• Dick Cheney, Feeling No Pain

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    The
    best way for a right-winger to get onto the New York Times
    op-ed page has always been to take a punch at another right-winger.
    It usually helps to attack from the Left, but this week, Gary
    Bauer managed to sneak into Sunday's Times by criticizing
    Dick Cheney from the Right. See "Fuzzy Morality" (NYT
    op-ed, October 8). Bauer's beef? As he sees it, Cheney's answer
    to the gay-marriage question, posed by moderator Bernard Shaw
    in last week's vice-presidential debate, was an affront to social
    conservatives.

    Pressed
    on the question of homosexual marriage by Shaw (And aren't we
    all glad that Bernie didn't repeat the phrasing he used for the
    racial profiling query: "Secretary Cheney, for the purposes
    of this question, you are gay."), Cheney said that "people
    should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want
    to enter into" and "states are likely to come to different
    conclusions" on whether those relationships should be officially
    recognized.

    For
    Bauer, this amounted to left-wing mushiness, "a surrender
    on the defense of traditional marriage." It's hard to see
    how this is so. In fact, the way Cheney framed the answer –
    beginning with "we live in a free society," and closing
    with "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal
    policy in this area" – might properly be invoked by
    conservative constitutionalists for nearly every social policy
    question. But more broadly, whatever one's position on the Defense
    of Marriage Act, right-thinking folks everywhere should applaud
    Cheney's handling of the gay marriage question. Cheney's answer
    was a terrific one – not so much because of what he said,
    but because of what he left unsaid.

    As
    everyone knows by now, Dick Cheney has an openly gay daughter,
    Mary Cheney, who lives with another woman and has worked for Coors
    as a liaison to homosexual groups. Another politician – these
    days, almost any politician-would have seized the opportunity
    to personalize the issue, burbled about his experience raising
    a gay child, and thus "humanized" himself. Dick Cheney
    held firm.

    The
    reasons for this admirable restraint? Undoubtedly, Cheney was
    loath to offend Christian conservatives like Bauer. But there's
    more to it than that. Cheney, one feels certain, rejects the modern
    tendency to personalize every question of policy, and finds something
    repulsive in the practice of exploiting family members for political
    gain.

    What
    a contrast to the confessional, self-revelatory fashion in which
    politics has been practiced in the Age of Clinton. Examples are
    legion. There's Bill Clinton's repeated invocations of his alcoholic
    stepdaddy and coke-addicted brother. There's the pathological
    narcissism he displayed at a 1998 prayer-breakfast, referring
    to his Monica troubles: "I have been on quite a journey these
    last few weeks to get to the end of this, to the rock-bottom truth
    of where I am and where we all are." (Query: what could "where"
    he was possibly have to do with "where" the rest of
    us were?) For a particularly egregious, now all-but-forgotten
    example, there was 1994 California gubernatorial candidate Kathleen
    Brown, who, in order score points in a debate with Republican
    Pete Wilson, revealed to the world that her daughter had been
    raped.

    And,
    of course, Vice-President Gore yields to no one in brazen exploitation
    of private family concerns. He treats the American voting public
    as an extended encounter group, all the members of which can learn
    from his struggle to come to terms with sister Nancy's death,
    son Albert III's near-death, wife Tipper's depression, etc., etc.
    What Al Gore wouldn't give right now for a gay child (perhaps
    Tipper is leaning on young Al III even now: "It's just for
    a semester.")

    Even
    when he's not hawking old family tragedies, Al Gore's making his
    private life our business in myriad other ways, as with the famous
    throat-culture kiss he and Tipper shared at the Democratic Convention.
    "Even Presidents have private lives" might have been
    a better defense if these people actually acted like they believed
    it.

    Into
    this political culture of gooey sentiment lumbers Dick Cheney:
    a lumpy, unglamorous white guy who nibbles on his the stem of
    his glasses while thinking. In the debate and on the talk shows,
    his answers are crisp, logical, dispassionate, authoritative,
    and unapologetic. He eschews the politics of personal revelation
    and refuses to play the Clintonian role of blubbery empath. Try
    to picture Cheney on Oprah: it's like trying to envision Humphrey
    Bogart in drag. Not only is Cheney unable to feel your pain –
    he barely feels his own. How in the world did a man so innately
    imperturbable manage to have three heart attacks?

    It's
    hard not to fear that such manly reserve is disappearing from
    public life. We live in a world where the personal and the political
    are rapidly becoming indistinguishable. Today, public figures
    routinely reveal things about their private lives that are not
    only irrelevant, but positively cringe-inducing. In the soft-edged,
    feminized political discourse of the future, no man will be elected
    who's unable to weep on command or unwilling to share a videotape
    of his wife giving birth. But for now, Dick Cheney stands athwart
    the gushing tide of emotionalism and grumbles: "Stop. None
    of your business." How refreshing. It may be a losing battle,
    but it's one well worth fighting.

    October
    12, 2000

    Gene
    Healy is an attorney practicing in Northern Virginia.

    Gene
    Healy Archives

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