Friday, October 15, 2004

How deep and how wide?

Hugh Hewitt, who is partly to blame for "Darn Floor," asks the following:

How deep a hole have John Kerry, Mary Beth Cahill and the Edwards dug for themselves? How lasting the damage?

My immediate response to this question is to ask a question of my own: "with whom"? Just as many of us felt that Senators Kerry and Edwards had no business dragging Mary Cheney into the debate for political purposes, others who don't necessarily agree that children of candidates are "fair game" may not see the attempt by Kerry and Edwards to drive a wedge through the Republican party. For these people, Kerry and Edwards did nothing unusual by bringing up Mary Cheney. After all, if the Vice President isn't embarassed by his daughter, what should it matter if they state--as John Kerry did so uncomfortably in the third debate--that Mary Cheney is a . . . (pause dramatically) . . . lesbian?

I agree with that as far as it goes, but to do so I must ignore what seems to me to be the reason Edwards, and later Kerry, brought Mary Cheney into the debates.

To be honest, I don't even feel right discussing Mary Cheney. She has not made herself an issue, and I am not comfortable doing it either. But to the Democrats she is an issue because they believe her very existence somehow operates as a "gotcha" for the President. Let's be fair: the President and Vice President differ slightly on the issue of gay marriage. Kerry and Edwards are not interested in playing "gotcha" with the Vice President, because their views closely match his own: let the issue be decided by the states. It is President Bush they want to "get." After the mainstream media tried to make hay of the difference between the Vice President and the President's views on the subject earlier this summer--and the electorate gave a collective yawn--John Kerry and John Edwards gave it another go. Not only do they want to divide the President and the Vice President in the eyes of the public, they want to divide the center and the right elements of the Republican Party.

But did they dig themselves into a hole? For pro-Kerry/anti-Bush partisans, no. For those who side with the Bush administration, yes.

For the wider set of the American public to recognize this hole would require an honest, unblinking examination of the incident and the reasons behind it by the mass media, and this will not happen while the current media gatekeepers are in charge.

On the face of it, the statements about Mary Cheney by Kerry and Edwards during the debates is pretty minor. Tasteless, to be sure, but not necessary a deal-breaker for undecided voters. What should be more troubling are the statements by Mary Beth Cahill and Elizabeth Edwards. Cahill states that Mary Cheney--and by extension, all children of any candidate for public office--is "fair game." As James Lileks said in today's "Bleat," "Why would anyone want to go into politics if their children are now 'fair game'?"

Call it the "Colin Powell response."

There is something chilling about Cahill's statement that hits this parent right in the gut. An across-the-board adoption of the "Cahill standard" would leave us with two sets of people willing to seek office--those who selfishly don't care how their children are affected in their quests for personal achievement and power, and good people who will refuse to be intimidated by the "Cahill standard." In either case, pity the children.

It is Elizabeth Edwards' statement--that the Cheneys must somehow be ashamed of their daughter--that completely exposes the game the Democratic candidates are playing. They want to drive a wedge between the centrist and conservative wings of the party, between the President and the Vice President, and even between the Cheneys and their daughter.

Ironically, the message of Elizabeth Edwards isn't a tongue-clicking, head-shaking disappointment that the Cheneys must be ashamed. There's a greater deviousness at play. The message to social conservatives is "Aren't you uncomfortable with the fact that the Vice President has a daughter who is a (gasp!) lesbian?" The message to Dick Cheney and George Bush is "Aren't you uncomfortable working with a man who doesn't share your views?"

Divide and conquer. It's one of the oldest strategies in the book. We fall for it at our peril.

Have they dug themselves into a big hole? Only if we can convince people that there is a hole. A coworker who is of the "a pox on both their houses" viewpoint felt that Edwards was reaching out in unity to Cheney by mentioning his daughter. He didn't see the hole. He still didn't see the hole after Kerry's remark. Unless people can see the hole, there won't be any lasting damage, except for the damage done to the children of elected officials who will suffer the consequences of the continued degrading of political discourse by the party that seeks power at any price.

UPDATE: Further thoughts here and here.


At 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BRAVO!!! BRAVO!!! Your perfect assessment of the Kerry remark about Cheney's daughter is magnificent! Thanks for blogging it. That utterly stupid politicaly motivated statement by Kerry is one that I'm going to watch Kerry choke on like a bone caught in his throat. What's so sad about Kerry is that his political rancor is rendering him naked while he thinks he's a finely dressed king. Two thirds of the electorate are laughing at him and the Clintons are in the lead. What an ugly dog and pony show this election has turned out to be. And in 4 years, we have "psycho-babe Clinton" to watch prance on the scene telling us how we ought to think cause we can't think for ourselves. Why it's all just pure enlightenment! I can hardly wait! Anyway, thanks for your comments and God bless America! Plainswomann.


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