The Magazine

Her Father's Daughter

The personal is the political, and vice versa.

Sep 11, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 48 • By LAUREN WEINER
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Now It's My Turn

A Daughter's Chronicle

of Political Life

by Mary Cheney

Threshold, 239 pp., $25

Mary Cheney was six when her father, Dick Cheney, became chief of staff in the Ford White House. She was eleven when he won Wyoming's lone seat in the House of Representatives. She was in her early twenties when he served as secretary of defense. We read here that Secretary Cheney was Mau-Maued by gay activists demanding an end to the ban on gays in the military. The ultimatum: Lift the ban or we will publicize the fact that your 22-year-old daughter is a lesbian.

Not an honorable way to get someone to change his views. Nor was it effective with the Gulf war leader. But, in 2004, Vice President Cheney and his wife Lynne would split off from the man at the top of the 2004 ticket on the Republicans' proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. Their daughter wasn't for it; neither were they. The Federal Marriage Amendment, Mary Cheney says, "would write discrimination into the Constitution," and she advances the argument used by other amendment opponents, including figures on the right: Marriage, an institution long regulated by the 50 states, should not be taken over by the federal government.

That familial love and loyalty have affected the politics of an intensely political family will come as news to many. In the world beyond Washington, D.C., there floats the assumption that the right-wing old vice president must be about as supportive of his lesbian daughter as he is kind to wild doves and stray hunting companions.

His younger daughter appears to have taken "her turn" primarily to encourage Americans to think better of her father. The Dick Cheney of this account has character and heart. He is very close to Mary who, no less than Lynne or Liz Cheney, Mary's older sister, has taken part in Dick Cheney's public career from the beginning. (Mary describes her longtime partner, Heather Poe, as a reluctant participant.) Now 37, Mary pitched pieces of candy at parade-goers in her youth, was a campaign aide to her father when he first ran for vice president in 2000, and rose to chief of vice presidential operations in his reelection bid four years later.

She loves the nuts and bolts of the American political campaign, which she depicts as a not-unappealing blend of show biz and contest of ideas, puffery and policy. We get details--quite a few too many, actually--on the logistical snafus, the quirks of the photographers, reporters, and swashbuckling campaign advance men, and the finer points of successfully dropping a load of balloons on the convention crowd at the climax of the proceedings. (A parachute should be used to hold the balloons.)

The author senses that an obsessively political view of the world can earn her a laugh or two, as in her anecdote about balking at the dress code for pages at the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans. She insists, with a comic sort of pout, that her reaction came from the staunch anti-communism of a Cheney--the pages' uniforms made them look like the Young Pioneers of the Soviet Union--when I know darn well it was the time-honored Sapphic unwillingness to put on a skirt.

Mary Cheney is lucky to have the family she has, and she quite properly acknowledges as much. Her father is indebted to the president, and she pays sincere homage there, too. She emphasizes the ways in which the person running for vice president is second banana at election time. That fact renders all the more remarkable her disclosure that President Bush, on the day during the 2004 campaign when he endorsed the amendment banning gay marriage, invited Mary, a Bush-Cheney official, to go public with a dissenting view if she so desired. (The invitation suggests that he shares George H.W. Bush's patrician reflex, which Peggy Noonan has noted, of welcoming certain kinds of criticism from the left.)

She did not take the president up on his offer of a chance to speak out. She decided, furthermore, to stay on in the campaign after nearly resigning over the issue. Such choices say something about Mary Cheney as an individual. They also bring to mind the remark of Quentin Crisp: "You can be proud of not being ashamed, but I don't think you can be proud of being gay." Self-acceptance and reticence can coexist. We homosexuals know this, but it is entirely lost on the straight Blue State liberals who brayed that the daughter of a vice president was "fair game" and so what was the big deal about the candidates on the Democratic ticket singling Mary Cheney out for public discussion?