Sunday, October 17, 2004

Mary, Mary III

I think the angry reaction to Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney points out some gaps between People Like Us (youngish, educated, urbane, politically attentive) and the rest of the nation. (I consider myself one of People Like Us -- and I've worked hard to make that happen!)

1. People Like Us knew that Mary Cheney is 35 years old, partnered, utterly out as a lesbian, and active in the Bush campaign. Many of us were wondering how the GOP was going to handle her, particularly in a year when same-sex marriage is a prominent issue and many Republicans are conducting gay-baiting campaigns (e.g., Jim DeMint, Alan Keyes, Tom Coburn, the infamous "Ban the Bible" flyer in West Virginia). Probably most casual viewers didn't know about Mary. Probably many of them imagined her as an 18-year-old "experimenting" deep in the closet.

2. People Like Us see homosexuality as no big deal. Saying Mary Cheney is a lesbian is like saying Alexandra Kerry is a medical student or that Jenna Bush graduated from the University of Texas -- maybe irrelevant or uninteresting, but not slander. Many older, more socially conservative people see it as equivalent to asking Kerry about his divorce or Bush about his alcoholism -- something far too personal to be talked about on national TV. Others see it more like discussing a family member's abortion or drug use -- something they may be ashamed of and wish to keep secret. Andrew Sullivan talks about this here.

That said, Kerry's statement was still weird and inappropriate, although I am less convinced that it was part of a deliberate political strategy. ( I also think the interchange between Lynne Cheney and Elizabeth Edwards came much too close to an argument over sound parenting techniques). I wonder whether the Cheney family's reaction -- so different from their response to Edwards's discussion of Mary -- had been planned in advance -- Lynne will scream her head off, Dick will react in a more restrained manner, Liz will demand an apology.

9 comments:

Palooka said...

I think there's several issues, though I generally agree with your sentiments:

1) If Kerry's motive was to undermine Bush's support by activating some homophobic voters, then it was reprehensible, even if Kerry believes (and I am certain he does) that being gay is perfectly moral. Kerry intended this result because that is the ONLY reason why it would be beneficial to SPECIFICALLY mention Mary Cheney.

2) What adds to the problem to the above is that this was Cheney's daughter. Though she is openly gay, and though she is a campaign official, it's generally bad form--even in a somewhat positive context--to mention a candidate's children.

Dick Cheney was probably pissed when Edwards' mentioned his daughter. The second time, when Kerry mentioned her in an even more bizarre context, they had had enough.

Anonymous said...

Well put.

When Lynne Cheney called Kerry's remarks "tawdry" and "cheap" I immediately flashed back to Dick Cheney thanking John Edwards for his "kind words" during the VP debate.

This is manufactured outrage designed to gain political capital, plain and simple. And I regret to say, it comes at Mary's expense.

Solomon Wolfson
www.solomonwolfson.com

Palooka said...

Cheney was showing class when he thanked Edwards for his "kind words." He probably figured he would let Edwards' lack of class speak for itself.

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm not suggesting that Kerry had Mary's best interest in mind when he made the remark, but the Republican backlash was very disingenuous.

Bottom line is, it's been a dark few days for gays and lesbians in America. Meanwhile in Spain, they're getting married.

Solomon

Palooka said...

A dark day for gays and lesbians? And you're throwing the disingenous accusations arounds?

Anonymous said...

Yes, dark days, because a) we are in 2004 still considering the question of whether or not homosexuality is a choice, b) invoking the lesbian daughter of the opponent to make the point that it's not a choice (but then opposing equal rights anyway), and c) expressing outrage over the remark to score political points.

Solomon

Anonymous said...

It's important to remember the context of the original question - Bush was asked whether homosexuality is a choice. Kerry's answer was:

We're all God's children, Bob. And I think 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.I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice. I've met people who struggled with this for years, people who were in a marriage because they were living a sort of convention, and they struggled with it.I think that from a rhetorical standpoint, the first part of the answer is much stronger than the second part. If Kerry had just said - as he did in the second part there - "if you talk to someone who's gay, they'll tell you it's not a choice", he'd get hit for being too vague, too abstruse, too impersonal (as well as the Alan Keyes response: "it's a choice and she's a sinner for it").

By mentioning Mary Cheney, he added a dimension of humanity to his answer. I don't think it was all too calculated - I suspect that the angle of the question ("is it a choice?") caught everyone by surprise, Bush included. I think that Kerry fumbled for the most relevant example he could think of, a prominent gay American who clearly doesn't benefit from being gay, and settled on the Vice President's very mature, very out-of-the-closet, very involved daughter.

That seems neither unreasonable nor distasteful. And if the hardcore evangelicals will be turned off voting for Bush because Cheney's daughter is gay, then frankly BC04 deserves the hit - if you count on support from anti-gay bigots, then don't be shocked at that support weakening when you show signs of humanity (i.e. being a good and supportive parent to your gay daughter).

Kevin Grinberg
http://www.grinberg.ws/blog/

Palooka said...

I tend to think the majority of gays are at least in part genetically pre-disposed to their sexuality. A study done on male indentical twins reared separately, where at least one was homosexual, showed that 88% of the time the other twin was gay, too. While it certainly suggests a strong genetic component, it is not apparently determinative. A study done on lesbians showed no correlation at all.

I suppose something can still be environmentally caused and not be a "choice," but the choice discussion is usually code for genetic.

The point here is that it's not fully clear what "causes" or predisposes one to be homosexual. And, frankly, does it really matter? If was proven to be a choice, would you feel any differently?

Anonymous said...

John Kerry's position on gay marriage is pure political theater. Answer me this Senator: if you really believe homosexuality is not a choice, how can you possibly support denying these human beings the right to marry?

I want desperately to believe that George W. Bush's position is just pure ignorance. As twisted as it sounds, this would further validate my decision to support the guy in November; he has the backbone to stick to a position, even if it's an unpopular one.

Solomon Wolfson
www.solomonwolfson.com