Cheney's Core Principles

By Richard Cohen cohenr@washpost.com
Thursday, March 4, 2004; Page A23

"Mr. Vice President, you say you support President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, but your own daughter is a lesbian, and if she wanted to marry, what would you say?"

"I'm glad you asked me that, Richard, even though I was asked more or less the same question when I appeared on cable news outlets the other day. As you know, I love my daughter and want her to be happy. This is very tough and I ask that her private life and my own private life be respected."

"Understood, sir. But we are, after all, talking about the private lives of other people. You once said marriage should be left to the states, and now you say you support the president. Isn't there a contradiction here?"

"On the surface, maybe, Richard. But I think everyone knows by now not to take what I say at face value. After all, I said Iraq had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program, and we now know that it had none whatsoever. I mean, I say what I think I have to say and everyone understands that." (My words: Doesn’t this mean in so many words he will lie to Americans to get what he wants? Including starting a war in Iraq? That’s how I read it. Tony Woody)

"So you disagree with the president?"

"I don't agree or disagree. When we have our same-sex weekly lunches -- no staff, just the two of us -- I mostly nod and he mostly smiles and then we have dessert. We both understand what's going on. It's about the base. It's about social conservatives. You know, fundamentalist Christians and the like. We're just showing them that we're on their side. We share their values."

"Feel their pain?"

"In a manner of speaking. But -- and this is important -- we don't really care about this whole issue. It's a non-starter. A no-winner. And it's not going anywhere."

"Really and truly, sir?"

"Look, Schwarzenegger has come out against it. Sort of. He said it would be fine with him if California law was changed to permit same-sex marriage. He's not immensely popular for nothing. He's got his finger on the pulse of the people. Important Republican members of Congress are also opposed to a constitutional amendment. Orrin Hatch is opposed. Hatch is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This thing is a dead letter."

"So this is just politics at its most cynical?"

"You could call it that. I call it being true to your core principle: getting reelected. But in truth, no real conservative, and I count myself as one, could like this amendment. In the first place, it has the federal government do what the states ought to -- and that's no good. But just as important, these gays and lesbians who want to marry are really true conservatives. I mean, look at some of them -- they've been together 30, 40, 50 years. Those are conservative values."

"Good point, Mr. Vice President."

"You betcha, Richard. And now just look at what's happening in the rest of the industrialized world. Marriage is going the way of the telephone booth. In the 15 countries of the European Union, almost no one gets married anymore. In Sweden, 76 percent of all couples ages 16 to 29 are just plain shacked up, what they call cohabiting. In France, a Roman Catholic country after all, the figure is almost 50 percent. This great country of ours is the last great hope of marriage."

"We are blessed."

"You betcha again. The point -- and I can't stress this enough -- is that many of the traditional reasons for marriage are passé. I mean, a woman can make it on her own. She doesn't always need a husband for economic security or as a sex partner -- although two parents in the home are best for a child. But those parents don't have to be married. That's often the case in Europe. Two parents, one child, no marriage. So few people get married, you can't even measure the divorce rate."

"So, America . . ."

"Yes. The great exception. We're more religious. We marry. We have fewer out-of-wedlock children. Of course, we don't have Europe's social welfare programs, but what really distinguishes us is our social conservatism. And that's what I find appealing about the gays and lesbians who want to marry. Sure, there are some financial benefits -- spousal inheritance and that sort of thing -- but mostly they're doing it for traditional reasons. You even wrote that once: These gays and lesbians are the last romantics."

"So you're really opposed to a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage."

"I support the president."

"What if your daughter wanted to get married?"

"I want her to be happy."

"How can you reconcile the two?"

"The same way I do weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

"Huh?"

"Exactly."