Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Paging Old Man Mendacity ...

Most of the time it's best to ignore the sclerotic rumblings of The New York Times' op-ed columnist William Safire, but today's jeremiad against the Kerry camp is nothing but disingenuous.

Safire spends some 700 words excoriating the Kerry campaign for drawing attention to Mary Cheney's sexual preference in the third and final presidential debate.

It's not my purpose to defend Kerry on this point. For Kerry to have brought up Mary Cheney again, after John Edwards had done it once in the vice presidential debates, was certainly a lapse of judgement, but what the Republican Party would have you believe, and this is the crux, is that by "outing" Mary Cheney, the Democrats were gunning for a cheap smear. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is this line of attack that lays open the heart of today's GOP.

Kerry's mistake was to further subject Mary Cheney to the same public scrutiny that has plagued the family members of presidents and presidential candidates alike.

Yet amid all the hubub, it might be easy to forget why this is an issue at all. President George W. Bush pledged his support to Colorado Representative Marilyn Musgrave for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage three months before he made his public announcement in February of this year. Bush and the GOP intended to make gay marriage a wedge issue in a sordid attempt to divide the American public by appealing to the basest of human emotions, the fear of difference and the fear of the unknown.

One would do well to remember that all this mock outrage comes from the very same party that under former president Ronald Reagan did everything it could to distance itself from the AIDS crisis, buoyed by the belief that AIDS was merely a "gay" disease. And from the bowels of the GOP's reactionary wing, the so-called moral majority, we were told that AIDS was God's scourge on homosexuals.

To his credit Safire came out against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but regrettably he is no stranger to the art of the slur. Safire's role in amplifying the outrageous accusations that Bill and Hillary Clinton may have had a hand in the death of Vince Foster is a rancor that should not be forgotten. Safire, a man who once accused a sitting president of murder, is now chastising Senator Kerry for telling the truth.

Safire ends his column by urging Republicans to quote the words of Senator Joseph Welch:
Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
Yet coy Bill neglects to give this famous piece of Americana its rightful context. These words were spoken to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Senate subcommittee on un-American activities hearings in 1954. It was a pivotal moment that both undermined McCarthy's communist witchhunt, and eventually destroyed his reputation.

William Safire has no moral integrity. Drawing a parallel between Kerry's poorly thought out gambit and the slanderous lies of the McCarthy era is scabrous, cheap and intellectually dishonest.

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