- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2004

Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, had the final rebuttal in Wednesday’s final presidential debate. Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Pittsburgh, Mrs. Cheney said, “[John Kerry] is not a good man.” It was a response to Mr. Kerry’s unsolicited and gratuitous reference to the Cheneys’ lesbian daughter, Mary, during the debate. Somehow the fact that Mr. Cheney has a lesbian daughter means that the president is a hypocrite for supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment— or something like that. It doesn’t, and Mrs. Cheney has every right to return Mr. Kerry’s insult in kind.

Initially, John Edwards could have been forgiven for making a perhaps genial, though inappropriate, comment on families when he mentioned Miss Cheney during the vice presidential debate. But any doubt was removed Wednesday with Mr. Kerry’s bizarre gay-baiting comment. This conscious, malicious strategy was confirmed even further after the debate when Mr. Kerry’s campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, called Miss Cheney “fair game.”

The rest of the debate focused on domestic issues, with each candidate providing his respective conservative or liberal boilerplate. Mr. Kerry proved to be a smooth talker on everything from flu vaccinations to Social Security, listing his points a, b and c, to which Mr. Bush had one of the more memorable lines of the night: “A plan is not a litany of complaints. And a plan is not to lay out programs you can’t pay for.” It was devastating not just for its truthfulness, but because it took the domestic advantage — historically a Democratic strength — away from the challenger. Indeed, Mr. Kerry was playing defense most of the night.

The reason is because Mr. Bush wasn’t afraid of talking like a conservative. And despite Mr. Kerry’s effort to court the moderate vote, Mr. Bush effectively continued his tactic of painting his opponent as a tax-and-spend liberal. When the president said, “[Y]our record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts,” he wasn’t using hyperbolic rhetoric. Several times Mr. Kerry tried to invoke Ronald Reagan to buttress his conservative credentials, but his answer to moderator Bob Schieffer’s question on raising the minimum wage was straight out of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

What followed Mr. Kerry’s Mary Cheney cheap shot was a lively exchange that focused on faith and the value of life. Mr. Kerry appeared uncomfortable when he said, “What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn’t share that article of faith.” It’s a tightrope-walking position that could play either way with swing voters, yet it does nothing to cast Mr. Kerry as a man of principle. Mr. Bush was far more blunt, and seemingly more comfortable: “I think it’s important to promote a culture of life. I think that a hospitable society is a society where every human being counts and every person matters.” Those are two diametrically opposed viewpoints on an essential question of governance, and it’s quite appropriate that that’s where this year’s presidential debates ended.

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