Friday, October 22, 2004

First as Tragedy ...

Generalissimo Wesley Clark's scariest idea makes an unexpected comeback within the Kerry campaign: Now Democrats are proposing mandatory community service for all public high school students, as well as a national service corps for college graduates.

Should we be surprised, gentle reader? Clark may be dead as a candidate, but I fear his influence may live on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Update: Last MaryGate post

I have a massive backlog of culture-related business to write about, and here I am, wasting my time with politics. But before I leave l'affaire Cheney altogether, I have another letter to answer:

Like you, I'm convinced the references to Mary Cheney were politically calculated. [...] Unlike you, I guess I'm not so shocked, shocked by it all.  I guess I can forgive Kerry-Edwards, given the stuff Bush has come out with.  The direct-mail piece I got from the RNC telling me to vote Republican because Democrats plan to ban the Bible made me more willing to forgive a little eye-for-an-eye partisanship.

Also, I think Mary Cheney's position as a staff member to Cheney makes her slightly more in-limits, not off-limits.  I think Kerry's mention of her during the debates would be worse if Ms. Cheney lived a quiet life, outside of politics.  And I doubt he endangered her position in GOP circles.  If the GOP holds it against Ms. Cheney because she's gay, their own prejudices are to blame.

First of all, like most people in Washington, D.C., Mary Cheney leads a quiet life inside politics. She is open about her sexual orientation, but she prefers to work behind the scenes. The organizations with whom she has worked -- like the Coors Brewing Company and the Republican Party -- have a reputation for being Gay-unfriendly, and Ms. Cheney helps them to soften their anti-Gay image on the one hand and enact genuinely beneficial policies on the other. She helped Coors Beer do an about-face on its own anti-Gay policies, and until this past year she helped the GOP reach out to Gay and Lesbian voters. When the Kerry-Edwards campaign used her sexuality (and her family) as a wedge issue, they jeopardized her ability to do that important work in future.

Again, if anyone but Kerry or Edwards had brought up this matter, it wouldn't be an issue. By all indications, the GOP's top brass couldn't care less if one of their high-level staffers is openly Gay. But if one of their top-level staffers became a trump card for the Democrats, that would raise a few serious concerns. One doesn't have to be prejudiced to know when an individual employee has become a liability -- though the Cheneys' rousing defense of their daughter probably helped save her career for now.

Ultimately, the question boils down to whether I, as a Gay voter, can forgive the Democrats' "eye-for-an-eye partisanship." I'm not so sure that I can. Both parties are extracting eyes from Gay voters, not from each other. So unless we're willing to support a candidate blindly, we can't honestly support anyone at all.

Kerry and Edwards have become the most anti-Gay Democratic presidential ticket in the entire history of GLBT politics. In terms of their overall rhetoric, they're far more anti-Gay than George W. Bush was four years ago. They have supported statewide constitutional amendments like the one in Ohio, designed to strip same-sex couples of even the right to private contract. (Even Ohio's Republican governor opposes "Issue 1" as too extreme, which should tell you something.) True, Kerry and Edwards quietly advocate second-class "civil-union" status for same-sex couples, but it's a hollow promise at best. If they can't stand up for private contracts now, they won't stand up for civil unions later. Most likely, a Kerry-Edwards administration will do nothing whatsoever to support Gays' and Lesbians' basic civil and human rights -- and might even encourage a few additional measures against us, such as that constitutional amendment in Massachusetts banning same-sex marriage (a measure which will probably go down to defeat if Bush is reelected).

Worst of all, the anti-Gay rhetoric from a Kerry-Edwards administration would come with the blessings of the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the vast majority of GLBT voters. It would be Bill Clinton all over again -- attacking the individual liberty of Gay and Lesbian Americans during the day, then appearing at an HRC fundraising dinner to thunderous applause in the evening. And like Clinton, Kerry will go a long way toward legitimizing anti-Gay discourse within the Democratic Party and trivializing GLBT issues on the left. Should he become president, the political (and personal) damage to GLBT Americans in the short term will be incalculable.

Bottom line: There is no reason for Gay voters to support Bush or Kerry. Either one will be a disaster for GLBT rights, and in some ways Kerry might even prove worse.

Update: Nobody reads this blog. Andrew Sullivan has swallowed the Democrats' bait, I fear. In The New Republic Online, he defends John Edwards's remark about Mary Cheney during the VP debate, saying "How on earth is that a "shot"? ... Edwards is clearly congratulating Cheney on being someone who is not prejudiced against gay people and who loves his own daughter."

If Andrew read this blog, he might know how: Edwards is a crafty communicator, never as clear as he seems. Click here, here, or here to learn more.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Fun with Urban Planning

Do you ever wonder what left-wing urban planners think about in their spare time, when they're not designing light rail systems to cripple wayward pedestrians? Well, read this article in Salon about the "woonerf." This new concept in urban traffic management forces autos, bikes and afternoon strollers into the same street space -- and then, just to make things interesting, eliminates all the usual traffic rules and regulations. The result is a lawless, "every-man-for-himself" environment where people and vehicles jostle for space.

Once you've read the article, play this little game to see how the "woonerf" system might work in your neighborhood.

Legislative Gay-bashing: Virginia leads the way

Virginia's "Marriage Affirmation Act," enacted this past July, automatically voids any private legal arrangement designed to bestow a benefit of marriage to two persons of the same sex. It has already been used to invalidate a Vermont custody agreement, and may eventually be used to void adoptions, hospital visitation rights, powers of attorney and living wills. Now this same measure is coming to Ohio in the form of Issue 1, a new constitutional amendment which is sure to pass this November. Meanwhile, Georgia has proposed a new law that will prohibit judges from ruling on cases involving same-sex partners, thus rendering certain private contracts utterly unenforceable. (Apparently Georgia lawmakers have never heard of Romer v. Evans.)

The radical assault on individual liberty and contract law continues to spread.

MaryGate: Private Lives vs. Presidential Campaigns

A loyal reader weighs in on "l'affaire Cheney":

I tend to agree with your comments on the Mary Cheney issue.  Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney in the debates was unnecessary, though I doubt it was intended to be malicious, and his comments were germaine [to] the question asked by the moderator.  Mrs. Edwards' suggestion that the Cheneys are ashamed of their daughter is obnoxious, offensive and over-the-top. But as far as I can tell, ALL of the discussion of this issue neglects a key fact: The Cheneys themselves have previously discussed their daughter's sexuality in public, and in the process they have said they are proud and tolerant of her.  Why, then, if the Cheneys mention the subject in public, is it taboo for Kerry to do so, when he is questioned about the topic of gay rights on national television?  Is it not hypocritical to discuss a gay family member before television cameras, but criticize others for doing so?

First of all, I'm heartened to find that someone agrees with me regarding Lizzie Edwards. Usually we hear "obnoxious, offensive and over-the-top" statements from Teresa Heinz-Kerry, so it's a relief to find that one heartbeat away from First Lady is a woman capable of giving the same sort of offense as our favorite Ketchup Queen. Neither Kerry nor his running mate have distanced themselves from Mrs. Edwards's remark, which indicates that she was probably "on message" when she delivered it.

I see no reason to view Kerry's comment regarding Mary Cheney's sexuality as malicious in and of itself -- though I would argue that its context made it harmful not just to the Cheney family but to Mary herself, and that the Cheneys' reaction afterwards was more than justified. That said, major-party presidential candidates like Kerry work very hard not to display apparent malice: No matter what happens, they must always appear above partisan political squabbling. (This is the main reason presidential debates are dull.) Meanwhile, vice-presidential candidates serve as their campaigns' "attack dogs," venting those negative messages that the head of the ticket dares not touch. Edwards must act as the id to Kerry's superego -- slightly in the background, more appetite-driven, less repressed because less obviously in control. If we're looking for the message Democrats intended to send by bringing up "MaryGate," we must look to Edwards.

Edwards introduced this meme subtly and skillfully during the vice-presidential debate when he claimed, "I think they [the Cheneys] love her very much." The key words in his response, of course, were the qualifiers. Edwards's repeated use of "I think" cast ironic doubts upon the Cheneys' love for their daughter. This is a classic rhetorical trick: Marc Anthony's repeated assertion in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar that "Brutus is an honorable man" is probably the most famous example, though it's far more heavy-handed than Edwards's sly "I think." Edwards omitted this all-important qualifier when he talked about "millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy," thus reinforcing his implication that the Cheneys, with their connections to the Gay-baiting Republican Party, can't truly love their Lesbian daughter. What's more, the man implanted his ad hominem smear in viewers' minds with the sort of aplomb that must have distinguished him as a trial lawyer. One couldn't help but applaud.

Of course, Lizzie Edwards's blunder merely confirmed that Edwards's innuendo was precisely what the campaign intended to convey. In all likelihood, Democrats were trying to shore up support among Gays and Lesbians, even as they escalated anti-Gay rhetoric for the swing voters. By casting Dick Cheney as an unloving father, they could distract GLBT voters from their own glaring faults. (Also, a whiff of Mary's private life might discourage a few hundred thousand social conservatives from voting for Bush ... in which case, so much the better.) But Gay and Lesbian voters might do well to remember that during the vice-presidential debate, John Edwards voiced the religious-right's bromide that "marriage is between a man and a woman" -- a line that John Kerry has been delivering as frequently as possible, too. You don't hear this sort of thing from Dick Cheney, which is doubly odd because the GOP nominee for vice-president is precisely the man you'd expect to deliver anti-Gay slurs.

Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney's sexuality during the third presidential debate changed the tone of GLBT issues somewhat, though not for the better. As my reader notes, Mary Cheney's sexual orientation is public knowledge -- which may explain why some writers, like Andrew Sullivan, have claimed that Kerry attempted to "humanize" the debate over Gay rights through her. Now if Mary Cheney were the only openly Gay woman in the United States, I could see a solid basis for that claim. But if "humanization" was what Kerry wanted (as in another sense he does), there were hundreds of Gay and Lesbian Americans for him to choose from. Kerry could have mentioned Rosie O'Donnell, who has a long-term partner and an adopted child. He could have mentioned Ellen Degeneres, whose mother has struggled famously (and successfully) to accept her, and who has a long-term partner and a successful talk show. He could have chosen Tammy Baldwin, an openly Lesbian representative, or Jim Kolbe, an openly Gay, Republican senator. He could have mentioned Andrew Sullivan himself, one of the leading conservatives in the blogosphere and a tireless advocate for civil equality under the law. Any or all of these people could have (and do) put a human face on the issue of GLBT equality. So why, given all these possibilities, did Kerry go with Mary Cheney?

There's only one possible answer: Kerry mentioned Mary Cheney's sexual orientation to hurt the Republicans. Kerry is the Democratic presidential nominee, after all, and every argument he makes for himself also serves as an argument against the current Bush-Cheney administration. By referencing Mary Cheney's sexuality as a point in his own favor, Kerry also used it to advocate her father's removal from public office. Now what, gentle reader, would you think of a man who claimed even implicitly that you should be fired from your job in part because your daughter is Lesbian? And yet the Cheneys have an even better reason to be absolutely furious with Kerry: Since Mary's own position as a GOP liaison and communications coordinator depends on her own good standing within the party, Kerry's remark about her sexual orientation affected their daughter's professional life. Attacking the career, marriage, family life, etc. of a political opponent may be business as usual for a dirty-tricks campaign. But destroying a mere staffer's career in an attempt to score a debate point is unwarranted ugliness.

Every scrap of evidence indicates that the Cheneys are unapologetically accepting and loving toward their daughter, and nothing they have said over the past week alters that fact one whit. If anyone other than Kerry or Edwards had mentioned her in a positive or negative light, it wouldn't have been a political issue. Likewise, Kerry and Edwards could have referred to any openly Gay or Lesbian American besides Mary Cheney during the presidential and vice-presidential debates, and no one would have raised legitimate grounds for complaint. But Kerry and Edwards decided to target the one out-and-proud Lesbian they couldn't discuss without devastating her career and igniting a firestorm. Now the American people view the Democratic duo as a couple of nasty back-fence gossips.

Serves 'em right.

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