Friday, October 15, 2004
Hypocrites And Bigots
In responding to this most ludicrous of moments in American electoral politics, I will rely on the insights of openly gay journalist Dave Cullen, from an article he penned for Salon.com (to access Salon, just agree to watch a brief web ad for a one day pass). Cullen puts his finger on what so many in the media are suggesting by their confected outrage:
Let's get one thing straight. It is not an insult to call a proudly public lesbian a lesbian. It's an insult to gasp when someone calls her a lesbian. That's how all the gays I have spoken to the past 24 hours perceived the press response. You're embarrassed for us. And it's infuriating.So utterly true there is little to add to that. Calling someone gay is not an insult unless you perceive being gay as somehow base or deserving of scorn. It's not as if Kerry outed her. She is in a public role, and has never seemed shy about her homosexuality in the past. In fact, she uses the fact that she is gay to appeal to gay constituencies on the campaign trail and in her capacity as a political operative. So if she stands up and declares something proudly, why is Kerry's mention of it so abhorrent? She was not hiding something, and Kerry was not exposing it. He stated the obvious, and if you were ignorant about Mary Cheney's lifestyle, don't let your own surprise color the import of the revelation.
First, let's dispense with the comic aspects of the parental indignation:Uh...right. What Cheney first praised, is now an unthinkable act. What was different in what Kerry said than Edwards? Not much, other than the delivery, which for Kerry was a bit more halting and self-conscious. Both of them mentioned Mary in the context of preaching tolerance, acceptance and compassion for homosexuals. Is there anything to justify saying that the difference in intonation between Edwards and Kerry reveals Kerry as "a man who will do and say anything to get elected" as Dick Cheney suggested. Or as Lynne put it that, "This is not a good man." Let me see if I'm following this: Edwards mentions Mary's homosexuality, the Cheney's say thank you, Kerry does it, and he is evil?
Mary Cheney has been happily out of the closet for at least a decade, so John Kerry was hardly dragging her out against her will. She spent the late '90s working as a veritable professional lesbian, as gay and lesbian corporate relations manager for Coors Brewing Co. Dick Cheney himself has been using her sexuality on the campaign trail. Click here to watch a Human Rights Campaign ad with him on the stump on Aug. 24, 2004: "Lynne and I have a gay daughter ... " The Bush-Cheney administration has shamelessly used homosexuality as a wedge issue, never hesitating to play the sodomite card when it serves their political ends. John Edwards brought up Mary Cheney in response to a similar gay-rights question just eight days earlier in the veep debate. Dick Cheney responded by thanking him for his kind remarks.
But the discourse in the media, if you can call it that, hasn't focused on the different approaches of Kerry and Edwards. Instead, they are fixated on the word itseld, and the act of calling Mary Cheney by "that word" - betraying a deliberate amnesia to the substance of Edwards' comments last week. Cullen observes:
The most outlandish exchange I've seen came in a scholarly Fox News debate Thursday -- seriously, it happens -- over the candidates' linguistic styles, of all things. The conservative guy, Eric Dezenhall, charged that "the invocation of Vice President Cheney's daughter's lesbianism was sort of a radioactive concept. The words lesbian in a presidential debate -- even if you don't mean it to be mean -- came across as off the grid, and very, very shrill."Again, Cullen nails it. It is our own juvenile and bigoted view of homosexuality that would even turn this into an issue in the first place. Should we really treat homosexuals as "those we don't speak of" as if the mere evocation of the name will bring God's wrath upon us? How does that square with an administration that has brought homosexuality into the public discourse to a degree that none of its predecessors ever had - and even then in the pursuit of permanently enshrining discrimination against them into the Constitution of the United States and stirring up anti-gay emotions for gains at the polls.
Is he serious? If it's innocent little gay people you think you're protecting here, listen up! Gay people do not consider the invocation of our existence radioactive. It's the comparisons to plutonium that drive us nuts. We are not toxic. [emphasis added]
So, it's okay to talk about homosexuals in vague and abstract terms, especially if you are talking about curtailing their rights, or if you are spreading misleading campaign literature that says that Democrats want to force gay marriage on you - maybe even force heterosexuals to marry the same sex - but to mention that one person close to that effort is gay, in the midst of preaching tolerance, would be stepping over the line?
I will give the last word to Cullen, who is magnanimous enough to provide us ignorant heterosexuals with a little much needed perspective.
Most of you out there have never been a homo. Let me share a personal story to illustrate how this works for a gay person. I came out to my parents when I was in my 30s -- they were shocked, then understanding, but also a little queasy about it. The queasiness was much less about them accepting me as it was their friends accepting them.[Update: (Via Atrios) When considering all the outrage and chest thumping going on in the conservative punditry and political circles, keep in mind sentiments such as these from Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, who sponsored the gay marriage amendment in the House. This is from a campaign letter she sent to her supporters:
That's the part that stings. No matter how old you get.
Once you're happily out of the closet a few years, you don't bat an eye at someone hearing you're gay. Even on national television. Even if your father's the vice president. (Especially if your father's the vice president -- don't you think she's used to it by now?)
What rips your heart out is when someone close to you denies your sexuality in public. Or shudders at the mention of it, so you can see how desperately they want to.
It may sound like a subtle implication to a straight person -- clearly it does; even the most liberal straight pundits appear oblivious to it -- but a gay person hears it scream out loud and clear. You people still feel there's something to be ashamed of here.
But wait, Kerry said Mary Cheney was a lesbian. So it's a wash.]
Dear friend of the family,
Radical homosexual-agenda leaders have declared me Public Enemy #1 and are spending over a million dollars on vicious, false TV ads to defeat me.
I need your help.
You may know that I have been the U.S. House leader to protect traditional marriage from the radical agenda of the homosexual lobby by sponsoring the Marriage Protection Amendment.
What you may not know is that the last sponsor of the Amendment was defeated for re-election, and now the bull's eye is on my back.
Leaders of the homosexual lobby know if they can take me out, no one will stand against them in the future.
I have no other choice but to ask for urgent help from pro-family Americans like you.
I’m also worried that if I don’t raise enough money for our ad campaign, I will be powerless to respond to these vicious attacks against me.
Unlike the homosexual lobbies’ ads, my ad campaign will be based on truth and compare my solid record to that of my opponent, liberal Democrat Stan Matsunaka
Stan Matsunaka fears the truth because he knows his record in the State Senate shows he supports homosexual marriage and will promote it as a U.S. Congressman.
If we allow these vicious ads to go unanswered then Stan Matsunaka and the radical homosexual lobby could succeed by deceiving the voters, and win on Election Day.
[Update II: For those tempted to judge John Kerry negatively despite the ridiculousness of the argument, please refer to the way that John McCain, his wife, and their adopted child were smeared by Bush/Cheney in the 2000 primary. In that instance, they didn't state that their child was Bangladeshi at an open forum. No, what they did was suggest that the child was in fact African American and the product of an illicit affair of McCain and his fictitious mistress. These are the people that are claiming that John Kerry stepped over the line by evoking the name of a candidate's family member. The hypocrisy knows no bounds.]
[Update III: Eric Alterman in a succinct fashion: "While her parents might be ashamed of her - judging by their attacks on Kerry for saluting her - did it occur to any of these people that Mary Cheney might be glad - even proud - to be gay?"]
[Update the Fourth: The updates keep coming because people keep making points that warrant repetition. First is Slate.com's Kevin Arnovitz (via Beautiful Horizons):
Kerry did not out Cheney. Unlike Alan Keyes, he did not call into question Mary Cheney's moral character. The only thing Kerry sought to do was humanize an issue which is being discussed in alarmingly abstract terms. In fact, the vice president has alluded to his daughter on numerous occasions in public statements and appearances.And wouldn't I be remiss if I didn't let Andrew Sullivan get his two cents in on a topic he has more personal connection with than most conservative pundits (via Lawyers, Guns and Money, with a hat tip to Liberal Zoo from Science and Politics):
So what about Kerry's remarks so offended the Cheney clan? Had the president, when speaking about immigration, referenced Teresa Heinz Kerry's experience in a positive or neutral light, would that have been inappropriate? Is Mary Cheney's homosexuality some sort of affliction? A verboten family tragedy like the death of John Edwards' son? The only "cheap and tawdry political trick" performed Wednesday night was the one turned by the Cheney parental units. It was they who used their daughter's sexuality as a weapon against John Kerry's sympathetic (and very general) remark. If only Dick and Lynne were so indignant when their daughter was legitimately under attack by an administration willing to write gays and lesbians out of the nation's founding document. Selective indignation has never been so crass... [emphasis added]
I keep getting emails asserting that Kerry's mentioning of Mary Cheney is somehow offensive or gratuitous or a "low blow". Huh? Mary Cheney is out of the closet and a member, with her partner, of the vice-president's family. That's a public fact. No one's privacy is being invaded by mentioning this. When Kerry cites Bush's wife or daughters, no one says it's a "low blow." The double standards are entirely a function of people's lingering prejudice against gay people. And by mentioning it, Kerry showed something important. This issue is not an abstract one. It's a concrete, human and real one. It affects many families, and Bush has decided to use this cynically as a divisive weapon in an election campaign. He deserves to be held to account for this - and how much more effective than showing a real person whose relationship and dignity he has attacked and minimized? Does this makes Bush's base uncomfortable? Well, good. It's about time they were made uncomfortable in their acquiescence to discrimination. Does it make Bush uncomfortable? Even better. His decision to bar gay couples from having any protections for their relationships in the constitution is not just a direct attack on the family member of the vice-president. It's an attack on all families with gay members - and on the family as an institution. That's a central issue in this campaign, a key indictment of Bush's record and more than relevant to any debate. For four years, this president has tried to make gay people invisible, to avoid any mention of us, to pretend we don't exist. Well, we do. Right in front of him.Well said Andy. Still waiting for you to see the light in the grand sense though.]
[Update V: Digby provides this insightful take:
This isn't just a little game. It is a serious matter of equal rights under the constitution. And, the Cheneys' behavior can be directly compared to the type of behavior that used to be tolerated from white men like Strom Thurmond who agitated for decades for Jim Crow and discrimination against african americans while privately being quite fond of his african american daughter. That goes beyond hypocrisy. For any enlightened person, it is intellectually and emotionally incoherent.
We, as citizens, are not in a position to pass judgment on how people deal with such issues in their personal lives. But those like Thurmond and Cheney publicly promote laws that discriminate against selected people in our society and in their own families. That is such a counterintuitive concept to most Americans that it deserves to be exposed and openly discussed. [emphasis added]
Digby strikes again.]