Friday, October 15, 2004

'Who you callin' a lesbian?' Bush-Cheney team wins post-debate spin

Bush and Cheney have dominated the post-debate spin with a weird, fake outrage about Kerry's invocation of Mary Chaney's sexual orientation. Fake it may be, misplaced too. But even with the mysterious nature of Kerry's offense (their problem is that he mentioned her at all, not what he said about her), Bush and Cheney -- with normally trophy-ish wives transformed into supporting attack-dogs -- have owned the post-debate story. If you check's stories about the most recent debate, a clear majority are about the Cheneys' outrage about Kerry's use of the word "lesbian."

Bush and Cheney are playing a little with a slippage in how conservatives and liberals talk about this issue. Non-homophobic people ("liberals") use words like "gay" and "lesbian" objectively, value-neutral. Homophobes don't do this. To say the word "lesbian" is for them always a slur, and so Dick and Lynne Cheney can accuse Kerry of insulting their daughter in the debate. Kerry thought he was merely describing her, reminding America of her existence. Bush and Cheney have efficiently capitalized on this linguistic gray zone.

(Where is Mary Chaney, by the way? I wish she would step forward and say something)

Granted, Kerry was still probably wrong in mentioning Mary Chaney. The invocation of a personal connection can be a useful way to blunt the edge of the rampant homophobia of Conservative Christians, but that's not what Bush was espousing in his response to the 'is homosexuality a choice' question. Bush was talking about respect and dignity, (even if he didn't mean it), so Kerry's statement seemed to come out of the blue. And mentioning family members is always a little stinky. Kerry must have been aware that there's a difference between Edwards' reference to it with Cheney across the table, and his own reference to it out of the blue.

It's depressing, because after re-reading the transcript of the debate, I'm feeling more and more that Kerry did a good job. But in the national print-media especially, I'm seeing very few references to Bush's huge "I never said I didn't care about Osama Bin Laden" flap. Sorry, Chris Suellentrop, wrong on this one. No one except a few thousand bloggers here and there seem to have noticed. In small and medium-sized papers all around the country, the story is "Cheney says, 'Kerry, how could you?'"

The absurdity of Bush on several other subjects has been quickly forgotten in the national consciousness. No one is talking about his stupid response to the loss of jobs question (more "Education"!), his lame excuse for not signing an assault weapons ban, and his freaky justification for defacing the U.S. constitution with a hateful, bigoted amendment banning gay marriage (it would have "the benefit of allowing citizens to participate in the process. After all, when you amend the Constitution, state legislatures must participate in the ratification of the Constitution.").

It won't help that 50 million people watched the debate despite the lure of watching Pedro Martinez prove yet again that the Yankees are his daddy. It won't help that 50 million Americans saw a bit of spit lingering on the President's lip for 90 minutes. It won't help that Kerry "won" the debate, because the other side has successfully -- if spuriously -- have ruled the follow-up.


Rob Breymaier said...

If you're right and calling her a lesbian is "offensive" to homophobes then I don't think Kerry did any harm. It's not like homophobes were going to vote for Kerry anyway. In a way, Kerry used this to send a message to the base -- which he hardly ever does -- so I found it a to be good for people like me.

Also, I think the way the Republicans have spun this makes it all the more evident that they are the party of homophobia. And, here I think that they have actually played this badly. I think a lot of swing voters are not homophobes. And, quite frankly, for some odd reason being a lesbian seems to be more acceptable than being a gay man. So, for Kerry to use "lesbian" instead of "homosexual" or "gays" kind of softens his rhetoric to some groups of voters.

I agree that Mary Cheney should make a statement about this but I doubt she'd say anything constructive. ALthough, I'd love to hear her say, "I don't know what all the fuss is about. I am a lesbian and have been public about that. Hell, my job is to market beer to gays and lesbians." But, she could also justifiably say, "However, I'd like to be left out of this debate please."

Anjali Taneja said...

Yeah man, who you callin' a lesbian? Hah, great title, Amardeep.

So, Karl Rove has struck again. He knows that Bush drooled through the last debate, so this is a WONDERFUL way to distract the base, enrage them, and get them to the polls. Wonderful tactic. AND, on top of it, he's gotten the Bush cronies to publicly say that Kerry's talk about Mary Cheney's "lesbianism" was slimy. Absolutely BRILLIANT.

Anyway, I don't usually agree with Andrew Sullivan (conservative openly-gay political pundit) of, but I've gotta post one of his posts here. More similar posts can be found on his website as of late, as he's responding to hundreds of letters on this very issue:

"I keep getting emails asserting that Kerry's mentioning of Mary Cheney is somehow offensive or gratuitous or a "low blow". Huh? Mary Cheney is out of the closet and a member, with her partner, of the vice-president's family. That's a public fact. No one's privacy is being invaded by mentioning this. When Kerry cites Bush's wife or daughters, no one says it's a "low blow." The double standards are entirely a function of people's lingering prejudice against gay people. And by mentioning it, Kerry showed something important. This issue is not an abstract one. It's a concrete, human and real one. It affects many families, and Bush has decided to use this cynically as a divisive weapon in an election campaign. He deserves to be held to account for this - and how much more effective than showing a real person whose relationship and dignity he has attacked and minimized? Does this makes Bush's base uncomfortable? Well, good. It's about time they were made uncomfortable in their acquiescence to discrimination. Does it make Bush uncomfortable? Even better. His decision to bar gay couples from having any protections for their relationships in the constitution is not just a direct attack on the family member of the vice-president. It's an attack on all families with gay members - and on the family as an institution. That's a central issue in this campaign, a key indictment of Bush's record and more than relevant to any debate. For four years, this president has tried to make gay people invisible, to avoid any mention of us, to pretend we don't exist. Well, we do. Right in front of him."

Scott said...

Wow, you are so obliviousely out of step with reality here. First off, you don't use family (Kerry should be thankful, it would be easy to make an issue of Teresa). The very reason Kerry brought it up was to point out to Bush's base that the Cheney's had a lesbian daughter. Why didn't he use McGreevy?

As far as their 'trophy-ish' wives, what the hell are you talking about. Lynn Cheney has accomplished more in her life than 99% of the population of the world will ever accomplish and Laura Bush, though attractive, is a non-assuming, intelligent book marm.

Amardeep said...

On the wives, the emphasis was on "attack dog," not "trophy." Lynne Chaney is here functioning as the former rather than the latter.

Though perhaps you're right in suggesting that she has a long history of such behavior. See this for more backgound on her.

On whether Kerry was right or not to mention it, I did express some hesitation there. But I still feel strongly that Kerry was describing Mary Chaney as a lesbian, not calling her a lesbian as a slur. The reason not to go there is because you are likely to be misunderstood, not because a family member who is herself in public life is somehow off-limits.

It's the republicans are going to this issue because they don't want to talk about reality. Bush said, "I never said I didn't care about Osama Bin Laden," and we're talking about Kerry's statement that he respects the Vice President's daughter's sexual orientation?

Or: "Wanna buy some wood?" Oh wait, he did own part of a timber company.