Her Father's Daughter
The personal is the political, and vice versa.
Sep 11, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 48 • By LAUREN WEINER
Lynne Cheney enters this memoir only sporadically. She's a firecracker when she does appear, the most aggressively partisan member of a partisan family. The prairie marm-cum-intellectual chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities in two Republican administrations and was a pundit on the now defunct Crossfire show on CNN. She had a truly Crossfire-like reaction to John Kerry when he gratuitously worked Mary into the third presidential debate, in response to a general question that CBS's Bob Schieffer put to the candidates: Is homosexuality a choice or is it innate?
Kerry: "We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian . . ." Mary reports that her mother heard that coming from the television, and said: "He can have all the fake suntans and manicures he wants, but deep down inside, he's rotten." Brought before a microphone, Mrs. Cheney kept the indignation but prudently left out the metrosexual gibe.
The author refuses to acknowledge how much more justifiable had been John Edwards's invocation of her name the week before in the vice presidential debate. Edwards was more on point, but she doesn't let her readers know this. She tells the story without mentioning that the moderator, Gwen Ifill of PBS, had asked Dick Cheney to address the controversy over gay marriage from the point of view of those who have "a family member" who is homosexual.
Edwards exploited that opening. I was touched by his comments at the time; I appreciated their oily sheen only in retrospect. Mary Cheney's retro spection has her tempering the anger she felt with a concession that Edwards "handled the situation skillfully." But the situation itself is not made clear.
Now It's My Turn only cursorily gives us the political lay of the land, which is what we need to make sense of its author's stint as the Democratic party's favorite lesbian. As William Kristol wrote at the time, Kerry and Edwards harped on the vice president's homosexual daughter as a warning to the Republicans not to play up gay marriage to try to gain the upper hand. The Democrats' political base was (and is) way out in front of the American people on the issue; if Republicans wanted to highlight the fringinesss of the Democrats' gay agenda, they could expect to be shown up as bigots and/or hypocrites in return.
Using Mary Cheney to accomplish this--especially Kerry's maladroit try at it--did not benefit the Democrats. A look at the record yields a Washington Post poll that had likely voters saying, by a 2 to 1 margin, that what Kerry did was "inappropriate."
As I say, the author hurries through the background on why the spotlight fell on her amid the intense partisan exchanges of a close election. "Whatever the reason," she writes, "I was furious." I imagine that she downplays the politics in favor of the emotions because, if she were in the Senate, she would have joined Kerry and Edwards in casting a "nay" vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment. Her discomfort at agreeing with them on the very thing about which they tried to make her a Bush-Cheney liability is more proof, if any were needed, that politics makes strange bedfellows.
Most Americans are not keen on homosexuals tying the knot--and they could well be right in wanting to preserve the traditional definition of marriage--but the degree to which they are accustomed to, if not affirming of, homosexuality can be measured by landmarks in this book. The sub rosa attempt in 1991 to subject the father of a lesbian to blackmail giving way by 2004 to openly goading him about her on national television. And all the goaders had to show for it was disapproval heavily laced with apathy. Now I call that progress.
Lauren Weiner is a writer in Washington.