too much typing—since 2003


two short(ish) political comments

1) The strategy of the President's camp in recent weeks is a throwback to the eighties: hammer the opponent as a "liberal" and make sure that term is read as a dirty word. Of course, if Kerry's such a liberal that, as Bush pointed out a couple of times recently, he was ranked the Senate's most liberal member (not quite), that doesn't exactly square with the administration's previous strategy of labelling him an unrepentant flip-flopper. One more item in Bush's own, rather voluminous list of flip-flops.

2) I completely fail to understand the mini-tempest over Kerry's referring to Mary Cheney in the third debate. Mary Cheney, as one of her father's campaign managers, is a public figure, and she's been an out lesbian for years. Gwen Ifill, moderator of the vice presidential debate, noted that in the previous vice-presidential debate four years ago, Cheney used his "family's experience as a context for [his] remarks" on gay rights. In his reply, John Edwards noted that he was sure Cheney loved his daughter - to which Cheney responded, "let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much." That, by the way, was the entirety of his rebuttal to Edwards' remark that "we ought to be talking about issues like health care and jobs and what's happening in Iraq, not using an issue to divide this country in a way that's solely for political purposes." As I watched the debate, my impression was that as an old-line conservative (rather than a cultural-issues conservative), Cheney was dubious about his boss's enthusiasm for an anti-gay Constitutional amendment.

Fast-forward to the last presidential debate. In contrast to the reaction to Edwards' mentioning Mary Cheney (none at all), Kerry's comments drew a firestorm of protest, including angry remarks from the Cheneys. Why the difference? I think because the Cheneys viewed Kerry's comments as politically motivated (as if anything a politician says this close to an election - including the Cheneys' reactions - aren't at least partially motivated by politics). But I also think that reaction I saw from Cheney during the debate - a discomfort at being asked to carry water for Bush's courting of the religious right - made him uncomfortable, and Kerry's remarks dragged him back into it, and so he reacted angrily. (As an aside, The Onion once again gets it all too right.)

Kerry's comments were politically risky, to be sure: I thought that when I heard them. But, they also seemed the readiest way to put a personal face on an abstract issue: Kerry went on to point out that despite being opposed to gay marriage per se, he favored partnership rights and that gay partners should not be prohibited from hospital visitations, etc. Personalizing the issue was meant to drive home what such laws might mean: that, for example, if Mary Cheney's partner were hospitalized, Mary would have no specific rights to visit her. A more distant public gay figure, or an abstract discussion of ideas, would have been less powerful in attempting to persuade undecided voters of the justness of his position.

Oh - and it's quite a bit late for this administration to be complaining about anyone politicizing issues. You'd need a very sharp knife just to cut the irony.


Anonymous said...

what's a "cultural conservative" anyway?
--Anonymous Steve

2fs said...

Short answer: corporate/free-market conservative vs. anti-abortion/anti- gay marriage conservative. The kind of conservative position that believes in minimal government and the free market has no particular perspective on those social issues; the idea would be to let them alone and let the market decide. The social conservative position is not necessarily minimal government conservative, as evidenced by that position's support for legislation restricting abortion or constitutional amendments defining (and limiting) marriage.