John Kerry pulled a gaffe last night. In what was an unsuccessful effort to divide Bush from his conservative/evangelical constituency, Kerry gratuitously mentioned the sexuality of Dick Cheney's daughter, Mary, who is an admitted lesbian. And it was not the first time that the members of that ticket raised the issue. John Edwards did the same at the Vice Presidential Debate. The plan was to shock the conscience of the Republicans' core voters. And while it in a way may have succeeded, it also likely did the same to many swing voters. Just not in the way Kerry and Edwards intended.
Kerry used Mary Cheney as his unwilling mouthpiece to advance the proposition that homosexuality is not a choice. While reasonable people can debate that, Mary's sexuality was not a campaign issue. But when the collective groan over the gaffe subsided, and the Kerry spinners had a chance to kill the issue as an innocent statement, or even a compliment to Ms. Cheney's bravery, they chose to breathe a new and slightly more sinister life into it.
Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry strategist extraordinare, told Fox News that candidates' family members were fair game. And given that Mary is a booster of her father's candidacy, her entire life is an open book for Democrat smears. Then a few of the ditzy gum flappers from Kerry-Edwards headquarters spun it the same way. Only the reliably liberal Eleanor Clift had the rare wisdom to cast the remark as a misinterpreted benevolent statement.
But, alas, it doesn't count when numerous high ranking strategists and communication officials in the campaign cast it as an intentional shot and a legit tactic. And at this point, the spin just makes the problem look worse.
But who would get alienated by something like this? Let's start with parents. Nobody likes to see someone's kid get dragged through the mud, and Kerry did it on national TV. Then we have homosexuals. They aren't a gigantic voting bloc, but the Democrats consider them a critical source of support. The lefties aren't going to abandon Kerry, but the moderates and undecideds didn't like watching Mary's orientation being run up someone else's flagpole as an political tactic. And then there are people of good conscience. There are certain things you just don't talk about, and that's an irrelevant and innocent 3rd person's laundry. It was a classless and tacky turn-off. And let's not forget Lynne Cheney, who called Kerry a bad person. Guess what? An indignant mom's defense of an unprovoked and inexcusable smear of her child trumps all other cards in America.
And I'm sure if Dick Cheney had Kerry on the floor of the Senate, he might offer a similar directive as he did to Pat Leahy.
So, consciences were shocked, but not in the way Kerry intended. And that's the thing about October surprises...they can surprise the deliverer as much as the target.