Vice President Dick Cheney, a self-described “angry father,” yesterday denounced Sen. John Kerry for bringing up his homosexual daughter during a debate with President Bush, calling the Democratic candidate “a man who will do and say anything to get elected.”
“I am not just speaking as a father here, although I am a pretty angry father,” the vice president told supporters at a rally in Fort Myers, Fla.
During the final presidential debate Wednesday, the two presidential candidates were asked whether they believed “homosexuality is a choice.”
“We’re all God’s children,” Mr. Kerry said. “I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as.”
Pro-family leaders and Republican strategists yesterday called the unsolicited comment about Mary Cheney an invasion of privacy and a calculated attempt by the Kerry campaign to undermine the Bush-Cheney ticket’s support from conservative Christian voters.
Homosexual groups said the comment was entirely appropriate, while the two presidential campaigns engaged in a war of words over Mr. Kerry’s remarks.
The furor began minutes after the Wednesday night debate ended, when Lynne Cheney introduced her husband to a crowd of supporters in Coraopolis, Pa.
“Now, you know, I did have a chance to assess John Kerry once more and now the only thing I could conclude: This is not a good man,” she said. “Of course, I am speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick.”
As Mr. Kerry’s comments began to draw criticism across the political spectrum, the wife of vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards weighed in on the issue, saying Mrs. Cheney appears to be ashamed of her homosexual daughter.
“She’s overreacted to this and treated it as if it’s shameful to have this discussion,” Elizabeth Edwards said yesterday.
“I think that’s a very sad state of affairs. I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter’s sexual preferences,” she said. “It makes me really sad that that’s Lynne’s response.”
Later in the day, Mr. Kerry, aware that his comments were garnering increasingly negative coverage, released a terse statement trying to defuse the confrontation with the Cheneys.
“I love my daughters. They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue,” he said.
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said there was no “ill intent” in the senator’s comments.
“The fact that the Bush camp is making such an issue about this is an attempt to talk about anything but the debate,” he said.
But Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said Mr. Kerry miscalculated the impact of his remarks and now is “backpedaling from what is a crass, below-the-belt political strategy to attack the vice president’s daughter.”
She said his remarks constituted “a political mistake that I think they’ll pay a hefty price for.”
Wednesday’s unsolicited comments by Mr. Kerry marked the second time the Democratic candidates have brought up the Cheneys’ daughter in a debate.
During the vice-presidential debate, Mr. Edwards, asked whether he supports homosexual “marriage,” began his answer by saying, “I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can’t have anything but respect for the fact that they’re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her.”
Mr. Cheney, asked the same question, responded briefly, saying: “Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter.”
The vice president himself first brought up his homosexual daughter this summer during discussion of a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
“Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue our family is very familiar with,” he told a Davenport, Iowa, audience that included his daughter. “With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone.”
He did not publicly back the amendment on the merits, saying that he thinks states should set their own marriage laws but as vice president acknowledged the president’s right to set administration policy.
After Mr. Kerry’s comment, however, the vice president said on TV station WHO of Des Moines, Iowa, that he thought the senator was “out of line to bring my daughter into it. I thought it was totally inappropriate.”
Patrick Guerriero, executive director for Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual rights group, also chastised Mr. Kerry for naming Miss Cheney, saying he “could have made his point about gay and lesbian Americans without mentioning the vice president’s daughter.”
But other homosexual groups, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the Human Rights Campaign, said Mr. Kerry’s mention of Miss Cheney put a “human face” on the plight that homosexuals face.
“For most gay and lesbian people in America, we watched this debate about our lives as if it’s a debate about people from another planet,” said Matt Foreman, NGLTF executive director. “I thought it was very appropriate to put a human face on the question.”
Said HRC President Cheryl Jacques: “I thought Senator Kerry was incredibly sensitive and did an excellent job of putting a human face on gay Americans, including the vice president’s own daughter.”
She added: “It’s Dick Cheney and George Bush who don’t agree.”
Miss Cheney herself had no comment yesterday.
Republican strategists and pro-family leaders, however, said Mr. Kerry had a clear motive behind his decision to bring up the vice president’s daughter.
“It is a not-so-subtle attempt to undermine the Bush-Cheney team among some Christian voters in key states, believing that if those votes are suppressed one or two points it could make the difference,” said Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate who is president of the Campaign for Working Families.
Sen. John McCain, traveling with Mr. Bush yesterday, said: “Maybe Senator Kerry didn’t appreciate the sensitivity” of the subject.
“Whether intended or not, it was very inappropriate,” the Arizona Republican said.
Charlie Black, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Kerry’s comment was “a despicable invasion of Mary Cheney’s privacy.”
“It’s clearly a calculated effort to try to undercut the president with his base. It was not an offhand comment. Edwards brought up in his debate and Kerry intentionally brought it up again last night,” Mr. Black said.
On the remarks yesterday by Mrs. Edwards, insinuating that the Cheneys are ashamed of their daughter, Mr. Black said, “She’s way off the reservation.”
“I can’t think of very many people who would hear that that think that’s any of her business to be talking about that.”