Hard News by Russell Brown


I've been fascinated by the controversy over John Kerry's mention of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, during the third presidential debate. In answering a question about whether homosexuality was a choice or not, after Bush had claimed that he didn't know, Kerry said "We're all God's children. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was. She's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice."

Within 24 hours, the vice-president and his wife Lynne assailed Kerry as a "not a good man" for dragging their daughter into the fray. Survey panels of likely voters adjudged that Kerry was wrong to have mentioned Mary Cheney's sexuality.

Yet it was only about three weeks ago that the Cheneys happily told the national media "we have a gay daughter". In the VPs' debate, John Edwards expressed his admiration for the Cheneys' love and support for their "gay daughter" - and was thanked by Cheney for his kind words. Then Kerry does the same thing and it as is, as one commentator put it, "like he exposed a breast" on national television.

So what is this actually about? Not just Mary Cheney, for sure. The fact that both Edwards and Kerry mentioned her in debates - in the context of gay-rights questions - is presumably no accident: they were looking to play up the gulf between the VP's personal attitude towards a family member and the broader Republican Party's unpleasant attitude toward homosexuality - and perhaps looking to chip off a little of the bigot vote that would otherwise go to Bush.

Anyone who planned to vote and had somehow not noticed that Mary Cheney was gay would have to be pretty stupid. It's not just that the fact had already been mentioned in one debate and widely in the national media: the woman is virtually a professional lesbian. She was "gay and lesbian corporate affairs manager" for Coors Brewing, for goodness sake. She has herself, where it's considered advantageous, been trotted out by the Republican campaign. But "pretty stupid" is a key Republican voter category, so it did matter to the party.

The fact is, also, that Lesbogate was about the only thing the Republican campaign could have taken away from the third debate. And take it they did: the remarks of the "bad man" would have been trumpeted as a key talking point in campaign dispatches.

That's not to say that the Bush support base will have needed much direction to outrage, though. I dipped into the live debate thread at the nutjob conservative site the Free Republic after it was over, and they were already frothing about it. They seemed to regard Mary Cheney's sexuality as a dread secret to be covered up.

But there was more than that. She has previously been framed as the "gay daughter". Kerry went further. He used the L-word: LESBIAN. LESBIAN, LESBIAN, LESBIAN!!! It might seem silly to us, but this is also the country where CNN ran a 20-minute profile of Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler without once using the word "vagina". (Before getting too smug, we would also do well to note that the New Zealand Herald was extremely squeamish about using the L-word until the mid-1990s.) A Fox News commentator even opined that the L-word came across as "off the grid, and very, very shrill". Oh, really?

The gay community's response was largely one of fury: directed at the Cheneys. A superb column for Salon by Dave Cullen put it this way:

Let's get one thing straight. 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. That's how all the gays I have spoken to the past 24 hours perceived the press response. You're embarrassed for us. And it's infuriating.

The spokesman for the gay group Log Cabin Republicans slammed the party for "feigning outrage" over Kerry's comments. Joanna Walters in The Guardian painted a similar picture, noting that "gays are furious that the Cheneys are, supposedly, furious, and that the mainstream media has whipped itself up into a frenzy over the issue."

But it actually gets weirder from there. Mary Cheney is actually a key advisor on her father's campaign, and 365Gay.com reported that the idea to go on the attack over the L-word issue may actually have been hers in the first place.

But wait, there's more: while the Cheneys vilified Kerry, they didn't say a word when extreme-right republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes told reporters recently that, as a lesbian, Mary Cheney was a "selfish hedonist," living in sin. Now it appears that Keyes himself has a gay daughter (who has been frank about her sexuality in a blog for the last three years), but won't discuss it. Indeed, it appears that there is quite a crowd of public moral conservatives with gay children they don't like to talk about. AfterEllen.com suggested that lesbian daughters appear to be the accessory of choice for politicians these days.

Also, more bulge pictures from debate three and elsewhere. There is no doubt whatsoever that Bush is wearing something bulky under his jacket. His office says it’s not body armour. There's not real proof that it's a wireless relay. But WTF is it? Shouldn't some journalist, like, ask?

I don't know exactly what to make of John Tamihere's various historical troubles arising from the Waiparera Trust. I'm inclined to stay judgement because it has emerged from the obviously vile politics of the trust itself - the continuing dysfunction of governance in Maori organisations is really quite depressing, and the present leadership of the trust doesn't exactly encourage confidence.

But it doesn't look good for him. Even if no actual offence has been committed, that is not the standard on which ministers of the Crown are judged. And, of course, a by-election is the last thing the government wants right now.

So some local prison inmates are converting to "a militant, politicised brand of Islam" - and we have a new, media-friendly figurehead (think Kyle Chapman in a headscarf) to go with the story. But before fretting about race war, could the various commentators please do a smidgeon of study and work out the difference between Islam (an established faith followed by 1.6 billion people) and the Nation of Islam (a kooky American numerology cult)?

And, finally, thanks for all the responses to the Lange speech and the Great New Zealand Argument feature. It's most gratifying - and I have a good half dozen ideas from readers for future "historical blogs".