To understand John Kerry's now—infamous reference to Mary Cheney's lesbianism in debate three, one need consider only this single question: What was his purpose?
And certainly, the mention of Dick Cheney's daughter was purposeful. It can't be coincidence that John Edwards made a similar remark —— shamelessly couched as an expression of kind intention —— during his debate with the Vice President. Either Kerry and Edwards have a fixation on Mary Cheney and lesbians, or their references to her are born of premeditation.
Ironically, some gay advocates disagree. Andrew Sullivan, the former Bush supporter who now favors the other anti—gay—marriage candidate, suggests: "Couldn't it just be that Kerry thinks of gay people as human beings like straight people —— and mentioning their lives is not something we should shrink from?"
Could be, if Mary Cheney were the only gay human being worthy of mention. But even if reference to a particular individual would bolster Kerry's point that gayness is genetic —— and why would it, especially when Kerry knows nothing of his subject's personal history? —— he could have chosen from numerous prominent gay people. Andrew Sullivan, for instance. So why'd he make the choice that he did?
And that is the issue, not the one Sullivan would pose instead: "Why can't she tell us if she's upset by Kerry's and Edwards' remarks?" Because, while it would no doubt be interesting to know what Ms. Cheney feels about all sorts of things, the following is more material: What do such remarks reveal about Kerry and his unprecedentedly vicious campaign?
"This is an insight into him that he'd bring people's children into the debate to try to get a benefit from it," said Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the Bush campaign. Yes, but the question remains: What sort of "benefit" was he trying to get?
A telling clue was suggested to me by a perceptive (straight) female friend. Drawing on a woman's insight into descriptors of women, she noted that the word "lesbian" has an even more negative connotation than "gay woman" to those who view homosexuality negatively. Kerry's reference to "Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian," then, served not only to remind such people that the Bush/Cheney team has such a person in the family but to characterize her in the most perjorative way possible.
In an election whose course could conceivably be altered by a handful of votes, turning a few gay bashers against Bush/Cheney might be tempting to a campaign as utterly unprincipled as it is determined.
Some have suggested that the Kerry team was aiming at Bush's evangelical base. Zev Chafets in the New York Daily News, for instance, writes that Kerry "was crying Mary to send a message to presumably homophobic Christian voters." That's an unfair slander. Such voters wouldn't punish someone for that which they disapprove in another, and, indeed, all evidence is that they have no intention of so doing. So unless you peg team Kerry as utterly inept, you'd have to conclude that they were targeting some other demographic.
Such as folks who might be drawn to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the largest and most active faction of which offers this in its platform: "We support a national law against the practice of homosexuality."
Chapters of the Klan are found in numerous states including the key states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and members of those groups and others of like mind might be receptive to a Bush—consorts—with—lesbians innuendo. After all, you can't achieve the goal of outlawing homosexuality by voting for someone with a personal stake in an opposing view.
Don't think Kerry would stoop so low as to seek the support of white supremacists? Consider: How different would that be from courting Al Sharpton who, if he had been born white, would likely be somebody's grand dragon?
Just follow the pattern. Kerry and his far—left base pine for a mass—murdering dictator, sniff at the removal of the female—oppressing Taliban, rage against the ideal of universal freedom. Reaching out to the Klan is just more of the same —— another expression of the worldview today's liberals describe as "progressive."
Steven Zak is an attorney and writer.