Lynne Cheney Says Mention of Daughter a Cheap Trick
Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney, accused John F. Kerry on Wednesday night of “a cheap and tawdry political trick” and said he “is not a good man” after he brought up their daughter’s homosexuality at the final presidential debate. Mary Cheney, one of the vice president’s two daughters and an official of the Bush-Cheney campaign, has been open about her lesbian status. The candidates were asked if they believe homosexuality is a choice, and President Bush did not mention Mary Cheney. Then Kerry said, “If you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as.” Lynne Cheney issued her post-debate rebuke to a cheering crowd outside Pittsburgh. “The only thing I can conclude is he is not a good man. I’m speaking as a mom,” she said. “What a cheap and tawdry political trick.”
Steven Fisher, communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian political organization, said Kerry “was speaking to millions of American families who, like the Cheneys, have gay friends and family members.” Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), also made a reference to the sexual orientation of Cheney’s daughter, during the vice presidential debates, and Republicans complained that it was an underhanded way of trying to hurt the Bush-Cheney ticket with religious conservatives.
Michelle Malkin agrees, writing that, “John Kerry stooped to the lowest of the low with the shameless, invasive line that will be played over and over again on the news in the next 24 hours.”
As I noted last night, Mort Kondracke, too, thought it was a big deal while I thought it a rather obvious point to make. As noted above, John Edwards mentioned it in relation to a gay marriage question during the vice presidential debate:
Now as to this question, let me say, first, that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And and you canÃ¢€™t have anything but respect for the fact that theyÃ¢€™re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. ItÃ¢€™s a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.
Indeed, Gwen Ifell alluded to it in the question itself:
Next question goes to you, Mr. Vice President. I want to read something you said four years ago at this very setting: Freedom means freedom for everybody. You said it again recently when you were asked about legalizing same-sex unions and you used your family as an experience your family experience as a context for your remarks. Can you describe, then your administrationÃ¢€™s support for a constitutional ban on same-sex unions?
Vice President Cheney declined to reference his daughter in his own answer to the question but, in response to Edwards’ statement, he merely said:
Mr. Cheney Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.
Mr. Edwards YouÃ¢€™re welcome.
Ms. Ifill ThatÃ¢€™s it?
Mr. Cheney ThatÃ¢€™s it.
It’s possible he was being ironic, although I didn’t sense it while watching live. And no outrage seemed to flow from that. Granted, Kerry’s insertion of it was slightly more gratuitous, since Mary Cheney wasn’t directly referenced in the question, but it certainly seemed like a reasonable thing to mention. It would otherwise be the proverbial elephant in the room.
I do agree with Malkin that the references to the mentally retarded by some Democratic operatives (see here and here) are in poor taste. Mentioning that the vice president’s adult daughter, whose lesbianism has been openly discussed at least since the 2000 campaign, in the context of a discussion of public policy on homosexuality strikes me as in a wholly different category, though.
Update (1440): Via Memeorandum, I see that a bunch of folks have weighed in on this. Among those that I read on at least an occasional basis:
Using the daughter of an opponent as political weapon was a low blow, but using the most intimate details of her personal life for his own political gain is a dirty trick worthy of Richard Nixon.
He sounded like a mean child awkwardly trying to score a zinger on a classmate, not a thoughtful debater of social issues. Edwards could get away with it in the VP debate, because it was on-topic and mixed with a nice sentiment – I actually thought that Edwards’ swipe painted Dick Cheney as a loving dad, and both men came off relatively well in the exchange. It also added a bit of substance and context to the debate. But the form and intent of Kerry mentioning Mary Cheney … that was just blatantly “dirty pool,” as Mort Kondracke said in FOX’s post-debate analysis.
Just pretend for a second that John Kerry’s daughter was a lesbian, and during the waning weeks of the campaign, both Bush and Cheney had taken every opportunity to bring this up, including during a debate. What would be the reaction of the Democrats and the left?
And to think that the day would come that I would miss John Kerry’s sermonizing on Vietnam . . .
Part of discussing public policy is discussing the motivation for and effect of that policy on the people who are trying to make it happen. We’re not talking about some abstract bill that has disparate and indirect effects on people – we’re talking explicitly about assigning legal status based on sexual orientation. Kerry wasn’t the one who decided to call out every gay and lesbian American and tell them he was going to enshrine a secondary legal status for them in the Constitution.
Bringing up Mary Cheney serves only one purpose — to try to embarass the Cheney family, an odd thing to do for someone who purports to sympathize with gays and lesbians. It would be equivalent to Bush using Julia Thorne, Kerry’s ex-wife, to refute Kerry’s insistence that he is a practicing Catholic and that Kerry respects families. If Bush were to bring up Kerry’s annulment — another interesting parallel to his Massachusetts mentor — he would rightly be blasted by Democrats as a nosy busybody engaging in smear tactics.
Not only is Mary Cheney not closeted, her professional life has been explicitly tied to her sexuality. She did outreach to the gay and lesbian communities when she worked at Coors.
It is a delicate issue — since it’s inherently personal and deals with one of the candidate’s children. But it was brought up in the context of a question about whether homosexuality is a choice. And more to the point: what’s the problem exactly unless you instinctively believe that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of? If one of Cheney’s children was, God forbid, paraplegic and Kerry referred to him or her in the context of a question about people with disabilities, would there be a problem?
The fact that the president’s position is essentially tenable only for people who live their lives without any personal involvement with gay or lesbian individuals is certainly a legitimate point to raise, and the Cheney family is an almost perfect illustration of that fact. The broader point that gays and lesbians are to be found everywhere, in all parts of the country, raised in all sorts of families is also an important one — especially in the context of a question about whether homosexuality is a choice — and again one that’s well illustrated by the case of the Cheney family. The fact that it’s a politically awkward point for the president vis-Ãƒ -vis his base is icing on the cake from a campaign perspective, but it’s not the essence of the point. The fact that Lynne regards it as some kind of smear says more about her — or the social circles she travels in — than about anything Kerry (or Edwards) has done wrong.
Last, but not least, Andrew Sullivan:
The only way you can believe that citing Mary Cheney amounts to “victimization” is if you believe someone’s sexual orientation is something shameful. Well, it isn’t. What’s revealing is that this truly does expose the homophobia of so many – even in the mildest “we’ll-tolerate-you-but-shut-up-and-don’t-complain” form. Mickey Kaus, for his part, cannot see any reason for Kerry to mention Mary except as some Machiavellian scheme to pander to bigots. Again: huh? Couldn’t it just be that Kerry thinks of gay people as human beings like straight people – and mentioning their lives is not something we should shrink from? Isn’t that the simplest interpretation? In many speeches on marriage rights, I cite Mary Cheney. Why? Because it exposes the rank hypocrisy of people like president Bush and Dick and Lynne Cheney who don’t believe gays are anti-family demons but want to win the votes of people who do.
Josh, Matthew, and Andrew agree with Elizabeth Edwards, who responds to Lynne Cheney’s comments thusly:
She’s overreacted to this and treated it as if it’s shameful to have this discussion. I think that’s a very sad state of affairsÃ¢€¦ I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter’s sexual preferencesÃ¢€¦ It makes me really sad that that’s Lynne’s response.
There would seem to be any number of reasons to be irritated that one’s daughter’s personal life is being brought into a political campaign, regardless of whether one is ashamed of it. For example, while John Kerry can joke about his wife’s enormous wealth, George Bush would have to tread lightly in doing so. Hugh Hewitt is right on this score:
The lives of children of candidates are off limits to campaigns and should remain that way, which is why when other sons and daughters of past candidates have had their controversial aspects, they were not spoken of in national debates, nor did any campaign attempt to exploit that controversy. How low to pretend that this rule doesn’t exist, or that its breech is somehow acceptable. Whenever I think the left can’t fall off the floor, it digs another basement.
Again, I didn’t find Kerry’s statement to be meanspirited and doubt that it ever occured to him that there would be a hubbub over it. If we know anything about John Kerry, it’s that he’s a man who goes out of his way to avoid taking a stance on anything that might be even slightly controversial. Apparently, though, he’s going to get some flack for this comment and it’ll distract him for a couple precious days in a tight campaign cycle.