The O’Reilly Factor for Lesbians”

That’s the title of Frank Rich’s latest masterpiece on the hysteria over John Kerry referencing Mary Cheney’s well-known lesbianism during the third debate. This was a topic I wasn’t going to write about since it’s already been overplayed, but this article is too good to pass up.

Though the president pays “compassionate conservative” lip service to “tolerance” of homosexuality to appease suburban swing voters, his campaign has pushed a gratuitous constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, one opposed by Mary Cheney’s own father, to stir up as much fear and ugly rage as it can.

When Mrs. Cheney hyperbolically implies that even using the word lesbian in 2004 is a slur out of the McCarthy era – “a cheap and tawdry political trick,” she said – she is playing a similar game. She is positioning lesbian as a term comparable to child molester. But as Dave Cullen writes in Salon: “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.” Mrs. Cheney and her surrogates are in effect doing exactly what Elizabeth Edwards had the guts to say they were doing: they are sending the message to Mr. Rove’s four million that they are ashamed of Mary Cheney. They are disowning her under the guise of “defending” her. They are exploiting her for the sake of political expediency even as they level that charge at Democrats.

The deployment of homosexuality as a nasty campaign weapon has long been second nature to Mr. Rove. In the must-read article “Karl Rove in a Corner” in the November issue of The Atlantic, the journalist Joshua Green exhaustively researches the tightest campaigns of Mr. Rove’s career and exhumes the pattern. As Mr. Green reminds us, George W. Bush’s 1994 gubernatorial race against Ann Richards “featured a rumor” that Governor Richards was a lesbian. Gay whispers have also swirled around Rove adversaries like a rival Republican campaign consultant in the 1980’s and a 1994 Alabama judicial candidate who was branded a “homosexual pedophile.”

None of these rumors were, in fact, true, but Mary Cheney is unambiguously and unapologetically gay. For a campaign that wants to pander to the fringe, that makes her presence in the Bush-Cheney family a problem – just how big a problem can be seen by its disingenuously hysterical reaction to Mr. Kerry’s use of the L word. But Mary Cheney isn’t the only problem for Mr. Rove as he plays this game. The Republican establishment is rife with gay people – just ask anyone in proximity to its convention in New York – and the campaign doesn’t want the four million to know about them, either.

(It’s true, about the gay Republicans. I’ve known several, though I never understood how they could join the camp of the enemy.)

This has been a campaign rife with irony. Here is John Kerry, always a friend to the gay community, being savaged for gay baiting by the far-right — which has redefined the very concept of gay baiting to the point of trying to write it into the Constitution. Then we have a much decorated and proven war hero derided as a coward who can’t face the enemy — by accusers who dodged the draft and never once faced real danger.

It will be an election year to remember. Will life even go on after the election? Somehow I can’t imagine it.

The Discussion: One Comment

“how they could join the camp of the enemy”


Gay Republicans — like most other non-fundamentalist Republicans — tend to be rich, and so they’d rather throw away their civil rights for the next 50 years (which is precisely what will happen, should Li’l George get the chance to nominate a couple of Supreme Court justices) than risk foregoing their next tax cut.

I can understand that, but I certainly can’t applaud it.

And please, Jeremy, don’t lecture me about “class warfare” — you people started it.

October 23, 2004 @ 1:19 am | Comment

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