Preachers' kids and children of politicians don't have a lot in common, but they all learn early how a child must sometimes bear more than mere witness to his father's interests.
A friend of mine, the son of a Baptist preacher, tells how he once had to pay for the sins of others in his father's behalf. "I was no more than 5 or 6 or so, in a front pew with my mother, sitting up straight and paying close and quiet attention to my father. A child several rows behind us began crying, squirming, banging his feet on the pew, demanding his mother's attention, and generally being a brat. At first my father ignored it, and so did the congregation. But the kid seemed determined to break up the meeting. Finally, my father stopped in mid-peroration of one of his finest sermons, and turned to my mother and said: "Can't you please make our son behave himself?" The mother of the misbehaving child behind us quickly got the point, and took him out to deal with him under the trees. I learned at a tender age what John F. Kennedy meant when he famously said, 'Life is unfair.'"
Mary Cheney, daughter of the vice president, might appreciate this story. Like the preacher's kid, she obviously loves and admires her father, but on one memorable campaign occasion she had to stand as a surrogate for her father, to take abuse from his critics and enemies, most of them more lethal than a bratty child. She has titled a lively memoir of her brief career as her father's campaign adviser, "Now It's My Turn."
Her memoir is not exactly payback, at least not to her father, but she pays her "respects" to others, notably John Kerry and John Edwards, who attempted to reduce the most intimate aspect of her private life to campaign fodder, when they cited her acknowledged homosexuality in debates with both the president and the vice president. John Edwards, she writes, making no attempt to hide her contempt, was "slime," John Kerry "a total sleazeball."
The mainstream-media reviews have been mostly respectful, sort of, but usually in the vein of "how could a perfectly nice gay girl like Mary be a part of the evil Bush-Cheney conspiracy against civilization as we know it?" And why did she devote only "10 percent" of her book, as she calculates it, to her life as a lesbian? Gays and lesbians are angry that she hasn't made their political cause her life's work.
Mary Cheney does, in fact, chide President Bush for wanting to "write discrimination into the Constitution" with his endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. She tells how she almost quit the campaign over the endorsement, and in a few paragraphs that she obviously hopes the president will see, she tells how several top staffers told her that they, too, disagreed with what the president had done.
But she not only voted for him, she worked for him and goes out of her way to say nice things about him now. She says the president offered to let her issue a campaign statement that she opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, but she declined, displaying sharper political instincts than the White House political team. "While I appreciated the gesture, I didn't think it was appropriate for me as a campaign staffer to issue a statement. The only thing it would have accomplished would have been to turn me and my sexual orientation into a prime-time campaign issue, something I was very much trying to avoid -- as it turned out, without much success."
Like father, like daughter: Mary Cheney keeps a lot of herself out of her memoir. She writes without much emotion about her domestic partner, with whom she shares a house in a Washington suburb, but she doesn't dish the private, intimate details the way the celebrity culture demands that every memoirist do.
When her book had its own coming-out party at the Palm, the restaurant and watering hole of the capital's hottest political numbers, she greeted well-wishers a few feet away from her father, who stood with his back to the wall, rarely smiling, unwilling or unable to make the small talk that fuels these painful capital occasions, enduring the evening in the manner of the man who invented the ice cube. Mary Cheney makes it clear that she doesn't mind people thinking she's a lot like him. Cool, reserved, detached, ever poised to leap to her father's defense. Just like a preacher's kid.