Lynne Cheney Says Mention of Daughter a Cheap Trick

Mention of Gay Daughter a Cheap Trick, Lynne Cheney Says (WaPo)

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 can̢۪t have anything but respect for the fact that they̢۪re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It̢۪s 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 administration̢۪s 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 You̢۪re welcome.

Ms. Ifill That̢۪s it?

Mr. Cheney That̢۪s 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:

Steve Bainbridge:

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.

Bill of INDC:

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.

John Cole:

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?

Pejman Yousefzadeh

And to think that the day would come that I would miss John Kerry’s sermonizing on Vietnam . . .

Jesse Taylor:

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.

Ed Morrisey:

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.

Josh Marshall:

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?

Matthew Yglesias:

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-à-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 affairs… I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter’s sexual preferences… 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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teri says:

    I don’t know what Kerry-Edwards hope to accomplish by continually bringing up Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation. How many people are likely to say, “Oh my goodness, I can’t vote for Bush because the vice-president’s daughter is gay. I’ll vote for that nice man who’s in favor of partial-birth abortion instead.”

  2. Paul says:

    I think what has set people off is why he did it. Even Kerry apologists coincide it was done to shock/outrage christian conservatives.

    It is the classic use vs mention distinction.

    Mentioning her is one thing, using her purposely is another.

  3. wake up to reality says:

    She was brought up because and only because the President is trying to do everything in his power to forever make the Vice Presidents daughter a second class citizen. John Kerry was treating her like a human being. Something that the President can’t do.

  4. wake up to reality says:

    Oh and where was Lynne when this was in the news:

    Illinois Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes has labeled homosexuality “selfish hedonism” and said Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter is a sinner.

    She said nothing about this.

  5. “the President is trying to do everything in his power to forever make the Vice Presidents daughter a second class citizen.”

    Wow! The sheer stupidity of that statement is mind boggling.

  6. Mark J says:

    Finally, I’ve been waiting for someone who leans to the right politically to agree with me on this! Save your outrage for the fact that John Kerry thinks Social Security is just fine the way it is.

  7. LJD says:

    John Kerry was treating her like a human being. We also know that John Kerry believes it is perfectly acceptable to exploit human beings (like Vietnam Vets, for instance) for his own political gain.

    Of course, through stem cell research, the Kerry/Edwards team can cure her of her homosexuality….

  8. Elrod says:

    Kudos on your analysis. It’s a reason I visit your site regularly.

  9. ken says:

    Mary Cheney is openly lesbian. Mary Cheney is also Dick Cheney’s campaign manager.

    The candidates were asked whether they believed homosexuality is just a ‘choice’ or the way some people are born.

    Bush answered that he just didn’t know the answer then went on to talk about respect and dignity. Kerry answered the question by saying it was not a choice and used Mary Cheney as a powerful example as proof of his point.

    Bush tried to weasel his way past the question and Kerry unloaded on him with a good answer revealing the hypocricy of the conservative position regarding gay Americans.

  10. Remy Logan says:

    Kerry and Edwards read their internal polls and know that Bush is on his way to a landslide win. And so the Democrats decided it’s time to do what they do best — Turn people into victims, turn minorities into tokens, and turn women into objects. I bet Kerry was high-fiving Edwards last night and shouting out “We got a three-fer! We got a three-fer!” The suave and debonair Kerry is proving himself to be about as presidential as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

    James, for someone who touts his “outside the beltway” sensibilities, you seem to be as out of touch with American sensibilities as are those inside the beltway. Kerry’s remark did not go over well with parents. Neither did Cahill’s remark that Mary is “fair game.”

  11. steve talbert says:

    Mary has been “out” since at least the 2000 and 2002 elections specifically telling people that her being gay was going to be a positive thing for voting for the Bush-Cheney Admin. Mary is over 21 years old. All the other daughters get talked about.

    Even over a month ago, Cheney brought her up as being gay in a speech he gave as an example.

    However, unless Mary herself said “yes that is true”, how does Kerry and her Dad know for a fact that Mary’s sexual relations with women are by choice or not? Maybe she is really a closet bisexual and only tells people she is gay.

    In that case, maybe it would be valuable to issue a statement saying that “although being 100% straight or gay is not a choice, there is an underrepresented bisexual community in our country that suffers strong prejudice from people who are not, and the use of Mary Cheney as an example of a 100% gay person without her confirmation that she is shows the lack of respect for this seemingly substantial number of citizens.”

  12. Anjin-San says:

    Kerry’s refrence to Cheney’s daughter was a bit lame, but the attempt by the Bush campaign to cast it as anything more then that smacks of grasping at straws.

    Bush lost all three debates. He can’t possibly run on his record, which is pretty much a disaster. So now at crunch time we see signs of what is starting to look like desperation.

    Where is the Vice President & Mrs. Cheney’s indignation when the far right spews hatred at gays?

  13. Remy Logan says:

    Other factual things Kerry could have said last night, but didn’t:

    “Regarding health care, Bob, Michael Moore, who is grossly obese, as well as Elizabeth Edwards, who is decidedly overweight, show that this country needs to get serious about health care.”

    “One million families in this country need help caring for their retarded children.”

    “Even though my wife often looks and acts like she needs prescription drugs, I can assure you that the Kerry family does not have to worry about paying for them. How about the millions of Americans who, not as blessed as is the Kerry family, can’t afford to pay for their medications.”

    “While gays in this country can’t help but being that way, God bless them, there is a very real problem with gays and the practice of ‘barebacking,’ which is the act of having anal intercourse without using the proper protection. A recent case is the famous columnist and pundit Andrew Sullivan, who advertised in gay publications, under an assumed name, for an anonymous partner with whom to have unprotected ‘bareback’ sex. I have a plan that will educate all gays and lesbians about safe sex practices and the proper use of protection.”

    Yes, there are many things the Senator could have said, but didn’t. I wonder why.

  14. Barbar says:

    Is homosexuality a choice? Well, we can pretend that this is some sort of abstract question, or we can take a look actual people who are gay. Hey, how about the Vice President’s openly gay campaign manager/daughter. Maybe we can ask her. Kerry thinks she would tell you that for her it is not a choice.

    Oh wait, that was going too far. What a low blow. Ouch. What a dirty trick. Cheap shot. Kicking someone in the balls. Sleazy. Punching below the belt. Stabbing a defenseless homeless person. Referring to someone as grossly obese. Referencing “retarded children.” Calling someone crazy and in need of prescription drugs. Talking about barebacking. What a lack of class.

    How, you may ask? (What, isn’t it obvious yet?) Well, think of it this way. There’s something wrong with being gay. It’s just too different. It’s sick. If we accept it, then our society will go into decline. Our President and Vice President are doing the good work of fighting the gayness that threatens to harm America. At the same time, the Vice President’s daughter is gay. Don’t you see how unfair it is to point that out?

  15. Attila Girl says:

    Because the reference was stilted and unnatural, and because Edwards had already discussed Mary Cheney’s sexual preference in the previous debate, I found it impossible to interpret this as anything but weird political theatre: what if, every time the question of race came up, Kerry mentioned Condoleeza Rice? Wouldn’t it get a little bit weird–his acting like she’s the only black person in a position of high responsibility within the government?

    This is the same thing: continually bringing up Mary Cheney, as if she is supposed to “stand in” for all gay republicans, is just narrow.

    And the fact that it came up in two debates in a row makes the Dems look like they’re using someone’s personal life to try to drive a wedge between Bush and his base.

  16. carpeicthus says:

    James, you’re a smart guy, and, I think have a pretty good call on the immediate issue. Given that, I’m not sure why you take Michelle Malkin seriously in any case, but to pretend she’s a valid arbiter of taste? Come on.

  17. highway66 says:

    Edwards was better at sticking the knife in Cheney’s ribs than Kerry. Kerry could have had a day of Bush/Osama/Exageration, but instead we have this contrived political theater. The right has the losing logic argument, but they have the righteous indignation down.

    I agree with Anjin-San: where is the Vice President & Mrs. Cheney’s indignation when the far right spews hatred at gays? Or is it like Santorum says: hate is love.

    And for all those who justify Bush’s actions with War is Peace and talk about, “marriage doesn’t matter when your dead!”, (not addressing anyone or any one argument in particular, but I’ve heard this before) I say, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Corny, I know.

  18. Jay says:

    If John and Yoko Heinz Kerry really needed a live example to support their stand on gay marriage why not Barney Franks ?

    Elizabeth Edwards better hope “Obesity in America” issues aren’t refered back to her as an example…fair game I say… she paraded it around in the campaign ! Unless she’s ashamed of her fat butt and celulite thighs ! What would Wendy’s think ?

    The Difference I see between Dems and Conservatives is that we put stakes in the ground that represent our stands and values. Dems just do an existenstial dance around these while trying to yank them out like so many Bush-Cheny lawn signs.
    Do we really want to have more of the drifting policies and morals of the Carter-Clinton years ?. The popular theme now is that events will determine this election. Lord I hope not…I Pray it principles not events.

  19. Jason Lotito says:

    “The Difference I see between Dems and Conservatives is that we put stakes in the ground that represent our stands and values.”

    Yeah, but the problem is that when you are shown that your stakes are wrong (not to say all your stakes are wrong), you won’t remove them. You keep them there. The president is a fine example of this. Condoleeza Rice even admitted they were wrong, but still went ahead anyways with their plans in Iraq.

    A leader isn’t someone who puts down a stake and sticks to it. If you can’t admit to a mistake (something President Bush has never done), you can’t lead. This is not a Republican attack, rather an attack on anyone who won’t admit when they are wrong. If you are wrong, and you won’t admit you are wrong, then things can never get better.

    What do they say to alcoholics and drug users? Admitting your problem is the first step on the road to recovery? Bush made some mistakes (again, to be clear, he also did some things right), but by no admitting these mistakes, he is continuing to dig a hole we won’t be able to pull ourselves out of.

    While I don’t think Kerry’s remark was anything to be proud of (quite the opposite), the Bush response is even worse. The saying is making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    I find it disturbing that our current administration, by focusing effort on this one line, is all but admitting this is the most important issue at hand. It’s not. Their are other issues at hand that are much more important. Dick Cheney’s daughter is not going to solve the problem in Iraq, it’s not going to help Health Care and social services, it’s not going to help bring in new jobs, and it’s not going to help our foreign relations.

    Indeed, Kerry may have made a mistake in saying what he said. But the reaction from the Bush camp/supporters is even worse. I guarantee you that Kerry, having said what he said, will not solve any of the problems. And nor will the Bush response. It’s a waste of time, and frankly, the fact that the Bush camp is spending a lot of time on it is pretty scary.

    It says to me, someone who is still leaving his options open (and as someone who voted for Bush in 2000), worried that this administration is not concerned about real problems.

  20. Oyster says:

    John Kerry is the epitome of that guy you work with that can’t tell an off-color joke, that anyone else would get a laugh out of, without seeming creepy.

    If it wasn’t his intent to be derisive then what does it say about his diplomatic skills?

    George Bush may have fired off a few cheap shots at him but he has left Kerry’s family alone. And you know as well as I there are a few zingers there.

  21. **Ken posted: Kerry answered the question by saying it was not a choice and used Mary Cheney as a powerful example as proof of his point.

    Bush tried to weasel his way past the question and Kerry unloaded on him with a good answer revealing the hypocricy (sic) of the conservative position regarding gay Americans.**

    I posted over on Captain’s Quarters on this topic and came here looking for positive reasons for Kedwards references to Mary Cheney. The main reason seems to be exposing hypocrisy (surprise!). Andrew Sullivan is at least clear: Bush and Cheney don’t believe that gays are home-wrecking demons but want the votes of those who do. Really? That assumes there is a substantial gays-are-home-wrecking-demons bloc and Bush has appealed to them. What’s the evidence? Matt Yglesias thinks that to know homosexuals is to love them, that Bush manefestly doesn’t know any homosexuals, and therefore mentioning Mary Cheney proves . . . uh . . . well, what does it prove?

    so Ken, as the local proponrnt of the hypocrisy theory, what WAS Kerry’s point and in what way is Mary Cheney proof of it? What Kerry did was put *his opinion* in *her* mouth. That sounds like John Edwards channeling the thoughts of his client as she is being born.

    Second, Ken, anybody, what is hypocritical about the conservative position on homosexuals? What *is* the conservative position on homosexuality and how does it concern the Cheneys?

    And third, why is alleged hypocrisy a reason for Kedwards’ gratuitous references to Mary Cheney?

    Judging from Sullivan’s and other’s comments, I suspect any responses to these questions are going to involve ranting at a fantasy right-wing boogey-man and other massive irrelevancies.

  22. Angie says:

    If only Dick and Lynne Cheney were as indignant over the tragedy of more than 1,000 American soldiers killed and thousands wounded in Iraq as they are over an innocuous remark by Senator John Kerry concerning their daughter Mary, I would feel much better about just what the top priorities of our vice president are.
    How exactly are Mr. Kerry’s actions more hurtful to their daughter than standing silently as President Bush tried to write discrimination against Mary Cheney and all gays into the Constitution?
    Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation is no secret, nor should it be a source of shame. Yet that is precisely how the Cheneys are reacting.
    Elizabeth Edwards is correct: only someone who believes that it’s shameful to be gay could assert that Senator Kerry has done something outrageous.

  23. ltf says:

    When discussing the outsourcing of American jobs, imagine George W. Bush saying “Well, Senator Kerry, why don’t you tell the American people why your wife’s company outsources approx. 60% of the Heinz operations to other countries?” Oh, the OUTRAGE. The Dems would have said he was GETTING PERSONAL. He has no right to bring up John Kerry’s wife’s company, THAT’S PERSONAL.

    When discussing healthcare, and the reasons that costs are going up, what if Bush had said, “Well Americans need to take more responsibility for their own health. I work out every day and stay in shape. Obesity is the main culprit in many diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, which are drains on the healthcare system. By the way, I noticed that John Edward’s wife is just really FAT. She is an example of what I’m talking about. She is a prime example of the type of unhealthy fat ass who is a drain on our health care costs because she doesn’t try to control it. So not only is he an ambulance chaser, his wife is a big fat health risk. Would you want HER in your insurance group?” OH THE OUTRAGE.

    You just don’t do this. You don’t use the families of candidates to prove a point or to dig at the opponent’s base.

    It was a cheap shot, and all of you KNOW IT.