washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Mary Cheney Ploy: Brilliantly Dirty Politics or Just Kinda Weird?

I lean toward the second possibility. Ed Kilgore over at NewDonkey gets it about right:

It’s bizarre, to say the least: at precisely the moment when the Bush-Cheney campaign has fully committed itself to an 18-day drive to demonize John Kerry as a Massachusetts Liberal, BC04 and its conservative media echo chamber are suddenly focused on a different L-word: Lesbian, as in the sexual orientation of Mary Cheney.

No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you hypothesize that BC04 don’t quite know what to do and figure anything that generates a campaign story that isn’t about jobs, health care or Iraq is a net plus. But this kind of campaigning is a sign of weakness (see post below) not strength.
It’s probably also a sign they’re pretty worried the Kerry-is-a-Massachusetts-liberal strategy won’t work. And they should be.

26 comments on “The Mary Cheney Ploy: Brilliantly Dirty Politics or Just Kinda Weird?

  1. Tim1965 on

    Interesting comment on NPR overhead while I was in a taxi this weekend (sorry, I can’t say who the expert was; a woman newspaper reporter from Philly, I gathered):
    The commentator said that Kerry’s post-debates strategy seems to be to aim at undecided voters, while Bush keeps working his base.
    The commentator indicated that she thought Kerry was a fool for aiming at nonexistent undecideds and independents.
    But conventional poli sci wisdom indicates that even in tight races, there is a pool of 5-10 percent undecideds and independents right up until election day.
    Therefore, to me, Kerry’s strategy indicates that Kerry believes his base is motivated and ready to vote, and that the election will turn on these undecideds and indies. Bush, meanwhile, still is having trouble getting his base motivated. (Hence, the “L-word” campaign about Mary Cheney, which energizes his Christian far-right base.)
    If your base is in trouble 15 days out, you’re done as president.

  2. PWestre on

    What taunt? I think the comment was perfectly legitimate given that the Bushites have spent much of the last 6 months attacking people based on sexual orientation. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’ throw stones….

  3. tom on

    How dare John Kerry imply that God loves Mary Cheney just the way she is. It’s evil I tell you. If politicians keep speaking like this, we might soon live in a country where bigots don’t feel comfortable bashing gay people.
    And how dare he give a clear answer to a question that might offend people. Why can’t he follow the example of our strong, resolute leader and just say that he doesn’t know? He can’t he just mumble something about being tolerant and then try every way possible to exclude those people from common benefits, just like a strong, resolute leader does? It’s the strong, resolute thing to do. If Kerry keeps this up people might start asking our strong, resolute leader: “If you can’t stand up to the bigots in your own party, how are you going to stand up to the terrorists?” And how dare the democrats keep bringing up homosexuals (and icky words like lesbian) when they are asked about homosexuality? Did you see John Edwards answer a question that referenced Mary Cheney, he actually mentioned Mary Cheney? It’s an outrage. Thank you you Mickey Kaus for your continued efforts to point out the horrid gestures of inclusion and acceptance that the Kerry/Edwards campaign is making, and also their snide way of answering questions asked of them. I just hope America can survive.

  4. Marc in Denver on

    My vote is for “kinda weird”. The way the BC04 campaign is tacking, hard, everyday, in its direction and for what issues to push on any given day makes me wonder. I mean, if it were the Kerry campaign not just switching from issue of the day, but to overall campaign strategy of the day (from “flip-flopper” to “VVAW traitor” to “global tester” to “Massachussetts librul” to … whatever….), the Inside Baseball types would be talking about a campaign in chaos and would wonder if heads were going to roll at the top of the campaign.

  5. warp resident on

    Of course this is a classic Rove ploy to keep the base fired up, while diverting attention from the administrations dismal record. This is the basis for the polling data that show RV’s moving in Kerry’s direction while LVs going for Bush. It’s a lot easier to keep people motivated and committed by making them feel defensive. The trumped up ‘cultural war’ was manufactured for this purpose and the marriage amendment is just the latest product. Outrage over cultural issues is the greatest motivator they have. Progressives and liberals on the other hand are far slower to mobilize against a regressive government. The right knows this well and can exploit the corporate tools of bread and circuses to keep the masses from uniting against them. Mary Cheney provide a perfect foil for them. The Cheney’s can show how tolerant they are of ‘alternate lifestyles’ and yet they can also play the role of victims by alluding to Kerry’s taunt. In the end I don’t think it gets them anywhere, because the fundies were always going to vote for them and no moderate or liberal will be swayed by their phoney outrage.

  6. dhartung on

    Good comments by all in this thread. I agree with most of them, even the ones that seem contradictory. 😉
    I’ve been dropping the idea around that it’s a strong tactic for them for three main reasons, all of which have been mentioned: One, it distracts the media from the bin Laden flub, an absolutely necessary change of message; Two, it maintains an attack on Kerry’s character, a central part of GOP campaign framing for 20-odd years; Three, it reassures the Religious Right base that the Cheneys see their gay daughter the proper way, as a family tragedy and burden to bear (corollary: if Mary Cheney had been a potential stem-cell research beneficiary, and was mentioned by Kerry for that reason); and Three.5, as a way to reassure moderate Republicans that it’s still a Big Tent party (same role played by the J.C. Wattses). I think it succeeded on all these grounds, but … at best, it only shored up the base. It wasn’t a way to appeal to undecideds. In that sense I think the original point was pertinent; it got them off the Kerry is Liberal message. The Kerry is a scheming, amoral man who will use another family’s tragedy to his advantage is not too far off that mark, but again, it appeals chiefly to the base.
    This is not the work of a confident campaign.

  7. Gabby Hayes on

    1. Bush needed to talk about anything but the debate topics and outcome.
    2. Bush needed to have some topic on which others could attack Kerry, ala Smear Boaters.
    3. The Mary Cheney thing is perfect. The outrage feeds the base, while reinforcing their loathing of homosexuality. They accept her because she’s Cheney’s. She has to know that.
    4. ALL attacks require some response. See also the Smear Boat failure.

  8. Bil Lynch on

    I find it amazing that people are still talking about this “non” issue.
    Plain and simple, Bush, Inc. needed something to distract from Bush’s, “it’s one of those… exagerrations”, response for not being concerned about Osama Bin Laden.
    It worked, no one is talking about Bush’s lack of focus and failure to capture Bin Laden.

  9. ElBow on

    Yeah I’m with bruhrabbit on this. If this is the best BC04 can do, they are in trouble. By Monday, this will have faded away. What will replace it? This is from today, 10.16.04:
    Iraq Car Bombings Kill 4 U.S. Soldiers
    Two U.S. Helicopters Crash in Iraq, Killing Two
    Military Families Express Some Iraq Doubts
    PS: Is it possible to href links with this comment tool? Couldn’t figure it out.

  10. frankly0 on

    I’ve got to agree that the Bush/Cheney pursuit of the Mary Cheney issue is both bizarre and unproductive for them.
    The obvious thing to remember here is that we can know apriori that the Bush campaign would now be pushing SOMETHING Kerry said in his last debate to attack him (witness the “global test” brouhaha). If this is all they could find, that can only be a very good sign, because it’s an issue that’s muddied for a thousand reasons (including the fact that Cheney himself brought up the issue previously), and cuts both ways anyway. Time, energy, and spinning resources spent attempting to slime Kerry on this point directly subtracts from their overall slime budget, and that’s a positive thing for Kerry.
    I do wonder however if the highly conspicuous outrage of the Bush campaign over the remark isn’t really designed in large part to send a clear message to their fundie constituents. Namely, while the Cheneys may have to “tolerate” their daughter, please understand that they have the good Christian moral sense to be thoroughly ashamed of her.

  11. Rob on

    Bringing up the Lesbian “issue” provides the Bush team with a way to distract the country from the fact that Kerry won all three debates, appeared presidential, came across as more informed than the president, and seemed like a reasonable alternative for the job. I don’t believe the Republicans have brought this up because they are flailing around desperately in search of something to talk about. I reminds me of Gore and the Internet — taking a comment, changing the meaning of the comment, and being critical. I also think it’s a way to energize their religious base.

  12. JollyBuddah on

    Get ready for the Mary Cheney tsunami. I visited Andrew Sullivan this morning and found a link to an article titled “Fair Game” by Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard.
    In part Bill claims:
    “Leave aside the cheap, cold, calculating cynicism–and cruelty–in Kerry’s appropriation of the alleged opinions of an opposing candidate’s family member to try to embarrass his opponent. Leave aside the view Kerry and his campaign must have of millions of religious Americans if they think this particular McCarthyite moment will work.”
    It looks like the right is trying to ratchet up the rhetorical hysteria and CNN is playing along. CNN just had Bruce Weinstein “The Ethics Guy” on. Bruce claimed that it was unethical for Kerry to bring Mary into the national dialogue because (1) “she had not consented” to have her sexuality discussed and (2) just because she’s the daughter of one of the candidates doesn’t make it appropriate to mention her sexuality.
    I think “The Ethics Guy” is ethically challenged. He ignores (1) the fact that not only is she a private citizen, she is also a member of the BC04 campaign and has been an outreach spokesperson for Coors in the gay community and (2) the extent to which Lynn Cheney is responsible for going negative and exploiting Mary’s sexuality.
    Who this issue backfires on will depend on how aggressively and astutely the Kerry campaign responds. It’s not going away if Carl Rove has anything to say about it.

  13. bruhrabbit on

    As a gay guy, I find discussions about gay issues by straight people more than just a little bit annoying. This week in fact for the first time I can definatively say it pisses me off (coming from a left of center guy like me- that says a lot). Let’s play a game call let’s keep it real. I never thought I would be agreeing with Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.com) but the real reason this story has any traction at all is the “eww” factor. A lot of straight people are uncomfortable w/ gay people. I know people like David Brooks will argue “but this isn’t about sexual orientation or being gay,” and to that I respond, blah, blah, blah. Don’t try the verbal jujutsu. Yeah, it is about being gay. I saw a poll yesterday saying that 65 percent of the American people, including Kerry supporters felt the talking about Chenney’s orientation, was a low blow. Now this happened to be WaPo so pretty much with their poll still showing a tie it suggests this is at least a non issue for voters. What annoys me is that 65 percent thought bringing up the sexual orientation was a low blow at all. I mean Chenney has been using his daughter since Bush first dragged out the Anti-gay marriage amendment as a wedge issue in the winter of this year. So how exactly is this a “new” story as the media loves to reason. The only reason that this is a story is that people feel uncomfortable about the subject matter. I know several will write yeah but Kerry mentioned an unnecessary element in discussing Chenney’s daughter. I would respond back again “blah, blah, blah” b/c I find all these discussions to be form over substance. I think Rove is making a mistake with these types of issues. Stuff like “liberal” and now this may have worked in say 1988, but this is not a Willie Horton country anymore. All he has done is reinforce my conclusion that the man doesn’t walk on water like the left thinks he does. I mean where can he go with this? Nowhere- look what quickly replaced it on the front pages today- stories of a platoon refusing to go on a “suicide” mission. The facts on the ground suck for Bush. They know it. We know it. An the American people who are just tuning in know it. If this is the best they can do, bringing up dishonest discussions about gayness, that neither side really wants to discuss (any real discussion of gay issues would take alot of time and is not as simple as either side wants to admit- I was able to convince a few evangelical friends to my position on civil unions recently because I went beyond the rhectoric that is often used on both sides) – if this is the best they got, then they are in real trouble- maybe the next salvo will be more interesting? We shall see.

  14. Davis X. Machina on

    The Lesbian thing is the only non-base-pumping move that’s come out of the debate cycle.
    It’s got to be a calucated risk, and an enormous gamble, because it’s at cross-purposes to the base-only strategy of the whole campaign since the late spring.
    The base-only strategy is what’s really fascinating.
    I live in a state (ME) that’s more or less synonomous with Good Gray Republicans, and in this state at least, the base-pumping strategy only works in a case where for every one Talibornagain who finally goes slumming in the sinful world long enough to vote for The Lord’s Anointed, less-than-one Good Grey Republican is staying home, or, conceivably, voting Kerry.
    The Bush campaign is now like a bathtub with a running faucet and no plug. Rove is betting the pig farm that he can run more votes in at the top of the tub than he’s losing out the bottom through the drain.
    If Rove’s only replacing R’s with R’s, not turning D’s to R’s, or I’s into R’s, he loses, unless he’s successfully replacing more than 1 R for every R he drives into staying home.
    But any process that maximizes the creation of new R’s minimizes the flipping of D’s to R’s, or I’s with R’s, in which case, he loses.
    The degree to which Good Gray Republicans don’t vote, and specifically the degree to which Good Gray Republicans in NH, WI, IA, and OH don’t vote, could go a long way towards determining the outcome of the election.
    It’s too bad, quoting Jason Robards from “All the President’s Men”, that “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country”, because otherwise it would be fascinating to watch.

  15. Jennifer on

    I don’t know how anyone could watch a man that is supposed to be leading and protecting ALL of us refer to one of the States contemptuously without cringing. Like a bad parent playing favorites.
    We were all from Massachusetts during that moment.
    -Jennifer from California

  16. Sara on

    I suspect Rove has been a little off his feed recently what with long interviews with the Fitzgerals prosecutors, and his appearance yesterday before a Grand Jury in DC.
    I hope Kerry says very little about the Mary Cheney matter from here on out — but I think some of his surrogates (such as Barney Frank or/and Tammy Baldwin) could let loose on Lynn Cheney. The key thing is for Gay and Lesbian men and women to speak for themselves, and not carry this on as a conversation of straights about gays.
    It is always critical in any civil rights movement to move from the point where oppressors talk about the oppressed as victims — to a culture that fully accepts that groups and individuals making demands for rights and liberties appoint their own spokespersons and speak their own mind. In fact, no one appointed Lynn Cheney spokesperson — and having the right people set her in her place is just what’s needed right now.

  17. John Mcc. on

    Further to the thought that B/C 04 is at a loss about what to do, I am not sure its the Liberal! Liberal! strategery failure that’s the driver as much as something a bit more immediate..
    Kerry clearly won his third debate..what better than a “blue dress” issue to distract attention from that and break the post-debate reverberation …
    The last thing they need are polls showing that Kerrry won D3 by 25 points

  18. cloudy on

    First of all, it’s important to be frank. Repeatedly bringing up the fact that Mary Cheney is a lesbian was a BAD idea — probably based (on Kerry’s part) on the ‘vending machine’ approach to answers. When a topic is raised, you are primed to respond with certain soundbites reflexively — which is why Kerry repeated himself and Edwards from other debates so often. He should have cut this and at least 50% of the other repetition out. Often, he could say, when something is brought up, like the global test, that Edwards did an excellent job of explaining its true meaning in the face of the Bush campaign distortions, but, you know, it’s a tactic the Republicans use all the time — simply repeating a point that’s been refuted and ignoring the refutation … . In this instance he DID have to repeat that he won’t give any other country or institution a veto power over US security (adding, “As I have repeatedly made clear …”).
    OK, so it was unwise to both use up valuable time and to create a vulnerability, which the Republicans are milking for all it’s worth. Unlike the ‘nuisance’ quote and the accompanying portrayal by Bai as soft on terror, it is a limited risk issue, and the Republicans are using up valuable “cultural space” (public attention span) on a nonlethal attack, which is good.
    I feel differently from others here. I am a left progressive (socialist, not a liberal). A concerted attack on Kerry as a liberal soft on terror, which combines nicely with the ‘wishy washy’ flipflopper image is the MOST LIKELY route to defeating him (with the main alternative being simply stealing the election outright). Kerry at least laid the groundwork for countering that, albeit awfully late in the campaign, and has yet to punch the shark of the Bai spin in the nose HARD. This is a speech he badly needs to give (as limned in previous posts). The MC flap merits one remark. The SBVT (or as I insist they be called by ALL bloggers, SwiftBoatVeteransForSlime (SBVS), provides an opportunity to cite the similar remarks to promote their smear by both Dole and Bush Sr. to really lay into the dishonorability of the Bush Repubs. But it may be late in the day for that, when Kerry should be both shielding himself from the soft on terror juggernaut, and hammering away at jobs and the deficit. HE NEVER EXPLAINED IN THE DEBATE THAT 1.9 MILLION JOBS PER YEAR, ESPECIALLY AFTER YEARS OF JOB LOSSES IS NOT IMPRESSIVE.
    This needs to be a focus, perhaps of an ad, using repeated bragging (Moore style soundbytes) about the 1.9 million figure from Bush, then explaining why that says it all about Bush and jobs, concluding with “we can do better, we MUST do better.”

  19. thecreature on

    Real Jazz is right. This is what, the 5th attempt to get some random Kerry comment to become the focus of the race? Anybody who actually saw the debates won’t fall for it, and it actually makes the Bush campaign look desperate.

  20. Real Jazz on

    I tend to be a worry wort, but I think people should chill on the Mary Cheney comment. First there was the “global test.” Then there was the terrorism as a “nuisance” thing. Now there’s this. The attempts by Rove to make something of these comments seem like the desperate graspings of a campaign that is rapidly unraveling. They have nothing positive to offer, so they’re reaching for anything they can find. Kerry should not have mentioned her by name; it wasn’t necessary. But I don’t see how it could upset anyone except the far-right hypocrites who will support Bush in any case.

  21. CharleyCarp on

    It was a no-lose for BC04. At worst, they filibustered, to prevent the stories from being “GWB is 0-3.” At best they get some traction somewhere with the claim that JFK is Machiavellian and mean.
    Rather than just reaction, I wish our side would be actively changing the subject. Attack in the green zone, ripping up registrations in Nevada/Oregon, etc. — there’s plenty of material.

  22. beck72 on

    BC04 want to try and tarnish Kerry as someone willing to stoop low, who will attack the VP’s daughter in an effort to win. I don’t think there’s confusion for them.
    But the key question–was it an offhand comment by Sen. Kerry or a brilliant political move by him [and John Edwards in the VP debate] to try and divide their conservative base that’s so opposed to homosexuals? One mention in the VP debate would be say it’s the former. Two mentions and its probably the latter.

  23. BriVT on

    It’s kinda both. The thing missing in this discussion is that it’s purely a defensive move. The election could’ve been lost on Thursday morning if the real story of the debate had gotten the attention it was slated to get. I’m talking, of course, of Bush’s “I never said I wasn’t worried about Bin Laden” comment. That would’ve killed Bush, and the GOP did whatever they could to change the narrative. It got them off-message a bit, but really their only message is that John Kerry is someone to recoil from.

  24. Rook on

    Cool move, putting in comments. Hope that you get a nice community going.
    As to using “Liberal” as a smear? Can you say backlash? When you liberally (sorry, couldn’t help myself) use a word as a general catch-all/smear-all you eventually insult people’s intelligence.
    I know, conventional wisdom speaks towards the collective short-term memory. But that only applies to specific facts. Thankfully, the human race has the ability to store the general pattern of behavior, even if they can’t recall the specific examples. At least, in my work with addicts and alcoholics, I’ve found this to be true.
    So, indiscriminately throwing the title “liberal” at every democrat when there is no overall pattern to back up the charge begins to leave a vague impression with people.
    Then, to turn around and perpetrate the very behavior you’ve just accussed of the accursed liberals….well, humans, even as a collective, may sometimes act stupid but that doesn’t mean they are stupid.
    The tide is turning. We are recovering from the shock of 9/11. Look out Bush.

  25. thecreature on

    I agree Ruy, this is total BS. I honestly can’t believe they’re even trying this.
    I mean do they think it’s some kind of deep, dark secret that Mary Cheney is a lesbian? I knew that 4 ywars ago. Of course, this is the same party that wants a constitutional amendment to prevent Mary from getting married, so what do you expect?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.