WASHINGTON -- John Kerry’s unsolicited mention of then-Vice President
Dick Cheney’s daughter’s homosexuality during a presidential debate still rankles former President George W. Bush’s closest confidantes, according to books that offer an unusually intimate view of the 2004 campaign from within Bush’s circle.
The incident occurred when a moderator asked the Massachusetts senator Democrat whether sexuality is innate. Kerry responded by saying that “Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian…would tell you that she’s being who she was,” is the only one from the campaign involving Kerry that former first lady Laura Bush recounts in her new memoir, Spoken from the Heart.
“Beside me, Jenna and Barbara gasped,” Bush writes of her experience backstage in Tempe, Arizona. “They were utterly stunned that a candidate would use an opponent’s child in a debate. John Kerry’s statement did not seem like some off-the-cuff remark.”
The book, which will be formally released on May 4, was available for purchase today at a Washington bookstore. George W. Bush’s own memoir of his presidency, “Decision Points,” will be published in November. A book by Karl Rove, Bush’s closest advisor and longtime friend, came out last month.
Rove and Laura Bush’s retrospective focus on Kerry’s insertion of sexual politics into the race challenges the popular memory of Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. Since then, many analysts have credited referendums to ban gay marriage -- which were on the ballot in eleven states that year -- with decisively increasing participation by religious conservatives.
“In 2004 the social question that animated the campaign was gay marriage,” Laura Bush writes. “Before the election season had unfolded I had talked to George about not making gay marriage a significant issue. We have, I reminded him, a number of close friends who are gay or whose children are gay. But at that moment I could never have imagined what path this issue would take and where it would lead.”
In his book, Courage and Consequence, Rove dismisses the idea that the referendums were part of a White House strategy or contributed significantly to Bush’s narrow victory. At the same time, Rove claims that a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision to legalize gay unions drew attention to Kerry’s “wobbly views on marriage.”
Instead, suggests Rove, it was Kerry’s comment about Mary Cheney, an out lesbian who did not have a visible role in her father’s campaign, that made individual sexuality a major campaign issue.
“This was a jarring moment; the word lesbian had never been used before in a presidential debate,” wrote Rove. “I knew in an instant Kerry had made a bad misstep; he looked nasty and his comment dominated the coverage in the days that followed.”
To Rove, Kerry had exposed a “meanness” that Bush long suspected was there. “Bush thought Kerry was a pedantic and arrogant flip-flopper and didn’t like the Massachusetts senator,” wrote Rove. “I was worried those feelings would show through.”
Laura Bush, who is generally more genteel towards her political opponents than Rove, also recounts a comment by Teresa Heinz Kerry in which the candidate’s wife appeared to discount Bush’s background as a librarian as not a “real job.”
“Her husband’s campaign issued an apology the same day,” writes Bush. “I was never offended.”
Kerry’s press secretary yesterday said that the passages in Bush’s book “didn’t strike us as controversial.” “Sen. Kerry long ago put the 2004 campaign behind him, and he has always admired Mrs. Bush,” Whitney Smith said.
“Judging by the excerpts we’ve already seen in the media, Mrs. Bush is candid about her own discomfort with the divisive way gay marriage was wielded as a weapon in the 2004 campaign,” Smith said. “Indeed, the Republican Party sadly moved a long way from 2000 when candidate Cheney defended the right of gay Americans to live their lives free of legal discrimination to 2004 when a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage became a political football for the Bush campaign.”
UPDATE: Smith followed up with a riposte to Rove's criticism of Kerry. "It's as laughable as it is ludicrous that Karl Rove whose name is synonymous with gutter politics would dare attack John Kerry who has a 25 year record standing up for gay rights," she wrote.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.