Again?

Timothy Sandefur says that I "refuse to call a dirty trick a dirty trick when committed by John Kerry", referring of course to all of this outrage over Kerry's mere mention of Mary Cheney's name the other night. Now it must be said that Sandefur does not take the position that so many of the others I've been criticizing take on the matter. He doesn't engage my arguments for why I think it was fine, and he doesn't really spell out why he thinks it's a dirty trick. It's just sort of left as a self-evident assertion. He simply says it is a dirty trick "to mention on world-wide television the personal life of a relative of a candidate simply in an attempt to attack the opponent's party and undermine its support." But I disagree with a statement this generalized and I'll give some examples to bear that out.

The only analogous statements that one could think of for cases where it would be wrong would be statements that are insulting. For example, if one were to say, "My opponent says he's for strong physical education programs in school, but his wife is fat", I think we'd all agree that this is mean and out of bounds. But if one were to say, "My opponent rants and raves about the evils of personal injury lawyers, yet his own father made his fortune as a personal injury lawyer", that would not be out of bounds. Why? Because the first one is insulting to the family member while the second merely mentions something that points up the hypocrisy of the candidate's position. The mention of Mary Cheney is far more analogous to the second statement than the first unless one believes that being gay is a bad thing and therefore merely to say so is to insult her.

Secondly, I think Sandefur is flat wrong when he draws an analogy with another candidate saying something about Chelsea Clinton. He writes:

Can you imagine if, during the Presidential debates, Bob Dole had said something about Chelsea Clinton? Yet, as the daughter of the President, Chelsea Clinton was much closer to a "public figure" than the daughter of the Vice President.

There are three reasons why this argument fails. First, if Bob Dole had said something bad about Chelsea Clinton, there would have been justifiable outrage. If he had said, however, something like, "The president opposes school choice for parents in this country, but he sends his own daughter to a private school", that would have been completely legitimate - he's not insulting Chelsea Clinton, he's not revealing some private information about her, he's pointing out the hypocrisy of the president's position by showing dissonance where it actually exists. And in fact many people did make that very argument, and I certainly didn't object then (I agreed with them, in fact).

Secondly, it's simply not true to claim that because Chelsea was the daughter of the president, rather than the vice president, she was more of a public figure than Mary Cheney. That ignores several key facts. First, Chelsea was a minor, while Mary Cheney is an adult. Second, Mary has been very up front about the fact that she's gay, appearing in public with her partner on a regular basis - whether she is more of a public figure than Chelsea is irrelevant simply because the information WAS public, nothing new was revealed. Third, Mary Cheney is a political operative and has been for a very long time. She runs the Vice President's campaign team, and prior to that she was the head of public outreach to the gay community for Coors. It seems rather silly to say that someone who works in public outreach to the gay community is now suddenly so private that the mere mention of her being gay is out of bounds.

Thirdly, the fact is that nothing that Kerry said was in any way an insult. He was in fact siding with her. As Andrew Sullivan has been pointing out for the last couple days, the only way that the mere mention of the fact that she's gay is a problem is if one views being gay as a problem in and of itself (and I know that Timothy doesn't believe that, he is very much for gay rights and on that we have always agreed). If being gay isn't a problem, it isn't any different than mentioning that she has red hair or is an attorney. The mere mention of Chelsea Clinton's name would not have caused any problems for Bob Dole, nor would the mention of her in a complimentary way. It's only if she were mentioned in a negative way that it would be a problem. But did Kerry mention Mary Cheney in a negative way? No. He in fact made the argument that she was who she is because God made her that way and that she should have the same rights as everyone else. What's wrong with saying that, for crying out loud?

As I read it, there's another passage that perhaps highlights the real source of the disagreement. Sandefur writes:

Not long ago, I read this excellent post by Brayton, and I thought about commenting on it from the perspective of a heterosexual man who has a homosexual cousin. I've mentioned my homosexual cousin a couple times very briefly, but I decided it was inappropriate to discuss the subject on my blog because that is his private life. Although his being gay is no secret, it is a private matter that is not properly the subject of world-wide discussion.

It should be noted, I think, that it was Dick Cheney himself who made it a subject of world-wide discussion when, a few weeks ago, he gave a speech in which he talked openly about his daughter and her partner and said that he personally disagreed with the President, but supported him as a matter of administration policy. I think it is far more reasonable to criticize those who seized upon that speech to criticize Cheney for being disloyal than it is to claim it is a dirty trick for Kerry to have mentioned it in a complimentary manner. Dick Cheney has never felt that the subject was so private that it should never be discussed in public as he has discussed it in public several times, and last week thanked John Edwards for his kind words regarding his daughter and how he and his wife had handled it. But perhaps Mr. Sandefur just disagrees with both me and Dick Cheney (and I don't mean that in a snarky way at all, I think there may just be a difference of opinion on whether the entire subject is ever appropriate to discuss publicly, which would disagree with both of us).

I have talked openly about my uncle, both his life as a gay man and the fact that he died of AIDS. I've talked openly about one of my best friends who is a gay Republican. Lynn has shared, through me, some of her thoughts and experiences with her brother, who was gay and also died of AIDS, and the many other people she has befriended through her work in that area. I just don't take the position that it's a purely private matter that shouldn't be talked about. In fact, I think quite the opposite. While I would certainly not reveal anything that they considered private, I do think it's important to talk about those issues in public. I don't think it is any more a private matter than someone else talking about their spouse or children, which is a function of their heterosexuality. I truly think this is part of the process of letting gays out of the closet (as opposed to forcing them out of it). If someone is openly gay, why should the subject be such a taboo that the mere mention of it, even in a complimentary way, should be considered a faux pas?

I really think Sullivan is right on this one and I just don't see any reason to call this a dirty trick - he didn't "out" her, he didn't insult her, he didn't say anything bad. The only way it could be construed as a bad thing is if one starts from the assumption that being gay is a bad thing, and I know that Sandefur doesn't believe that. I think perhaps the real disagreement here stems from our different ways of drawing what we might call lines of civility. He is much more formal than I am in terms of how you address another person, for instance, and perhaps it's just a function of the level of formality that we assign to social interactions in general. Perhaps he just feels that any mention of something like that publicly, even when done in a complimentary manner, is in poor taste. If that's the case, we may just have to agree to disagree (god I hate that phrase). At any rate, in the meantime I will enjoy seeing consecutive posts on his blog, one praising me and the next criticizing me, and reflect on how good it is that friends can disagree without damaging their friendship. But in the meantime, perhaps I should start a category for all of the disagreements between the two of us :)

Postscript: Austin Cline at the Atheism/Agnosticism blog has also weighed in on this. But since he's an atheist, hence a nihilist, there's no reason to listen to what he has to say on anything since he can't hold strong beliefs without unwittingly admitting that God must exist. Right, Rusty?

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For what it's worth, Ed, I think you've convinced me. And Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point about Kerry's remark only being a problem if you think being gay is shameful. You both have made excellent arguments, and I think my initial anger against Kerry relates more to his cowardice to go all the way and support equality for gays (i.e. gay marriage). I realize of course that this is still considered "unpopular" and Kerry is trying to get elected. And I still don't care. There is never an excuse to fail to do the right thing for the sake of one's political career, and I have a suspicion that if Kerry were to come out and take a strong stance in favor of gay marriage, he might have actually won popularity by exposing the Bush administration as the bigots they are. This may be naive thinking on my part, but the majority of Americans act like sheep, and I think that perhaps if they say a prominent political figure- a presidential candidate, take a firm stance in favor of gay rights, they might be swayed.

Anyway, point is, you've won me over on this issue I think. Kerry is still a major a**hole, but I'll concede a grim approval for his comment. At least the issue came up a little instead of being brushed under the carpet completely as a "wedge" issue.

Which brings up an interesting point- gay rights are just a "wedge" issue? You don't get much more insulting then that. The people who claim this are the same sort of people who, during the civil rights movement, dismissed civil rights proponents as just being "uppity".

By Chris Berez (not verified) on 15 Oct 2004 #permalink

I am curious though on your opinion (or anyone elses) of why both Kerry and Edwards have mentioned this in the debates?

The litmus test for me is what did singling her out contribute to the answer? My current conclusion is that it contributed nothing.

It seems to me that since both of them have brought it up, there is some calculated benefit to it. If that is the case, then I do think it is patronizing at the very least.

To be honest, I don't think it was nearly as big a deal as people are making it. I am much more concerned with Kerry's stance in general although I feel a little better about it after the comments pointing out the differences between Kerry and Bush in the first post about this.

I am curious though on your opinion (or anyone elses) of why both Kerry and Edwards have mentioned this in the debates?
Two things, I think. First, it's possible that they are appealing to their own base with it, pointing out that they are pro-gay rights despite Kerry's position against gay marriage itself. Second, they're pointing out the hypocrisy of the Republicans on it (not that the Democrats don't have a hundred hypocritical positions of their own, of course).

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with ... With the respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone ... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to."
(Dick Cheney, 24 August)
How dare he! And after his daughter has worked so hard to remain private.

Sandefur seems to be unaware of the fact that Mary Cheney used her lesbianism to profit herself when she worked for Coors brewery to try to overcome the gay boycott of them. This was in the 1990s. She is not and has not been a private person in regards her lesbianism.

I wonder how the Right would have reacted had Bush said exactly what Kerry said? Perhaps -- Oh, what a thoughtful, compassionate man our president is!...How perfectly apropos to bring up his vice president's daughter as an example of a strong gay person!...etc. In fact, I'd bet the Cheney's, themselves, would have been brought to tears of thanksgiving for Bush's humaneness and decency...for shining an exemplary light on their beloved child.

Mr. Sandefur said :

"I've mentioned my homosexual cousin a couple times very briefly, but I decided it was inappropriate to discuss the subject on my blog because that is his private life. Although his being gay is no secret, it is a private matter that is not properly the subject of world-wide discussion."

OK, fair enough -- but why is Mr. Sandefur's own (presumed) heterosexuality not subject to the same standard? Isn't it shameful for him to talk about?

What gives? When Mary Cheney walked into that debate audience with her wife, her orientation became public, much as a straight woman's does when she appears in public with her husband.

This is not hard stuff here. I am sure Mr. Sandefur loves his gay cousin, he just needs to coordinate his own attitudes with his stated ideals.

By TikiGod666 (not verified) on 22 Oct 2004 #permalink