Friday, October 15, 2004

Cheneys overreact to Kerry's positive comment about Mary Cheney

The New York Times
October 15, 2004


WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 - Senator John Kerry's reference in the debate Wednesday night to Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter touched off a political tempest on Thursday, with Mr. Cheney accusing Mr. Kerry of a cynical political attack and Mr. Kerry dismissing the charge.

Conservative Christians and gay rights groups also weighed in on the way Mr. Kerry brought up Mr. Cheney's daughter Mary in response to a question about whether homosexuality is a matter of choice.

"I think it is part of a strategy to suppress traditional-values voters, to knock 1 or 2 percent off in some rural areas by causing people to turn on the president," said Gary Bauer, a conservative Christian who ran for president four years ago.

Gay rights groups were generally supportive of Mr. Kerry. One, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said that in bringing up Ms. Cheney "Kerry expressed the human side of an issue that Bush has worked so hard to politicize to his advantage at the cost of families.'' The Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans that has broken with Mr. Bush over his opposition to same-sex marriage, said that while Mr. Kerry could have made his point without mentioning Ms. Cheney, "this shouldn't distract us from the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and other Republicans have been using gay and lesbian families as a political wedge issue." Mr. Rove is President Bush's chief political adviser.

Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Kerry's remarks showed the senator to be "a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected," as the vice president told supporters at a rally in Fort Myers, Fla. "And I am not speaking just as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father, but as a citizen."

Gay rights has been a sensitive topic for both sides in the presidential contest because of a Massachusetts court ruling that paved the way for same sex-marriage in that state.

The latest controversy began as the debate moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS, asked Mr. Bush whether he thought homosexuality was a matter of choice. Mr. Bush responded that he was not sure.

Mr. Kerry, in his response, 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."

Mr. Cheney's wife, Lynne, sharply criticized Mr. Kerry Wednesday night at a postdebate rally in Coraopolis, Pa.

"I did have a chance to assess John Kerry once more," Mrs. Cheney said. "And the only thing I could conclude is this is not a good man. This is not a good man. And, of course, I am speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick."

Democrats countered that the White House was trying to make people forget the debate, which they said Mr. Kerry had won. Moreover, the Democrats said, Mr. Cheney and his wife have both mentioned that their daughter Mary is gay and have talked about her with love and pride. Ms. Cheney is an official in her father's campaign.

In fact, on Aug. 24, as Republicans were drafting their party platform and calling for a constitutional amendment that "fully protects" the institution of marriage between man and woman, Mr. Cheney expressed his affection for his daughter at a rally in Davenport, Iowa, telling a forum that people should be free to enter "into any kind of relationship they want to."

That statement seemed to put Mr. Cheney at odds with President Bush, who supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Gay rights advocates accused the Bush administration at the time of trying to keep its conservative Christian base through Mr. Bush's stance, while broadening the Republican base by Mr. Cheney's seeming moderation on an emotional issue.

Mr. Kerry issued a statement in Las Vegas in which he showed no inclination to apologize. "I love my daughters," he said. "They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue."

Bush-Cheney campaign aides said Mary Cheney would not be available for comment.

The mention on Wednesday night of Ms. Cheney's sexual orientation was the second on prime-time television in little more than a week. Mr. Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards, referred to it on Oct. 5 in what appeared to be a civil exchange in his televised debate with Mr. Cheney. Mr. Cheney did not react strongly then, thanking Mr. Edwards "for his kind words."

"You're welcome," Mr. Edwards replied.

Mr. Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, said in an ABC radio interview on Thursday that Mrs. Cheney had overreacted. "I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences," Mrs. Edwards said. "It makes me really sad that that's Lynne's response."

But Matthew Dowd, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said in a CNN interview that Mr. Kerry's remarks were "outrageous" and offered a telling insight on the candidates.

Mr. Edwards, asked on Thursday for his reaction to the Cheneys' anger, noted their previous expressions of pride in their daughter.

"I don't think this should become some political football going back and forth," Mr. Edwards said in an interview with Chris Matthews on the MSNBC program "Hardball.''