Cheney and the Asterisk Republicans
During his appearance Monday at the National Press Club, former Vice President Dick Cheney again stated his support for same-sex marriage. Understandably supporting the rights of his own daughter Mary, Cheney proclaimed, "Freedom means freedom for everyone," adding, "I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish."
Which makes Cheney just the latest Asterisk Republican. Marriage, it turns out, is between one man and one woman, * unless either the man or the woman involved is related to a prominent member of the GOP. And as Tom Delay, Fred Thompson and Orrin Hatch among others revealed over controversies from Terri Schiavo to stem cell research, their supposed culture of life is for thee and not me.
Dick Cheney's path to backing marriage equality was a tortured one. (Pun intended). During the 2000 campaign, Cheney to the dismay of conservatives announced that the issue of gay marriages should be decided by the states, noting, "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area." But January 2004, the Vice President veered right, declaring he would back a President Bush's proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. ("I will support," he said, "whatever decision he makes.") Then in August 2004, Cheney reformulated his position yet again:
"Freedom means freedom for everyone," he said at a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa.
"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Cheney said as his daughter Mary stood in the audience. He said he opposes the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that Bush has endorsed.
"But the president makes basic policy for the administration," he added.
(Of course, when John Kerry in 2004 made essentially the same point, Lynne Cheney feigned outrage and declared, "This is a bad man.")
In Washington on Monday, a liberated Cheney made clear he stood behind his daughter, if not all Americans like her:
"Well, I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone. And as many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and something that we've lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support...Different states will make different decisions, but I don't have any problem with that. I think people ought to get a shot at that."
As it turns out, some Republicans also believe that "people ought to get a shot" at making painful, private end-of-life decisions for their family members without encountering the heavy hand of the government, * provided those family members are relatives of those same Republicans.
Consider the case of Fred Thompson. Asked two years ago about the 2005 Terri Schiavo controversy, Thompson did what comes naturally and played dumb:
"I can't pass judgment on it. I know that good people were doing what they thought was best. That's going back in history. I don't remember the details of it."
As it turns out, Thompson's Gonzales-esque inability to recall the defining battle in the culture war of 2005 was an evasion. As the New York Times reported, Thompson later revealed that in 2002 his family had faced a similar of end of life decision for his daughter Elizabeth, who never regained consciousness after an accidental drug overdose:
"Obviously, I knew about the Schiavo case. I had to face a situation like that in my own personal life with my own daughter. I am a little bit uncomfortable about that because it is an intensely personal thing with me. These things need to be decided by the family. And I was at that bedside. And I had to make those decisions with the rest of my family."
Complicating matters as he courted the so-called Values Voters who dominate the GOP primaries, Fred Thompson essentially agreed that Terri Schiavo's husband Michael was right all along:
"It should be decided by the families - the federal government and the state government too, except for the court system, ought to stay out of those matters as far as I am concerned."
While Fred Thompson is at least willing to grant that other families should have the right to make the most difficult, private and personal decisions impacting their lives, Schiavo inquisitor and former House Majority Leader Tom Delay would have none of it. It was Delay who led Congressional Republicans in calling for federal judicial intervention in the Schiavo case, a bill signed by President Bush on March 21, 2005. But when all courts state and federal consistently ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo, Delay issued a statement on March 31st threatening the judges involved:
"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another."
But that fate had already befallen someone very close to Tom Delay: his own father. In 1988, Delay and his family chose to end life support for their 65 year old father, severely injured in a tragic accident:
"There was no point to even really talking about it," Maxine DeLay, the congressman's 81-year-old mother, recalled in an interview last week. "There was no way he (Charles) wanted to live like that. Tom knew, we all knew, his father wouldn't have wanted to live that way."
Doctors advised that he would "basically be a vegetable," said the congressman's aunt, JoAnne DeLay.
When the man's kidneys failed, the DeLay family decided against connecting him to a dialysis machine. "Extraordinary measures to prolong life were not initiated," said his medical report, citing "agreement with the family's wishes." His bedside chart carried the instruction: "Do Not Resuscitate."
On Dec. 14, 1988, the senior DeLay "expired with his family in attendance."
(In a further irony for the tort reform crusader Delay, his family filed a product liability lawsuit and later received a $250,000 settlement.)
Which brings us to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, one the leaders of the pro-life movement on Capitol Hill. But when it comes to stem cell research, he parts company with his culture of life conservative colleagues in the Republican Party. Why? Because, as he told Rachel Gotbaum of the New England Journal of Medicine, he had seen first hand the tragedy of diseases for which stem cell research held the promise of future cures:
RG: You're a pro-life Republican.
Orrin Hatch: That's right.
RG: Did something happen? Did a case come up? What was the turning point?
OH: Well, there was a case. I can't say that it was the only reason why my mind was changed, but there was a little Utah boy - he was 4 years of age - who was brought to me. His name was Cody Anderson. He was 4 years of age, and you can imagine the horror his family had when they found out that he had exactly the same virulent diabetic condition that his grandfather had, who died at the premature age of 47 due to complications of diabetes after a series of something like 27 painful and debilitating and ultimately unsuccessful operations. I can still remember that little exhausted boy falling peacefully asleep in his father's arms in my office as his family visited me in support of more funding for diabetes research. It dawned on me that we owe the best we can to these kids.
Then there's Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Palin's ultra hard line on abortion, which calls for a total ban on the procedure even in cases of rape incest, became the basis for the GOP's draconian platform approved last summer in Minnesota.
But when daughter Bristol's pregnancy was disclosed at the same Republican convention which called for a constitutional ban on abortion, Sarah Palin praised the very choice she would deny all other American women. As CNN recounted:
Sarah and her husband, Todd Palin, issued a statement saying they are "proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents."
Palin's obliviousness on the point was on display again in April when she addressed a right-to-life gathering in Indiana. In her speech, Palin revealed her own struggles when she was pregnant with her son Trig. She, too, contemplated choices she would withhold from other Americans, before concluding she wanted other women to have "the opportunity" to be coerced in their reproductive decisions:
"I had to ask myself, 'Was I going to walk the walk or was I just going to talk the talk?'" she recalled. "It is easy to think maybe of trying to change the circumstances."
But she called her son a "miracle."
"He is the best thing that ever happened to me and I want other women to have that opportunity."
And so it goes with the GOP and its magic asterisk. Today's Republican Party signs paeans to the culture of life while insisting there is no right to privacy or choice, no matter the circumstances and regardless of the personal tragedy involved.
* Unless the choice involves a Republican's family member or friend.