A spin outing (10/19)

By Ben Fritz

The recent controversy over John Kerry's statement noting that Dick Cheney's daughter Mary is gay has led some conservative commentators to falsely suggest that Mary Cheney's sexuality was not publicly known and, in one case, to purport to read the minds of Kerry campaign advisors.

When asked during the third presidential debate whether he believed homosexuality is a choice, Kerry replied, "And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as."

Several conservatives have said the Senator "outed" Mary Cheney with this comment. Commentator Mort Kondracke said immediately after the debate on Fox News that, "Kerry repeated it tonight, which I think is totally underhanded, and that is the outing of Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter." Similarly, radio host Rush Limbaugh said on October 18 that Kerry, "invokes somebody he doesn't know. He outs her." And as the liberal group Media Matters has shown, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and Newsmax.com have also claimed Cheney was outed.

Contrary to these commentators' suggestions, however, Mary Cheney has been publicly "out" for a long period of time. As numerous news outlets have noted, the Vice President has previously acknowledged her homosexuality in public statements. A website started last February by gay activists to urge Mary Cheney to oppose the Bush administration's policies on gay rights was covered by the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and other publications. And Cheney previously worked as a liaison to the gay and lesbian community for Coors, a highly public position. Mary Cheney was clearly not "outed" because her sexual orientation was not private.

Safire went even further, alleging to have specific information that the accusation was part of Kerry's debate preparation. "Members of Kerry's debate preparation team made Mary Cheney's private life the centerpiece of their answer to the question, especially worrisome to them, about same-sex marriage," he wrote. "Kerry was prepped to insert her sexuality into his rehearsed answer." But the pundit provides no evidence to back up this claim, which contradicts facts reported in the New York Times and elsewhere. Safire is conflating speculation about political motives with definitive fact.

Of course, Safire is free to speculate that the campaign is lying. But he should not present this speculation as fact, just as pundits should be honest about what they mean then they say someone "outed" a well-known figure in the gay community.

Update (10/21):A version of this post was included in our Philadelphia Inquirer column today.

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10/19/2004 03:37:38 PM EST |

Kerry's misleading Social Security claims (10/19)

By Brendan Nyhan

On Sunday, a New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind quoted President Bush as telling a group of supporters that he would call for the partial privatization of Social Security in a second term. ''I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,'' Bush reportedly said, ''with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.'' Since then, John Kerry has used the quote attributed to Bush as justification for unleashing a barrage of misleading attacks that imply the President's plan would cut benefits for today's seniors.

Kerry issued a statement Sunday in which he directly suggested that Bush's plan would cut benefits for current Social Security recipients. "The president's privatization plan for Social Security is another way of saying to our seniors that the promise of security will be broken," adding, "According to the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office, [Bush's] risky plan will force benefit cuts for seniors of up to 45 percent - that's up to $500 a month less for food, clothing, and the occasional gift for a grandchild."

Kerry also released an ad in which the narrator claims that "The truth is coming out... George Bush has finally admitted that he intends to privatize Social Security in a second term. 'I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,' Bush said, 'with...privatizing of Social Security.' First, George Bush threatens Social Security with record deficits of over $400 billion. Now, Bush has a plan that cuts Social Security benefits by 30 to 45 percent. The real Bush agenda? Cutting Social Security." (Ellipses in original.)

Both the ad and Kerry's statement clearly imply that seniors today will have their benefits cut by 30-45 percent. But Kerry was referring to a Congressional Budget Office study of one plan recommended by the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security; Bush has not endorsed a specific private accounts proposal. And as the New York Times pointed out, the CBO estimates of 30-45 percent benefit reductions refers to people born since the 1980s who will be receiving Social Security decades into the future. The proposal would not affect today's seniors or those approaching retirement, a principle that Bush has repeatedly emphasized.

Moreover, whether the benefit reductions can be fairly described as "cuts" is disputed. Under the proposal in question, benefits would be indexed to prices (the rate of inflation) rather than wages, which grow faster than prices. The resulting benefits would not be lower than current levels in inflation-adjusted terms, as the term "cuts" might suggest. However, even when the proceeds from individual accounts are included, net benefit levels would be lower than estimated benefits under current law, a reduction that some people would call a "cut".

By distorting the CBO analysis of a proposal Bush has not endorsed, John Kerry is attempting to mislead Americans rather than engage in fair criticism of the President's plans for Social Security.

Update (10/21):A version of this post was included in our Philadelphia Inquirer column today.

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Related links:
-Spinsanity on the debate over Social Security

10/19/2004 06:55:09 AM EST |