Hoffa, Jr. and the GOP/Cheney's Lesbian Daughter from TNR

Michael Pugliese debsian at pacbell.net
Sun Aug 6 20:10:09 PDT 2000

TNR Online | Brotherly Love by Franklin Foerhttp://www.thenewrepublic.com/081400/foer081400.html CONVENTION DISPATCH Brotherly Love

By FRANKLIN FOER Issue date: 08.14.00 Post date: 08.03.00

James Hoffa is about to work his way across the Philadelphia Marriott's Liberty Ballroom, back to the platter of shrimp that has been laid out in his honor. As he turns, though, he encounters a familiar figure. Extending his fleshy fingers, he begins to vigorously pump Representative Bob Barr's hand. The Teamsters chief puts his arm around the rabid Republican--a man who has happily supported right-to-work legislation and voted against minimum-wage hikes--and smiles for the cameras. It's not terribly surprising to see Hoffa mugging with a right-winger like Barr. After all, Hoffa prides himself on being an ultra-pragmatist willing to do business with anyone, from raving anarchists to raving nationalists. He even forgives old enemies like Ralph Nader, who spent decades trying to run his union into the ground. ("Ralph's a visionary," Hoffa now tells me.) And, although Hoffa will journey to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention later this month and won't announce the Teamsters' presidential endorsement until Labor Day, nobody has a better reason to stick it to Vice President Al Gore and his boosters in the afl-cio. It was Gore and his labor allies, after all, who tacitly endorsed Ron Carey, Hoffa's opponent in two union elections; the Democratic National Committee even helped raise money for Carey. Hoffa clearly has his reasons for making nice with Barr. But it is harder to explain why a devout free-marketeer like Barr would kiss the ring of a labor boss. And Barr's not alone. While much has been made of the GOP's efforts to reinvent itself in Philadelphia as the party of vacuous multiculturalism, the Republicans have mounted a quiet, less-noticed campaign to steal away another Democratic constituency: labor. It's not the first time--in the '80s, Ronald Reagan exploited the rank and file's discontent with McGovernite liberalism to win two Teamsters endorsements. But that was an ideological marriage. Today, Republicans and Teamsters disagree on trade, health care, and almost everything else. This election, the Republicans are aggressively wooing Hoffa for only one reason: They're just as Machiavellian as he is. Republicans haven't feted a labor leader at a national convention in 20 years, and some of them are clearly out of practice. As Hoffa enters the hotel ballroom--where, on the convention's first night, the Republican National Committee is hosting a celebration in his honor--Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum greets him. But Santorum doesn't quite know how to make the pitch. "You know we're the party of the working man now," he boasts to Hoffa, before launching into a spiel about tax cuts. It's an awkward moment--the usually smooth senator's sentences trail off as his error slowly dawns on him--but Hoffa's smile never breaks. And Santorum soon cuts his speech short, pats Hoffa on the arm, and seizes a lifeline. "Have you met Senator Specter?"

thers at the soiree, however, find it easier to suck up with a straight face. Representative Henry Hyde tells reporters that the union boss is "a great proponent of good government. An honorable man. A real hero." Senator Orrin Hatch embraces Hoffa's squat frame and stares meaningfully into his eyes: "You're doing a terrific job. Keep it up. It's just great." Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson asks Hoffa to pose for a snapshot with his sister, then arranges a tableau of Hoffa surrounded by seven congressmen and four senators--a nice photo-op. (Later, Nicholson even lets Hoffa ride in the chairman's motorcade from the hotel to the convention hall.) In a speech to the audience, which teems with Teamsters and reporters and Republican officials, Nicholson's flattery grows increasingly, almost perversely, implausible. Hoffa, Nicholson says, "brought honor and decency to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters," just as George W. Bush will bring honor and decency to the Oval Office. The labor boss takes it all in with a smile. "I didn't know I had so many Republican friends," he tells the crowd. And, for a while at least, the rapprochement looks almost genuine. After all, Hoffa truly does have reason to hate the Clinton administration. And his members really are more socially conservative than the public-sector unionists who dominate John Sweeney's AFL-CIO. What's more, Hoffa seems impervious to the one thing that makes his alliance with the Republican Party most bizarre: class. As he hurries through the halls of the First Union Center, Hoffa passes a cigar bar set up to entertain corporate donors--and he's not in the least perturbed. "That's how the world runs," he later explains matter-of-factly. "That's how business is done in America. The Democrat convention will be the same." With his blue double-breasted suit, French-collar shirt, and tasseled loafers, he looks as if he could stroll in, light up a stogie, and cut a deal. Except Hoffa's suit is too short and at least a decade out of style; there are globes of sweat on his shirt. And, as he sees a blown-up cover of Business Week hyping "The Politics of Prosperity," Hoffa finally starts to show some discomfort with his new surroundings. "Give me a break," he says, gesturing as if to push the sign over. But then he regains his composure, forces a smile, and heads for his next meeting with his new friends in the GOP.

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There's something about Mary. Parental Discretion


TONY SNOW: OK. Final: I know this is a touchy subject. Jerry Falwell puts out a comment saying that he supports you. He talks about your daughter's sexual orientation. Was that any of his business?

DICK CHENEY: My--I've got two daughters. They are fine women. I'm very proud of both of them. And I think their private lives are private, and I just firmly believe that. I'm running for public office; they're entitled to their privacy.

SNOW: Nothing like a father's love for his daughters.

CHENEY: Right.

A simple question no one seems to want to ask: If Dick Cheney loves and is proud of his openly lesbian daughter, why is he supporting a man who wants her to live under the threat of criminal sanction? It's no secret that Governor George W. Bush has publicly supported Texas's still-extant gays-only sodomy law, which makes private, consensual sex between gay adults a crime. Does Cheney agree with his running mate's position?

And what about his own public history on homosexual equality? On gay matters, Cheney's congressional record is not just bad. It's shocking. Cheney was one of only 13 representatives to vote against the landmark 1988 bill that initiated federal funding for AIDS testing and counseling-- putting him to the right of even Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, both of whom voted for it. He was one of only 29 House members to vote against the 1988 Hate Crimes Statistics Act, which merely allowed the federal government to collect data on violent crimes based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and he voted for an amendment that added gratuitously anti-gay language to the bill. He supported measures to cut federal AIDS research and to allow health-insurance discrimination against people with HIV in the District of Columbia. As defense secretary, despite once describing the ban on gays in the military as an "old chestnut," Cheney solidly backed the old policy of harassment of gay soldiers and their ejection, however distinguished their records, from the Armed Forces.

How does Cheney square this history with his belief that his gay daughter, Mary, is "wonderful," "decent," and "hard-working"? I don't know, because the media, which evidently still doesn't regard gay rights as central to our politics, has barely asked. ABC's Cokie Roberts, for example, only brought up the matter at the very end of her interview with Lynne Cheney, the candidate's wife, on last Sunday's "This Week"--as a way of sympathizing with Cheney's plight of having a gay daughter exposed on the campaign trail! The usually dogged Tim Russert dropped the ball entirely in an almost half-hour-long interview with the would-be veep. Fox's Tony Snow raised the issue--but only to assert that it was none of anyone's business. The New York Times, for all its pretensions to have left homophobia behind, has barely touched the subject. The Washington Post buried it.

When asked, the Cheneys simply say the issue is private. According to Newsweek, Lynne Cheney has declared the topic off-limits: "I have just decided that the thing to do when the subject of either of my daughters comes up is to say, `They are wonderful women.'" But this is a preposterous argument. Mary Cheney is a 31-year-old out lesbian. She lives with her partner in Colorado. Her last job was at Coors Brewing Company, where she was responsible specifically for outreach to the gay and lesbian population. She has funneled corporate money into gay causes and talked about homosexuality to redneck beer distributors. In a recent interview with Girlfriends magazine, a glossy publication targeted to a lesbian audience, Mary Cheney said, "The reason I came to work here [at Coors] is because I knew several other lesbians who were very happy here." According to Salon, she introduces her girlfriend as her "life partner," and, according to Time, she came out to her parents in the early '90s. Last week on "Larry King Live," Bob Woodward revealed that her homosexuality was a central factor in Dick Cheney's decision not to run for president in 1996. If Mary Cheney's lesbianism is not a matter of public fact, then nothing is.

Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to have occurred to her parents. Lynne Cheney, for her part, went so far as to deny her daughter's lesbianism entirely. "Mary has never declared such a thing," Lynne Cheney told Roberts on "This Week." "I would like to say that I'm appalled at the media interest in one of my daughters. I have two wonderful daughters. I love them very much. They are bright; they are hard-working; they are decent. And I simply am not going to talk about their personal lives. And I'm surprised, Cokie, that even you would want to bring it up on this program." Thus, in one of her first public interviews as a potential second lady, Lynne Cheney said two things that are blatantly untrue. The first is that her daughter has never declared her lesbianism. The second is that Lynne Cheney doesn't talk about the private lives of her daughters. In fact, in almost every profile of Lynne Cheney last week, we were informed that she loves spending time with her two granddaughters, the children of her older daughter, Liz. Why is one daughter's heterosexuality a public matter while the other's homosexuality is not?

There are two possible answers to that question, and they shed more light on "compassionate conservatism" than all the klieg lights in Philadelphia. The first is that Dick and Lynne Cheney are genuinely embarrassed by and conflicted about their daughter's lesbianism. But, if this is the case, the Cheneys owe us an explanation. It may not be easy, but, when you enter public life at this level, matters that might have remained common knowledge but have rarely been discussed suddenly demand a response on a national stage. Arizona Senator John McCain had to talk about his divorce and his adopted children. Bush had to talk about his drinking and never stops talking about his faith. When they affect public officials, private matters that have a direct relationship to public concerns are routinely aired. In periods when profound social issues are being debated, this is even truer. At some point in this campaign, Dick Cheney will surely be asked about his views on homosexual equality. It's one of the few issues on which there are real differences between his party and his opponent's. He would have to be a Vulcan--or someone deeply ashamed of his own offspring--not to refer to his own daughter in responding. In a candidate putatively wedded to "compassionate conservatism," one might even hope for more--for a response that adds a human dimension to the inhuman way in which gay people's lives are routinely discussed and caricatured.

There is, however, a second possibility--that the Cheneys don't disapprove of their daughter's lesbianism at all but, for political reasons, must pretend to. After all, Jerry Falwell, one of Bush's key allies on the Christian right, has already described Cheney's daughter as "errant." The Republican platform expresses its opposition to special "rights" for homosexuals. Cheney comes from Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was murdered, and had to represent his constituents in the 1980s. Perhaps he feels obliged not to break publicly with the homophobes who still dominate his party. One small piece of evidence to support this theory is the absence from both Dick Cheney's and Lynne Cheney's records of any known anti-gay slurs, despite their being surrounded by people who bait homosexuals on a regular basis. By all accounts, Cheney has treated his gay staffers decently and was deeply supportive of his Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams during his "outing" ordeal. There is no reason to doubt his affection for his gay daughter.

But, in some respects, this scenario is the more damning one. For, if Cheney personally respects gay people but supports policies that segregate and ostracize them for his own personal advancement, then he truly is contemptible. It's surely worse to oppose homosexual equality for opportunistic rather than for principled reasons. At least Pat Robertson seems to believe he is trying to save gay people from eternal damnation; but to support their continued stigmatization for the sake of a bucket of warm spit is morally pitiful.

Perhaps Cheney, like the rest of us, has grown on this subject over the years. Perhaps he now regrets his small part in making the AIDS epidemic even worse than it might otherwise have been and in casting a vote that declared that violence against gay people was not even worth recording. Perhaps his experience in overseeing the military's persecution of gay servicemembers has led him to have greater sympathy for their plight. (To his credit, he reversed the policy by which the Pentagon once sought to recoup scholarship money from gay soldiers the military had expelled.) Perhaps he has come to believe from observing his own daughter that gay relationships are not merely dysfunctional sexual compulsions akin to kleptomania (as Trent Lott holds) but human achievements of love and commitment. Perhaps he now sees that gay men and women, far from being threats to the traditional family, have always been at its heart.

But, if his views on these matters have evolved, he must say so now. And, if he doesn't, if he remains as silent as he has been, then he should not cavil at the inference that he is proud of his record and sees no problem with a Republican platform that continues to relegate his daughter to second-class citizenship. One can make some excuses for expediency in any political life. But at a certain point expediency becomes hypocrisy. And, when expediency means the civil and legal punishment of one's own child, it is, in fact, worse than hypocrisy. It is betrayal.

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