While I agree with a great deal of what Jamie Kirchick asserts in Friday’s column “GOP nightmare: when queer is, well, normal,” (10/22) I think that he misunderstands the grounds on which many viewers — Republicans and Democrats alike — objected to John Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney in the third presidential debate.
It is ridiculous for Republicans to argue that citing Mary Cheney as a lesbian invades her privacy. As an advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues within the Republican Party, Cheney’s sexual orientation is no secret. Equally ridiculous is the contention that Kerry intended to insult her by saying she is a lesbian. It’s no news to them, and Dick Cheney has said publicly on numerous occasions that he supports and loves his lesbian daughter.
What is objectionable, however, is that Kerry and Edwards both gratuitously employed Cheney’s daughter as a political tool, exploiting the fact that the vice president has a gay daughter to accuse him, obliquely, of hypocrisy and intolerance of his own kin. Even in the often hostile realm of political discourse, the comment was beyond the pale, an ad hominem attack thinly veiled in the form of a compliment.
Asked whether he thought homosexuality was a choice, Kerry responded, “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.”
Kerry was asked whether he thought homosexuality was a choice, not whether Mary Cheney did. It was unnecessary and irrelevant to mention the vice president’s daughter.
Kirchick glosses over valid objections to Kerry’s comments and justifies them by pointing out corresponding Republican faux pas. The Bush campaign’s questioning of Kerry’s war record is indeed a “tawdry political trick,” and the Federal Marriage Amendment, a despicable vehicle of discrimination. Regardless of my disdain for the president’s bigotry, though, censure should be meted out where it is deserved. One man’s wrongful behavior is not justified by the wrongful behavior of others. And what was especially egregious about Kerry’s comments was that they directly targeted a family member. As a general principle, it is considered gauche to pit one member of a politician’s family against another, in the same way it would be inappropriate to bring up the Bush twins’ underage drinking fiascos if Kerry were asked about the drinking age.
Though Kerry’s campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, said she thought Mary Cheney was “fair game,” most voters disagree. An ABC Poll conducted after the debates shows that approximately two-thirds of voters found the senator’s remarks “inappropriate,” even though 57 percent of them agreed with the general point Kerry made. Kerry’s own senior adviser, Mike McCurry, thought the senator should apologize for what could be perceived as a personal attack against the vice president.
Perhaps the remark does not merit the storm of outrage it has generated, but, as parents, Dick and Lynne Cheney have some reason to be upset. Bringing a candidate’s child into the political fray is a political taboo, a tasteless tactic that paints the senator, as Lynne Cheney points out, as one “who will do anything to win.”
It should also be remembered that Kerry is no great champion of gay rights, either. He agrees with Bush that “marriage is defined as the union between a man and a woman” and has said he is in favor of repealing the Massachusetts court ruling on gay marriage if civil unions are instituted in its stead. Pundits have speculated that the position — a position out-of-step with the 100 percent rating the Human Rights Campaign has given his voting record — is one Kerry has adopted to appease more conservative voters. If this is the case, it gives credulity to the accusation that Kerry is a waffler.
I do not mean to exaggerate the significance of this incident. Even if Kerry’s comment came across merely as tacky — and it definitely was tacky — its utterance was nevertheless an imprudent judgment on the senator’s part. Overall, I find myself disappointed that there is no presidential candidate willing to come out in full support of equity for gays, lesbians and transgendered people. It shows what a long road we have ahead of us if even support for gay rights must be confined to a closet.
Gabriel Arana is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. He is a former staff reporter for the News.