"We can surely understand how my opponent can support gay marriage, when we realize he has a daughter who is a lesbian."
Had George W. Bush made such a remark about John Kerry in the Phoenix debate, the Big Media would have gone to battle stations.
Yet, this is exactly what Kerry did. And the media reaction? He should probably not have done it, but let's move on.
But before we move on, we should explore Kerry's motives in his cruel and calculated introduction of the sexuality of Cheney's daughter, when answering a question by CBS' Bob Schieffer as to whether he believes homosexuality is a matter of choice. For it testifies to the character of the man who would be president.
Bush answered first and honestly, "I don't know."
Indeed, whether nature or nurture determines orientation remains a matter of disagreement. When Barney Frank blurted, "It's not as if I had a choice in this matter," it struck some of us as transparently true. Why would a teenage kid choose to carry this cross through life?
To some of us, homosexuality is an affliction, like alcoholism, and hellishly difficult to control. Why some folks can take or leave alcohol -- while others can enjoy it in moderation, and others cannot stop drinking without help and must swear off it for life or it will kill them -- remains a mystery of nature.
Homosexuality seems to be like that. Sumner Welles, one of FDR's most trusted confidantes, saw his career destroyed after he propositioned a porter on a train. LBJ's closest White House aide killed his career during the 1964 campaign when caught in a sting operation in a YMCA men's room, a block from the White House.
A contemporary of this writer and rising conservative star in the House, with a wonderful family, lost it all when caught trolling D.C.'s tenderloin district for teenage boys. Catholic priests have dishonored the church to which they have dedicated entire lives and disgraced themselves by abusing altar boys.
In such cases, the behavior seems almost suicidal. Clearly, there is a compulsion here that is, at times, terribly difficult to resist, a sexual compulsion that seems far more rare among normal men.
While the president meandered on in his two-minute answer, Kerry prepared, then struck. Responding, he coolly inserted into his reply, "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."
In the pressroom, there was an audible groan. For this was jolting, and over the line. Though Cheney had brought up the matter himself of having a "gay" daughter, in an earlier controlled setting -- to get it out in a careful way so that it would not become an issue -- this fact was still not known to most Americans.
But both John Edwards in Cleveland and Kerry in the Phoenix debate went out of their way to ensure that 50 million Americans knew one of Vice President Cheney's daughters is a lesbian.
Why would they do such a thing? To injure Dick Cheney among social and religious conservatives by implying a connection between his moral beliefs and his daughter's lifestyle. Both Kerry and Edwards know their support of civil unions, which are tantamount to gay marriages, is deeply unpopular. In Missouri, 72 percent recently voted against legalizing gay marriage.
Many states are conducting November referenda on the issue, and socially conservative Hispanics and African-Americans responding to their preachers are expected to come out in droves to vote down gay marriage as anti-biblical and immoral. Fearing they could be swept away in a floodtide of Christian and evangelical votes, Kerry and Edwards want Middle America to know, and not forget, that the Cheneys have a lesbian daughter.
That is the exploitation of a young woman's orientation and life choice -- over which her father has no control -- to wound Bush-Cheney in battleground states. Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill let the cat out of the bag when she described Cheney's daughter as "fair game."
Cheney, a self-described "angry father," said of the tactic, "You saw a man who will do and say anything to get elected." His wife charged Kerry with a "cheap and tawdry political trick."
"This is not a good man," said Lynne Cheney. "I am speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man."
Kerry protested: "I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with the issue." Yeah, right.
But the tactic has backfired. Though the media claim Kerry won all three debates, polls show the president coming away as more likable and beginning to recapture the lead he lost in Miami.
Kerry's outing of Cheney's daughter may prove a self-inflicted wounds that costs him the presidency of the United States.