GOP's Gay Bombshell A Blow To Conservatives
As Nixon went to China, George W. Bush is going to Fire Island.
The Republicans finally came out of the closet last night, when its vice-presidential nominee said, in effect, that the Bush-Cheney administration would not stand in the way of gay civil unions if states choose to adopt them.
"I think states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate," said Cheney, who has an openly gay daughter. "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in that area.
"I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into."
Tolerate, yes. But accommodate? Coming from a Republican vice-presidential nominee, that's a bombshell.
Goodbye, Defense of Marriage Act. Can the ban on gays in the military be far behind? This explains the GOP's relative silence on the Boy Scouts issue.
The Log Cabin Republicans must be thrilled. The Christian Coalition must be plotzing.
That unlikely rumor I heard earlier this week, crediting a top Bush-Cheney aide saying that gays were going to be surprised by the ticket's progressive gay-rights policies, sounds a lot more credible after last night.
Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson said after the debate that Bush and Cheney recognized that the civil-unions question was "complicated."
"We're a tolerant party," he said. "We don't support discrimination of any kind."
That will be news to social and religious conservatives, particularly those who went all-out to save Bush's floundering campaign during the GOP primaries. Dick Cheney handed Pat Buchanan a golden issue last night.
Gov. Frank Keating, the pro-life Catholic governor of Oklahoma, is one of the GOP's leading social conservatives. He downplayed the significance of Cheney's statement.
"For Dick Cheney, having a lesbian daughter, this is a very difficult issue for him," Keating said. "I think his response was as sensitive and open as a father's could be."
Keating agrees that civil unions is a states-rights matter, and likened it to the party's view on abortion.
"Before Roe vs. Wade, it was up to each state to decide," he said. "This is the same kind of thing. I can tell you, though, that we won't pass that in my state."
That will be extremely cold comfort to social conservatives. Cheney telegraphed a dramatic retreat on the gay-rights front from the standard GOP line. He could not have said that without having discussed this with Bush.
It can persuasively be argued that the Republicans are the smarter vote for gay-rights supporters. Cheney even went further than Joe Lieberman last night; Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, said only that his mind was "open" to the idea.
If a gay-friendly GOP administration takes over, there will be very little effective political opposition standing in the way of what gay-rights activists want. Social conservatives will be further isolated within the GOP.
Add that to both Bush and Cheney's weak responses on the RU-486 question, and social conservatives this morning have to be feeling shell-shocked by the men leading the party they thought was their home.
Useful, I suppose, to get that learned. That's the best that can be said about last night's debate – aside from the fact that Cheney was damn good overall.