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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Other L-Word

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.
Kerry’s reference to the veep’s daughter, in response to a debate question about each candidate’s views on the nature or nurture origins of homosexuality, is now the obsessive preoccupation of the entire pro-Bush talking points network.
Their motivation is not 100% clear. In part, Bush partisans are simply trying to find something in the last debate that will change the public perception that Kerry won that one, and the whole three-game series. In part, Bushies want to dent the more positive impressions of Kerry’s character by suggesting he’s playing dirty politics. And finally, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that BC04 is simply freaking out at Kerry’s exposure, deliberate or inadvertant, of a vulnerability in their base-first strategy, which depends heavily on piggy-backing battleground state referenda on gay marriage. Mary Cheney’s father, after all, has conspicuously declined to support his boss in demanding a constitutional amendment to defend the “sanctity of marriage” against the alleged assault from those demanding gay marriage rights. This is not something conservatives want to be reminded of.
The unfortunate thing about this dispute is that Kerry was trying to make a legitimate–perhaps even a profound–point in answer to the question about the nature of homosexuality. Instead of citing the ever-increasing scientific evidence that being gay or lesbian is a basic orientation, not a “lifestyle choice,” Kerry cited the experience of American families, whose attitudes towards homosexuality are heavily affected by the extent to which they actually know gays and lesbians as family members, friends, or work associates. Bush, who is politically dependent on those who believe homosexuality is a form of voluntary “sinful behavior” that can be “cured,” dodged the question entirely. And lest we forget, it’s the incumbent, not the challenger, who has chosen to make this an issue in the presidential campaign to begin with.
I personally wish Kerry had made his point more clearly, and without mentioning the vice president’s daughter. But it’s not clear to me how, exactly, BC04 is going to turn this second “L-word” into a campaign issue that turns voters. After all, Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation is mainly an issue for those who have already decided to vote for the president. For everyone else, this is an unwelcome diversion that has little or nothing to do with the choices Americans face on Election Day–except as a reminder that Republicans don’t like anybody who’s any kind of “L.”

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