The New York Times:
COLUMN: Mary Cheney's Bundle of Joy
By Frank Rich
Columnist Frank Rich calls Focus on the Family, Family Research Council
and American Family Association the "axis of family jihadis" and says
anti-gay politics is losing its ability to woo voters.
IT'S not the least of John McCain's political talents that he
comes across as a paragon of straight talk even when he isn't
talking straight. So it was a surprise to see him reduced to
near-stammering on ABC's `'This Week'' two Sundays after
the election. The subject that brought him low was the elephant in the
elephants' room, or perhaps we should say in their closet:
Senator McCain is no bigot, and his only goal was to change the subject
as quickly as possible. He kept repeating two safe talking points for
dear life: he opposes same-sex marriage (as does every major
presidential aspirant in both parties) and he is opposed to
discrimination. But because he had endorsed a broadly written Arizona
ballot initiative that could have been used to discriminate against
unmarried domestic partners, George Stephanopoulos wouldn't let him
off the hook.
`'Are you against civil unions for gay couples?'' he asked the
senator, who replied, `'No, I'm not.'' When Mr.
Stephanopoulos reiterated the question seconds later—`'So
you're for civil unions?''—Mr. McCain answered,
`'No.'' In other words, he was not against civil unions before
he was against them. His gaffe was reminiscent of a similar appearance
on Mr. Stephanopoulos'
Harvard-trained doctor who refused to criticize a federal abstinence
program that catered to the religious right by spreading the canard that
sweat and tears could transmit AIDS.
Senator Frist is now a lame duck, and his brand of pandering, typified
by his errant upbeat diagnosis of the brain-dead Terri Schiavo's
condition, is following him to political Valhalla. The 2006 midterms
left Karl Rove's supposedly foolproof playbook in tatters. It was
hard for the Republicans to deal the gay card one more time after the
Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals revealed that today's
conservative hierarchy is much like Roy Cohn's milieu in
`'Angels in America,'' minus the wit and pathos.
This time around, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage drew
markedly less support than in 2004; the draconian one endorsed by Mr.
McCain in Arizona was voted down altogether. Two national politicians
who had kowtowed egregiously to their party's fringe, Rick Santorum
and George Allen, were defeated, joining their ideological fellow
travelers Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed in the political junkyard. To further
confirm the inexorable march of social history, the only Christmas
season miracle to lift the beleaguered Bush administration this year has
been the announcement that Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay
daughter, is pregnant. Her growing family is the living rejoinder to
those in her father's party who would relegate gay American couples
and their children to second-class legal or human status.
Yet not even these political realities have entirely broken the
knee-jerk habit of some 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls to woo
homophobes. Mitt Romney, the Republican Massachusetts governor, was
caught in yet another embarrassing example of his party's hypocrisy
last week. In a newly unearthed letter courting the gay Log Cabin
Republicans during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race, he promised to
`'do better'' than even Ted Kennedy in making `'equality
for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.'' Given that Mr. Romney
has been making opposition to same-sex marriage his political calling
card this year, his ideological bisexuality looks as foolish in its
G-rated way as that of Mr. Haggard, the evangelical leader who was
caught keeping time with a male prostitute.
There's no evidence that Mr. Romney's rightward move on gay
civil rights and abortion (about which he acknowledges his flip-flop)
has helped him politically. Or that Mr. McCain has benefited from a
similar sea change that has taken him from accurately labeling Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson `'agents of intolerance'
appearing at Mr. Falwell's Liberty University this year. A
Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that among Republican
voters, Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed liberal on gay civil rights and
abortion, leads Mr. McCain 34 percent to 26 percent. Mr. Romney brought
up the rear, at 5 percent. That does, however, put him nominally ahead
of another presidential wannabe, the religious-right favorite Sam
Brownback, who has held up a federal judicial nomination in the Senate
because the nominee had attended a lesbian neighbor's commitment
For those who are cheered by seeing the Rovian politics of wedge issues
start to fade, the good news does not end with the growing evidence that
gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good.
It's not only centrist American voters of both parties who reject
divisive demagoguery but also conservative evangelicals themselves. Some
of them are at last standing up to the extremists in their own camp.
No one more dramatically so, perhaps, than Rick Warren, the Orange
County, Calif., megachurch leader and best-selling author of `'The
Purpose Driven Life.'' He has adopted AIDS in Africa as a signature
crusade, and invited Barack Obama to join the usual suspects, including
Senator Brownback, to address his World AIDS Day conference on the
issue. This prompted predictable outrage from the right because of Mr.
Obama's liberal politics, especially on abortion. One radio host,
Kevin McCullough, demonized the Democrat for pursuing `'inhumane,
sick and sinister evil'' as a legislator. An open letter sponsored
by 18 `'pro-life'' groups protested the invitation, also
citing Mr. Obama's `'evil.'' But Mr. Warren didn't
Among those defending the invitation was David Kuo, the former deputy
director of the Bush White House's Office of Faith-Based and
Community Initiatives. In a book, `'Tempting Faith,'' as well
as in interviews and on his blog, the heretical Mr. Kuo has become a
tough conservative critic of the corruption of religion by politicians
and religious-right leaders who are guilty of `'taking Jesus and
reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-
guy.'' Of those `'family'' groups who criticized Mr.
Obama's appearance at the AIDS conference, Mr. Kuo wrote, `'Are
they so blind and possessed with such a narrow definition of life that
they can think of life only in utero?'' The answer, of course, is
yes. The Christian Coalition parted ways with its new president-elect, a
Florida megachurch pastor, Joel Hunter, after he announced that he would
take on bigger issues like poverty and global warming.
But it is leaders like Mr. Hunter and Mr. Warren who are in ascendance.
Even the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at
Mr. Haggard's former perch, the National Association of
Evangelicals, has joined a number of his peers in taking up the cause of
the environment, putting him at odds with the Bush administration. Such
religious leaders may not have given up their opposition to abortion or
gay marriage, but they have more pressing priorities. They seem to have
figured out, as Mr. Kuo has said, that `'politicians use Christian
voters for their money and for their votes'' and give them little
in return except a reputation for bigotry and heartless opposition to
the lifesaving potential of stem-cell research.
The axis of family jihadis—Focus on the Family, the Family Research
Council, the American Family Association—is feeling the heat; its
positions get more extreme by the day. A Concerned Women for America
mouthpiece called Mary Cheney's pregnancy
her child'' and `'acted in a way that denies everything that
the Bush administration has worked for.'' (That last statement,
thankfully, is true.) This overkill reeks of desperation. So does these
zealots' recent assault on the supposedly feminizing
`'medical'' properties of soy baby formula (which deserves the
`'blame for today's rise in homosexuality,
the chairman of Megashift Ministries), and penguins.
Yes, penguins. These fine birds have now joined the Teletubbies and
SpongeBob SquarePants in the pantheon of cuddly secret agents for
`'the gay agenda.'' Schools are being forced to defend
`'And Tango Makes Three,'' an acclaimed children's picture
book based on the true story of two Central Park Zoo male penguins who
adopted a chick from a fertilized egg. The hit penguin movie
`'Happy Feet'' has been outed for an `'anti-religious
bias'' and its `'endorsement of gay identity'' by Michael
Medved, the commentator who sets the tone for the religious right's
strictly enforced code of cultural political correctness.
Such censoriousness is increasingly the stuff of comedy. So are
politicians of all stripes who advertise their faith. A liberal like
Howard Dean is no more credible talking about the Bible (during the 2004
campaign he said his favorite book in the New Testament was Job) than
twice-married candidates like Mr. McCain are persuasive at pledging
allegiance to `'the sanctity of marriage.''
For all the skeptical theories about the Obama boomlet—or real boom,
we don't know yet—no one doubts that his language about faith is
his own, not a crib sheet provided by a conservative evangelical
preacher or a liberal political consultant on `'values.''
That's why a Democrat from Chicago whose voting record is to the
left of Hillary Clinton's received the same standing ovation from
the thousands at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church that he did from
his own party's throngs in New Hampshire. After a quarter-century of
watching politicians from both parties exploit religion for partisan and
often mean-spirited political gain, voters on all sides of this
country's culture wars are finally in the market for something new.