 1981 as a Signet Canadian paperback; and “The Body Politic,” a 1988 novel co-authored with Victor Gold in which the vice president’s wife assumes the job after her husband dies in the arms of his mistress.
In 1996, Cheney was herself considered a contender (albeit, a long-shot) as a vice presidential pick for Bob Dole.
Cheney has also criticized Hillary Clinton–for hypocrisy–saying on “Crossfire” that Clinton “seems to have a case of schizophrenia. … She puts on her nice pink dress and nice pearls and goes into the East Room and talks about babies and children … and then she goes out and tells people how to live their lives.”
The Cheneys have two daughters. One is openly gay and lives with a partner in Colorado, but Cheney has repeatedly declined to address the apparent conflict between support for her daughter and support for the Republican Party’s opposition to gay unions and many gay rights measures.
Hadassah Is Born in a Refugee Camp
Hadassah Lieberman’s background is in stark contrast with that of Cheney. She was born in a Czechoslovakian refugee camp and moved to the United States with her family when she was a toddler.
She has a bachelor’s degree in government and dramatics from Boston University and a master’s in international relations and American government from Northeastern University.
She was divorced from her first husband and rearing a son when she met the current Democratic vice presidential nominee. They married in 1983. In 1988, she gave birth to their only daughter (Sen. Lieberman also had two children from a previous marriage) and he was first elected to the Senate in a surprise win over Republican Lowell Weicker.
Like Cheney, she has worked to standardize education, though her views on this topic are not a matter of public record. In the late 80s, Lieberman worked for the National Research Council to build private-sector support for better math and science education. She has also helped organize national and international conferences on women’s health issues.
From 1994 to 1998, Hadassah Lieberman worked part time for APCO Worldwide, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm.
She has also worked with non-profit groups, including Peace Links, which promotes non-violent conflict resolution in schools; Lights in Action, a national Jewish student group that provides Jewish education in the United States and Canada; Best Friends, a character-building program for adolescent girls; Meridian House, which is dedicated to increasing international understanding; the Multiple Sclerosis Society; and the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, which memorializes Holocaust victims.
It’s a case of the outspoken Cheney versus the soft-spoken Lieberman, vying for a job neither initially sought. Each has said she will make the most of the opportunity if she is thrust into the role of Second Spouse.
Melinda Rice is a Texas-based free-lance journalist.