mentioning someone’s gay daughter is a “low blow”?

once again, i’m reduced to saying wtf ???

William Safire, “The Lowest Blow“, NYT, Oct. 18, 2004, is really pissing me off.

The Lowest Blow


The memoir about the Kerry-Edwards campaign that will be the best seller will reveal the debate rehearsal aimed at focusing national attention on the fact that Vice President Cheney has a daughter who is a lesbian.

Uhh, no, it won’t. This is bullshit, a fake issue.

Read at its absolutely most significant, it affects the following small populations of people: (a) people who would vote against Bush because Cheney has a gay daughter (implicitly: they hate gay people and think Mary Cheney’s participation in the campaign and/or her family’s non-disavowal of her smacks of closet tolerance) AND they didn’t know already; (b) people who would vote against Bush because they suddenly have realized the Bush administration is hypocritical regarding gay rights, AND they didn’t know about Mary Cheney’s sexuality, AND they didn’t know the administration is hypocritical; (c) people who would vote against Kerry because they think that homosexuality is wrong or embarrassing AND they think that Kerry did it with bad intentions AND they think that’s so serious it outweighs other factors.

That this twice-delivered low blow was deliberate is indisputable. The first shot was taken by John Edwards, seizing a moderator’s opening to smarmily compliment the Cheneys for loving their openly gay daughter, Mary. The vice president thanked him and yielded the remaining 80 seconds of his time; obviously it was not a diversion he was willing to prolong.

Indisputable, sure. As for the rest of it, nah-ah. “[N]ot a diversion he was willing to prolong” is an interesting take on the incident. I’m not sure that is the correct take, or what the significance of it is if that is the correct take. Cheney might have felt embarrassed by his daughter’s homosexuality; he might have felt embarrassed by his own complicity in fostering discrimination against his daughter; he might have felt embarrassed by his own caving-in to the religious right & the Bush administration on this; he might have felt nothing, but knew that tactically he had nothing to gain from having the conversation; he might have been told not to engage on this issue so as not to discuss the rift in the Bush administration.

Until that moment, only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual. The vice president, to show it was no secret or anything his family was ashamed of, had referred to it briefly twice this year, but the press – respecting family privacy – had properly not made it a big deal. The percentage of voters aware of Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation was tiny.

1. No. Bullshit. Not correct to say that “only political junkies” knew or that “[t]he percentage of voters aware of Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation was tiny.” The entire gay community knew, political junkies or not. The religious right anti-gay community certainly knew, political junkies or not. Certainly the entire staff knew. Politically aware folks of all stripes knew, “junkies” or not. Anybody with their head not in the sand knew, frankly. So how does he got off saying only a few people knew? What statistics do you have to show that only few “voters” knew the sexual orientation?

2. The vice president’s motivations in mentioning it are speculative. How nice to suggest that the motivations were “to show it was no secret”. One might also suspect that it was a political attempt to (a) avoid damaging outings of information that was widely publicly available & known; or (b) an attempt to have it both ways, so that gay folks could say, as they did in 2000, that hey, this administration is tolerant, after all, and therefore we can vote for them.

3. The press’s motivations in not discussing it are likewise speculative. Out of respect for the family’s privacy? Please. It’s not a private fact that Mary Cheney is gay. How she fucks her girlfriend, that might be private. The fact that she has a girlfriend, even though Mary & her girlfriend were not brought onto the RNC convention floor with the rest of the Cheney family, is certainly not private. Properly not made it a big deal? Maybe, if we figure out what it is that isn’t a big deal. Is it a big deal that Mary Cheney is gay? No. Is it a big deal that Mary Cheney is gay and her father the vice-president supports state control of marriage, but nevertheless “supports” the administration’s position on the same-sex marriage amendment? Yes. That’s news, because that suggests that there is divisiveness in the administration, this isn’t an easy issue, and demonstrates the complexity of opinion in the so-called conservative party.

Moreover, if it was press respect for family privacy the first time, why did they suddenly lose their respect the second time? It wasn’t the press that jumped on this — it was the Republican talking points, for lack of anything else to critique in Kerry’s debate performance or tout in Bush’s debate performance.

But Edwards’s answer in the vice-presidential debate raised that percentage. Because Cheney refused to react and the media did not see the spotlight on lesbianism as part of a political plan, the opening shot worked.

Oh please. The media knew that the Edwards comment was deliberate & calculated (although what the “plan” was, is harder to say); they refused to make a big deal out of it because it wasn’t a big deal. There wasn’t a big media splash out of that debate.

Emboldened, members of Kerry’s debate preparation team made Mary Cheney’s private life the centerpiece of their answer to the question, especially worrisome to them, about same-sex marriage. Kerry was prepped to insert her sexuality into his rehearsed answer: “If you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian. …”

But in this second time around, the gratuitous insertion of Cheney’s daughter into an answer slipping around a hot-button social issue revealed that it was part of a deliberate Kerry campaign strategy.

We actually have a point of agreement here — that it was deliberate. (Not, I repeat, not, that Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation is an aspect of her “private life.”)

One purpose was to drive a wedge between the Republican running mates. President Bush supports a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a union of a man and a woman; Cheney has long been on record favoring state option, but always adds that the president sets administration policy. That rare divergence of views is hardly embarrassing.

Bush & Cheney have a division — Kerry didn’t create it. If their divergence of views is “hardly embarrassing”, then what is the fucking problem? I think the problem is that their divergence of views is embarrassing, for a couple of reasons.

One: For as much as Buch cloaks his rhetoric with fuzzy tolerance, it’s actually a fairly hard-edged policy: same-sex couples are so dangerous that the states cannot be trusted to deal with marriage any more, lest they decide that same-sex couples are entitled to marriage. And the position is founded on bright-line morality: marriage is between a man and a woman, and this is so true that reasonable people may not disagree, and states may not dissent. In other words, Bush tries to straddle the line here, catering to homophobes while at the same time talking as if his positions amount to tolerance.

Two: The division is embarrassing because, as many folks have pointed out, the fact that there are queer family members in the highest echelons suggests that there is tolerance of those family members. Greater tolerance than is let on by the actual positions the Bush administration endorses, and suggesting perhaps that the fuzzy tolerance rhetoric is closer to their actual beliefs than the positions they advocate. This suggests an embarrassing fact: that these guys advance an intolerant bright-line faith-based agenda for political purposes. Political purposes, not moral purposes. Thus folks who are opposed to homosexuality on ethical grounds are forced to confront that this administration is not what it claims to be. This administration is not, after all, straightforward, straight talking, and morally pure, steadfast, and of one heart and mind on this issue as befits a clear-cut moral issue with a right answer and a wrong answer. In fact this administration makes political calculations and sacrifices its own beliefs and its own family members’ well-being to partisan politics. This is an ugly reality for folks to confront, and, no doubt, an embarrassment for the administration.

The sleazier purpose of the Kerry-Edwards spotlight on Mary Cheney is to confuse and dismay Bush supporters who believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, to suggest that Bush is as “soft on same-sex” as Kerry is, and thereby to reduce a Bush core constituency’s eagerness to go to the polls.

Please. To try to color this as voter suppression is wholly disengenuous. Yeah, giving people facts that might make them less willing to vote for the opposition is pretty much the raison d’etre of all political campaigns and particularly debates. This is entirely distinguishable from typical voter suppression tactics, such as harassing people, putting out false information about difficulties around voting, or minimizing the importance of voting.

The pro-Kerry columnist Margaret Carlson put her finger on it, finding that Kerry and Edwards “realize that discussing Mary Cheney is a no-lose proposition: It highlights the hypocrisy of the Bush-Cheney position to Democrats while simultaneously alerting evangelicals to the fact that the Cheneys have an actual gay person in their household whom they apparently aren’t trying to convert or cure.” (Italics mine.)

To make another point I don’t disagree with, Safire has to quote someone else.

After the outspoken Lynne Cheney blasted this unsought intrusion of her daughter’s private life as “a cheap and tawdry trick,” the Kerry campaign hustled forward John Edwards’s wife to charge that such motherly outrage “indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter’s sexual preferences.”

1. “[U]nsought intrusion of her daughter’s private life”??? It has been well-documented that Mary Cheney is a lesbian Republican. She worked with the Log Cabin Republicans; she worked for conservative beer company Coors as their liaison to the gay & lesbian community. The fact that she’s a dyke is thus hardly private.

2. As for being an “unsought intrusion”, I have a few responses. First, if the person didn’t ask for it, you can describe it as “unsought.” There is no question that the Republicans have been on the QT about Mary this election season. Tolerance isn’t in any more except as cotton padding to soften & blur the hard edges of homophobic legislation. So, no, the Republicans sure weren’t seeking mention of Mary. So on that level, sure, “unsought.”

But we’re not interested in “unsought.” George W. Bush certainly would like folks to not look into his military records; nevertheless, his military record and his representation of his record are legitimate topics of inquiry, sought or not.

But George W. Bush is the candidate! Mary Cheney is just the vice-presidential candidate’s daughter! No, no, no, no, no. Mary Cheney first has expressed no particular desire to stay private. In fact, she is not behaving as a private citizen, staying out of the fray — she’s actually working for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Moreover, the Cheneys have, in fact, acknowledged that their daughter’s sexual orientation is a campaign issue; have even, you might say, used her sexuality — either in an attempt to defuse it as an issue for homophobes or in an attempt to make themselves look tolerant, or both.

And frankly, on any reasonable grounds, the family of the candidates know that their lives are subject to being hauled up as examples, counter-examples, etc. Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy. Ron Reagan’s adult children. Etc. And if in any of those instances, an administration was seeking to pass highly controversial legislation directly affecting a stigmatized member of their own family, there is just no question that it would be discussed publicly.

Worse than insensitive, that shot was off message, peeling the veneer off the Kerry-Edwards justification for making Mary famous: their oleaginous claim that, gee, they were only complimenting Dick Cheney for his fatherly tolerance. The crusher to that pretense came when the Kerry campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, coolly announced that the Cheney daughter was “fair game.”

See above.

Apparently the American public thinks otherwise about the campaigning children of candidates. When polls showed two-to-one disapproval of the calculated Kerry-Edwards abuse of the young woman’s privacy, the Democratic strategists who concocted this base-suppressing dirty trick orchestrated a defense that it was Dick Cheney who “outed” his daughter months ago. They are advising Kerry that he would look weak or, worse, slyly manipulative were he to apologize for tagging the Cheneys with the word “lesbian” before 50 million viewers.

The daughter “outed” herself years ago. The Kerry campaign pointed out that Cheney brought her into this campaign, and again, brought her up as a lesbian.

Kerry will, I hope, assert his essential decency by apologizing with sincerity. Other Republicans hope he will let his self-inflicted wound fester. They have in mind a TV spot using an old film clip of a Boston lawyer named Welch at a Congressional hearing, saying “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Apologizing, for what???? For violating her privacy by discussing a publicly known fact about which she is not private, not ashamed, and feels no reason to be? Or for making Bush-Cheney look bad?

As for the Welch hearing, this was said to the Republican Sen. McCarthy, and could well be said to any of the members of the current administration, who apparently have no shame in lying about what other people say, no shame in trying to have it both ways, no shame in selling out their family members & apparent personal values in order to gain partisan political advantage, and no shame in making a big fucking deal out of nothing, nothing, nothing.

If anybody should feel shame, then it’s the members of this administration, which has politicized the sexuality of millions of Americans including Mary Cheney; politicized and used Cheney’s sexuality to minimize negativity associated with their right-wing agendas; and finally used her as a poster-child for abused family privacy, acting as if her existence has created a vulnerability for her family, something to be embarrassed about, something that is exploitable. And Mary Cheney’s family, which probably really does feel shame for associating themselves with a cause which can only hurt their daughter, is left to conceal that shame with a lie. Read at its most generously, their so-called fatherly & motherly outrage smacks of self-deceptive reactionary embarrassment about their own positions. Read less generously, it’s yet another political lie.

Well, after all this, I finally have a global reaction that’s more than just “wtf”: This administration and the Republican party are the most hypocritical lying sacks of shit I have had the misfortune of watching since the days of Oliver North. To play on homophobia in election contests across the nation, to play on it in the national context, to bandy about the idea of constitutional homophobia — and then to try to suggest that they’re protecting and defending the delicate sensibilities of the queers in their families?

Jesus. That these Republicans are now trying to demonstrate that they care about the family privacy of queers, after politicizing our lives, creates a truly disgusting spectacle.

Update, 2004-10-19: Timothy Noah had a good response on Slate, fri, 10/15

Update, 2004-10-27: Now Bush has decided that he supports civil unions. [nyt] The Republican platform? He doesn’t agree with it. (Jon Stewart pointed out, on the 26th, that “Gee, it would be nice if the president had some influence over his party’s platform.” Is this flip-flopping? Stewart said that Bush-supporting gays like to think of Bush, not as a flip-flopper, but as a versatile top.) I guess he’s desperate: Trying to eke out a few of those Log Cabin Republicans after all, and maybe some moderates who aren’t filled with god’s hatred love for the homos. Yeah, good luck with that, asshole.