Why the Cheneys are Angry
Why are Lynne and Dick Cheney so angry that John Kerry mentioned their daughter Mary’s lesbianism in the third presidential debate?
The difference of opinion on whether the mention was appropriate is rooted in two different worldviews, and on two different metaphors for gayness.
The behavior of the Cheneys demonstrates that they view being gay as like being disabled. Or rather it is like being disabled in the William F. Buckley conception of disabled people as not just different from ordinary persons but actually inferior in their enjoyment of life.
Michelle Cottle of the New Republic pointed out:
‘ in explaining his position, Cheney went all Oprah on his audience, noting that same-sex marriage is an issue his family “is very familiar with” because he and Lynne have a gay daughter. Now, such public confession might not seem like a big deal to you or me. But back in 2000, when ABC’s Cokie Roberts made some on-air remark to Lynne about daughter Mary being “openly gay,” Mrs. Cheney freaked out and nearly took Cokie’s head off with the fierce — and utterly false — avowal that “Mary has never declared such a thing.” God only knows what kind of domestic wrath Dick might incur by destroying his wife’s carefully maintained shroud of denial . . . No one doubts that the Vice President’s apostasy on this issue is entirely personal. If Mary weren’t a lesbian, Cheney would at this very minute be somewhere deep in the red states, warning voters in that scowling, brook-no-arguments way of his that gay marriage is exactly the sort of fuzzy-headed liberal nonsense that gives aid and comfort to al Qaeda . . . As near as I can figure, Cheney’s approach to public policy seems to be that he believes in a basic set of rules that everyone should live by — except in those cases where doing so would prove inconvenient for him or his family. ‘
If daughter Mary’s condition were viewed at least subconsciously by Dick and Lynne as a disability, then it would be rude for strangers to bring it up. It would be all right for a politician to go before an audience and talk about his love for his blind daughter and say that although his party is against mandating disabled access to public buildings, he himself favors it because he has seen the challenges his daughter faced.
But obviously if a rival politician suddenly said, “Well, Cheney, your daughter is blind as a bat,” that would be rude beyond belief. And Lynne’s charge that Kerry is “not a good man” would be precisely the sort of reaction one might expect to such an indelicate reference.
But right-thinking Americans don’t believe that being gay is a disability or anything shameful. It is like being left-handed or red-headed. It is just the way some people are, and probably has a complex base in genes and proteins. So if in a debate, the issue came up that some school teachers make left-handed students write with their right hands, and Kerry were to say, “Well, Dick Cheney’s daughter knows how unfair this is because she is left-handed,” nobody would think that was rude or inappropriate. Because Kerry wouldn’t be instancing it as a stigma or a disability, but just a neutral fact of life.
So I think the sheer fury of Lynne and Dick Cheney in reaction to this harmless remark actually demonstrates that they both still have an unfaced prejudice toward gay people, and are still ashamed that this “disability” exists in their family. Kerry thought nothing of the remark because he doesn’t share that prejudice, and doesn’t consider being gay in any way shameful.