every woman adores a fascist -- sylvia plath

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Mary Cheney Gaffe

What is it about Kerry’s statement about Mary Cheney that draws such strong reaction from such a large number of people?

Two facts are certain about The Mary Cheney Gaffe. Senator Kerry stated “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.” Also, a Washington Post poll revealed that nearly two in three likely voters (64 percent) said Kerry's comment was "inappropriate," including more than four in 10 of his own supporters and half of all swing voters. Instead of jumping into the fray and defending or attacking Kerry, let’s try to understand why such an enormous amount of people found the comment inappropriate. Oddly enough, the Kerry Camp’s defenses do much to reveal Kerry’s true intention behind his statement and explain why so many people found his comment inappropriate.

It should be noted that most apologists of Kerry’s (including Kerry himself) believe those polled were wrong to consider his comment “inappropriate.” They see the negative response to his comment as unfounded. Let’s look at the defenses given by the Kerry camp:

· Kerry’s campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, defended Kerry by stating that Mary Cheney’s sexuality is public and therefore “fair game.”
· Senator John Edwards defended Kerry by stating he made the same comment (which was seen as appropriate) in his debate with Vice-President Dick Cheney.
· Senator Kerry defended himself when he said he was really “trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue.”

Although all of these are interesting defenses of Kerry’s statement, they don’t seem to “clear the air” since none really address the underlying reason why so many judged the statement as “inappropriate.”

Kerry’s own explanation that he was saying something “positive about…strong families” is an unsuccessful attempt to change the context of his statement, and fails on two levels. First, his statement in the debates was not about the Cheney’s relationship (positively or negatively) with their daughter. Therefore, the claim that he was in fact making a positive statement would not contradict the assumption that he made a negative statement about them. In fact, his statement about Mary Cheney was an example to show that homosexuality is a choice. Thus, Kerry’s “clarification” (that he was actually praising strong families) fails to address the underlying cause of concern with his statement.

Unfortunately, Senator Edwards’ defense of Kerry falls flat on its face, as well. Senator Edwards’ claim that he made the same comment as Kerry, which resulted in little fanfare then and therefore should now, is categorically incorrect. Edwards and Kerry, in fact, made quite different statements. Edwards stated:

“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 you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing.”

Edwards was “being positive” about the Cheney’s relationship with their daughter. Kerry’s statement, on the other hand, put words in Mary Cheney’s mouth when he said “she would tell you that she’s being who she was”.

This is why Edwards statement was met with such little outrage and Kerry’s was. Edwards, on the one hand, couched his statement about Mary Cheney in adulations about the Cheney household while Kerry, on the other, used her as an example (or, rather, made an example out of her).

Kerry claimed to know Mary’s beliefs and took the liberty to speak for her. He violated her privacy, usurped her voice, and used her sexual identity for his own political ends. He used her as a debating point to win the debate. She became, in that moment, a tool of advantage--precisely what the final defense of Kerry states about her being “fair game.”

That is exactly how Kerry treated her and precisely why two-thirds of those watching the debate found his comment “inappropriate.” Those polled did not see her sexuality as “fair game” as Kerry did. Those polled did not see his comment as a revelation about the Cheney’s relationship with their daughter.

On the contrary, his only revealed Kerry’s true intentions: to violate Mary Cheney and use her sexual identity to win a debate.

Let’s suppose, though, that Senator Edwards was correct, and Kerry did say what he said. Let’s suppose that Kerry actually was saying something positive about the Cheney family’s relationship with Mary Cheney. If so, then now we know that such statements are made because Mary Cheney’s sexuality is fair game. Sadly, all that proves is that Kerry is willing to violate Mary Cheney while pretending to the American people that he isn’t doing it at all.

The outrage is not about Mary Cheney’s sexuality. It’s about our disappointment in a Presidential candidate who is willing to talk about an opponents daughter and violate her to win a debate.