When she served as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Lynne Cheney established herself as an outspoken advocate for the teaching of history in the public schools.
She even published a groundbreaking report, "American Memory," which argued that a slackening commitment to teach history fully and accurately posed a genuine threat to coming generations.
"A system of education that fails to nurture memory of the past denies its students a great deal: the satisfactions of mature thought, an attachment to abiding concerns, a perspective on human existence," Cheney argued in the report.
Since leaving the National Endowment for the Humanities, Cheney has continued her advocacy on behalf of history education as a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing "think tank" based in Washington, and more recently as the nation's second lady.
The wife of Vice President Dick Cheney has made a name for herself in recent years by organizing the James Madison Book Award Fund, which has been established to present a yearly award of $10,000 to the author of the book that does the best job of bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to young people.
With that sort of track record, one might presume that Lynne Cheney would treat history with reverence. But, obviously, she does not feel so inclined.
In La Crosse Friday night to deliver a pep talk to delegates at the Wisconsin Republican Convention, Cheney was peddling some of the most bizarre revisionist history since Stalin stopped rewriting Soviet textbooks.
After repeating the standard Republican spin of attacks on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Cheney declared George Bush to be a model of presidential propriety and advancement. "These 3 years have provided a textbook case of outstanding leadership at the head of our government."
"A textbook case of outstanding leadership"? George Bush?
George Bush's presidency has been a textbook case of something, all right, but that something is certainly not "outstanding leadership."
With deliberately deceptive statements about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's supposed nuclear capacity and Iraq's supposed ties to international terrorists, Bush and his aides created an entirely false impression of the threat posed by that country to the United States and the rest of the world. It was on the basis of that false impression that the United States was led into an unnecessary yet deadly and dangerous war in the Middle East.
At the same time, by combining hikes in spending on the military with dramatic tax cuts for the rich, Bush has re-created the federal deficit. He has turned federal policymaking into a pay-to-play game that rewards big donors to his campaigns while denying tens of millions of Americans access to heath care, affordable housing and educational advancement. And he has worked to pack the courts with activist nominees who are determined to legislate from the bench on issues such as abortion and gay rights - rather than follow the dictates of the Constitution and the law.
"Outstanding leadership"? By comparison to whom? Herbert Hoover? Richard Nixon? Ronald Reagan?
Only a revisionist history that abandons the truth in order to score cheap political points would even attempt to put George W. Bush in the "outstanding" category when it comes to American presidents. If Bush is lucky, he will be remembered by historians as one of the lesser crooked presidents, a James K. Polk or Warren Harding for the 21st century.
More likely, however, he will be remembered in a darker light, as a Nixon without intellect or, worse yet, as the final, malignant stage of Reaganism.
Whatever the precise fate of Bush's legacy once it is handed off to the historians, it is safe to say that the judgment of honest scholars will not be kind.
That is why Lynne Cheney, the great advocate for the teaching of "fair and balanced" history, is busy peddling a historical fiction. Far from being the champion of memory that she claims to be, Cheney is rushing to write a false first draft of history in hopes that it will somehow be accepted as fact - at least through November's election.
So, for the historical record, let it be stated that Lynne Cheney is wrong. The Bush years do not provide "a textbook case of outstanding leadership at the head of our government." Rather, they provide a textbook example of how not to run a government. That latter example will be studied for generations to come, unless, of course, Lynne Cheney succeeds in erasing the truth from the history books.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times