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Out and About

Mary Cheney devotes much of her new book to an insider's view of politics. About coming out, she says:
Mary Cheney devotes much of her new book to an insider's view of politics. About coming out, she says: "If I wrote a whole chapter . . . I think it would be pretty boring." (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

"She lives her life the way she thinks is the best way to advance gay and lesbian issues," Matalin continues. " . . . You know, at some point, you think, 'Can we talk about something else already?' "

Like snowboarding or hiking or scuba diving. Or Cheney's partner, Poe, who enjoys all those things with her and has been with her for 14 years. The couple was diving in Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles when 9/11 took place -- Cheney remembers the Secret Service car screeching up and the agent tellling her, in a voice that brooked no argument, that something bad had happened and they had to come at once.

"I just thought, 'Oh my God, something happened to my dad,'" she says, though she insists she did not immediately think he'd had another heart attack.

The whole book is steeped in the clear love and admiration Cheney feels for her father, and she dials down her wry humor when he comes up in conversation. Do they ever fight? She searches her memory bank, can't recall anything. Do they have debates at the Sunday dinner table? Nah, they talk about where to go fly-fishing. Was he really scary when she and her sister, Liz, got in trouble as kids? Nope. There was the time the girls pulled off a cabinet door in the kitchen and tried to cover it up by gluing it back to the frame. Dad pulled the whole door off the next time he went to open it. So, how did he punish them? Must not have been bad, because Mary Cheney can't remember.

"He's actually really funny," Cheney says of her father. "He's incredibly patient. I wish people could see him with my sister's kids -- he's totally the doting grandfather."

Cheney and Poe moved to Great Falls last fall in large part so that Cheney could be closer to her family -- her only sibling also lives in the area with four children and a fifth on the way. But she won't talk about whether she and Poe are thinking of having children, or adopting them, calling that a "conversation I think I should have with Heather first." And besides, that could lead to more sticky questions about the administration's stance on gay adoption, and so on.

She's always been a stickler for separating the personal from the political. Aside from promoting her book, Cheney's personal life these days focuses on a high-ranking executive job at AOL and kayaking the Potomac with Poe when the current beckons.

Her refusal to engage in public debate has infuriated many gay-rights activists. But she's making her point now, on her terms. "Didn't you just see me go on 'Good Morning America'?"

And when she decides it's her turn, she definitely knows how to get in her licks. In her book, Cheney devotes two chapters to her anger and frustration -- and outright dislike -- when it comes to Kerry and Edwards. And this is where the quick, wry, humorous tone of the book brings in a little venom. She thought Edwards, whom she ridicules for his fixation on his hair, "was complete and total slime." She quotes her sister calling Kerry a "complete and total sleazeball." She herself called him a profanity, she recounts with relish, after Kerry invoked the fact that she is a lesbian in non-response to a question during the presidential debate about whether he believes homosexuality is a choice.

* * *

The eye makeup has started to melt. And it's only 10:30 a.m. She's been gracious, cautious, funny, reserved -- and clearly well-prepared.

"Campaigns are these amazing things," she says, and now she's being earnest. "It's too bad that so few people actually get to see what goes on."

This, she says, is the No. 1 reason why she wrote the book. She's wise enough to know, though, that it won't be the No. 1 reason why most people buy it. There are those who will buy it to see what she has to say about Bush's stance on gay marriage. There are those who will buy it looking for insights into her father. And there are those who will buy it wanting an inside peek into the life and head of a gay woman who also happens to be a Republican and the daughter of the second most powerful man in the country. She can keep trying for the understatement, but now that she's stepped into the world of celebrity -- Larry King up next, Wednesday night -- it isn't going to be quite so easy.

Or is it? As she emerges from "GMA's" studio to her waiting Secret Service SUV, the crowd pressing against the barriers starts to get excited -- is it Lachey? Is it Lucas? Nah, it's only some woman with short, perfectly coiffed blond hair. A passerby asks one of the Secret Service agents who he's protecting. "Mary Cheney," he says. The man pauses, confused, then thinks he's figured it out: "Dick Cheney's wife?" he asks.

A young man calls out, "Ms. Cheney! Ms. Cheney!" He asks for her autograph; she obliges. Then he looks at her and says, quietly, "Thank you for being so brave."

And when she gives him one of her off-kilter smiles -- the smile that makes her look exactly like her father -- it's hard to tell if she's pleased or amused.

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