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 news.google.com'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.