Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Grudging Tolerance

Garance Franke-Ruta wants to know why when Alan Keyes called Mary Cheney a “selfish hedonist” the Cheneys didn’t take offense.

Little over a month before Kerry said, “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,” Illinois GOP Senate candidate Alan Keyes condemned homosexuality as “selfish hedonism” in a satellite-radio interview during the Republican national convention. Asked if Mary Cheney was also “a selfish hedonist,” Keyes replied, “Of course she is.”

Dick and Lynne Cheney, who have roundly criticized Kerry’s pro-gay remarks, said nothing in the face of Keyes’ highly derogatory comments. This should come as no surprise: There is a long history of suspicion in moral conservative circles that the vice president has not been adequately supportive of their agenda because of his gay daughter. And that has led the vice president and his family to be exceptionally tolerant of those who talk about his daughter’s sexuality — as long as they are anti-gay.


While the Cheneys have refrained from speaking ill of their gay daughter, they seem to have a suspiciously high level of tolerance for Republicans who insult and disparage her. Perhaps it’s because they know that in the closing weeks of an election year, being presented to the public, as per Kerry, as a model example of a family that loves and accepts a gay child — and, even worse, believes in the “born gay” hypothesis Kerry laid out — can only stir up old suspicions among Christian conservative voters about where the Cheney’s true loyalties lie. The fear is that coming out as pro-gay — or even just being known to have a gay child, which hard-right activists often see as an embarrassing symptom of familial failure — will turn off exactly the kind of religious-right voters whose turnout Karl Rove has spent the last four years cultivating.


And so the Cheneys and the Bush-Cheney campaign reacted like frightened junior-high students who have just been called “gay.” Bush-Cheney campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish condemned Kerry’s comments as a “crass, below-the-belt political strategy.” Dick Cheney reiterated the campaign’s months-old charge that Kerry is “a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected,” using Kerry’s comments about Mary Cheney daughter as new evidence and taking up the angry-parent role his wife adopted in 2000. “I am not speaking just as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father, but as a citizen,” he said. Lynne Cheney took the same tack in a postdebate rally in Pennsylvania, “speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom” and condemning Kerry’s comments as “a cheap and tawdry political trick.”


Nonetheless, the Cheneys’ tough talk about Kerry and silence on Keyes suggests that, when it comes to the subject of their gay daughter, they’re nowhere near as strong a family as Kerry is making them out to be.

The nerve of that guy! How dare John Kerry show understanding? Geez, if Mary Cheney’s family can’t deal with it, how can he?