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Transcript: Lynne Cheney on American History

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'FOX News Sunday,' December 26, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: In this special time after a long and bitterly fought campaign and before the start of a new year, we want to talk about where the country has been and where it's headed. To do that, we're pleased to welcome Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president.

And, Mrs. Cheney, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. We're delighted you could be with us today.

LYNNE CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY'S WIFE: Thank you. And best wishes for the new year.

WALLACE: Thank you. For years, you have been a student and an author of American history, especially for children. And last month you came out with a new book, your third children's book, "When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots," which you say is a Christmas story. Now, I know that Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night, but I assume you mean more than just that.

CHENEY: Well, you know, it's a time of the year when kids are thinking about gifts, when things that are wrapped up in paper and have ribbon around them are very exciting. And I think, you know, it's possible to tell this story in a way so that it's about another kind of gift.

When Washington made the really bold decision to go back across the Delaware with his ragtag army and subsequently won two amazing battles, the battle at Trenton and the battle of Princeton, he really gave a gift to all of his countrymen. He gave them the gift of hope.

People had been so discouraged. They were sure that our war for independence was failing. They were sure that we would be, as one young man at the time said, a vanquished people. And after the battles of Trenton and Princeton, Americans had hope again. They believed that their great effort to achieve independence might well come to a glorious end.

WALLACE: Now, as he was preparing to cross the Delaware on Christmas night -- the Delaware filled with ice, cold -- did Washington and his troops have any time for Christmas that day back in 1776?

CHENEY: There is no record of it. I think that they were in desperate straits. Many of his men had no shoes. They were marching with rags tied around their feet. There is historical evidence that they left bloody footprints in the snow as they marched the nine miles upstream to where they would cross the Delaware and then march back down to Trenton. There are various reports of them, you know, having so few clothes that people describe them as naked.

Charles Wilson Peale (search), an artist, watched the Army as it first was fleeing from the British coming across the Delaware into Pennsylvania, and he described this hellish scene. And he described one soldier in particular who came toward him: a man wearing only a dirty blanket coat, as Peale described it, his face covered with sores. He was unable to clean his face because it was so disfigured. Peale didn't realize until the man came very close it was his own brother.

So these men were in terrible shape. There was no time for celebration. There was only time to get themselves together and wage this desperate effort, really, to change the course of the war.

WALLACE: Now, I understand, is it true that you tell this story to your grandchildren on Christmas?

CHENEY: Well, I realized it was a good story for kids, you know. First, I realized it was a good story. I've known that for years and years. It has a beginning, you know, Washington crosses the Delaware in these perilous times and these terrible conditions. It's a brave effort.

It's a very daunting crossing. Something few people know is that there were two other groups that Washington had commanded to cross the Delaware that evening, and only his succeeded. The other two had to turn back.

WALLACE I only know that because I read the book.

CHENEY: Well, so, it's a great story, with that beginning and its triumphant end. It's a great story for Christmas, I decided, since it is about this uplifting part of our history, and it is about Washington and his men giving us a gift that we still enjoy today: a free and independent country.

WALLACE: Let's talk about family values, which played a big role in this campaign. In the exit poll on Election Day, people were asked, what's the single biggest issue in how you decided your vote? And 22 percent of Americans said moral values.

It was a big surprise to a lot of us in the punditocracy, as they say. Twenty-two percent said moral values, more than chose the war on terrorism, Iraq, the economy, health care. What do you think those people were saying?

CHENEY: Well, I think it's something very, very broad. I got a wonderful letter from Bea Himmelfarb (search). I think of Bill Kristol as her son. This is a wonderful, scholarly woman. She wrote me about my book, "Washington Crossing the Delaware," and said, you know, I think when people were talking about moral values they were talking about patriotism, they were talking about love of country.

I think, to put it even more generally, they were talking about an uncynical approach to our nation and to our national story. There is in the mainstream media -- there has been, I think, in our political life, a real corrosive kind of cynicism, a notion that anytime anything goes right you have to sort of turn your nose up at it and say, "Well, it really wasn't all that great," a kind of undercutting cynicism.

And I think part of that moral-values question related to that, related to the idea that we ought to be able to say, this is a great country. We have made amazing progress in achieving human freedom for ourselves and for people around the world.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about the other side of it, though, the so-called social side of it. We see millions of Americans watching "Desperate Housewives" on TV. I think it was the number-one show this last week. Millions of people listened to Howard Stern on the radio. Where are we in that sense in values in this country?

CHENEY: You know, I sometimes think that people turn to -- well, I've never heard Howard Stern, to tell you the truth, but I watch Don Imus occasionally.

WALLACE: Do you?

CHENEY: And it's sort of a refreshing change from the political correctness that is all too pervasive. I can't take too large a dose of it, but I do from time to time. And I think that's part of it. People like to escape from the all too engulfing political correctness that is part of our times.

WALLACE: What about "Desperate Housewives"?

CHENEY: Well, you know, I don't know. But I've heard some of the outlines of it. The idea, you know, that the mom is living off her son's Ritalin (search) is just fraught with irony that sort of does make you think this is an interesting social commentary, though I haven't watched it.

The thing we have to do is protect our kids from this. You know, it's one thing for adults to do it. They've had a long time to form their values. But it's another thing for kids.

And I think that's where, you know, government maybe does have a role, particularly when it comes to what happens on primetime television, surprises like the surprise advertisement in which one of the "Desperate Housewives" stars dropped her towel.

WALLACE: The beginning of the "Monday Night Football."

CHENEY: Exactly.

WALLACE: Or, I assume, the Super Bowl.

CHENEY: Exactly. That's the kind of thing where I think government does have a role. We need to protect the kids. You have to be able to have programs that the whole family is watching where that's not going to happen.

WALLACE: Let's talk -- you mentioned political correctness, and we're going to get into this with Cardinal McCarrick (search) in a moment. What do you make of the whole battle over political correctness and Christmas?

As I'm sure you're well aware, around the country some local governments are banning Christmas trees, are banning depictions of the nativity. And some people say the problem is that they make non-Christians feel excluded. What do you think of that?

CHENEY: Well, one of the things that doesn't trouble me about it is this: It comes out, a lot of it, out of a basic desire to be nice. You know, Americans are just, I think, characterized by this, a desire to be nice to each other and not to hurt feelings.

And so the business of saying "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" comes because, you know, there might be somebody, if you only have one chance to say this, there might be somebody in your audience who doesn't celebrate Christmas, and you don't want to hurt their feelings.

But in our effort to be nice, we do -- in this instance what we've done, as so many others, we let the pendulum swing too far. You know, it's one thing to be sure to be inclusive. It's another thing entirely to exclude Christmas.

And I hear from moms all the time about -- one mom was telling me a story about her little girl coming home from nursery school saying, "Mom, do we celebrate Kwanzaa or Hannukah?" when in fact they celebrate Christmas. But she hadn't, you know, really understood from her nursery school that that was an option. We need to be inclusive with Christmas, as well.

Or another mom was telling me about, oh, what is it, you know, the plays they do around Christmastime. All sorts of holidays are celebrated in this play, but Christmas is mentioned so subtly that you would think it only involved the three kings and not the Christ child. The three kings, of course, are a favorite as a part of many pageants now because they're multicultural, and that's a good thing, but the Christ child should be in too.

WALLACE: Of course you spent most of 2004 -- I don't know how much you enjoyed it or not -- on the campaign trail.

And we kept hearing, during the campaign, about how polarized this country is. And, in fact, there have been some studies that say we're more polarized than almost ever.

What do you think -- first of all, do you agree with that? And if so, what are Americans polarized about?

CHENEY: Well, I think it probably is true. It was true before the election. I've seen a lot of soul-searching on the part of the Democratic Party, for example, which I think is very good, about how to better relate to people in red states, who, you know, work hard, play by the rules, go to church, are patriotic.

I think the whole idea of patriotism certainly isn't, you know, a Republican thing. But it's something that I think a lot of people in red states feel is undermined with a lot of cynicism, the kind of cynicism that maybe, you know, you see in Hollywood, that John Kerry during the campaign seemed to embrace. I don't question his patriotism for a minute, but I think there was a, you know, a moment of epiphany when he suggested at that Hollywood fundraiser where there was, you know a lot of....

WALLACE: The heart and soul of America?

CHENEY: Exactly. A lot of criticism of the president that really went beyond the bounds.

WALLACE: Finally, I wonder if there is a message you would like to send, especially -- and it fits back with your original story about George Washington (search) -- to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are in Iraq and Afghanistan, around the world, just as they were in 1776, defending our country. Do you have a message for them, Mrs. Cheney?

CHENEY: Well, I do think that it's important for all of those brave men and women to understand how proud we are of them, not just me, but all Americans.

You know, I saw that, time and again, as we out on the campaign trail. There is so much support for those men and women who are out defending freedom in this long and brave tradition.

WALLACE: Mrs. Cheney, we want to thank you so much for joining us. And we want to wish you, the vice president and all the Cheneys a very happy new year.

CHENEY: Thank you very much.