The Cheney family feud: Something to talk about at Thanksgiving dinner

November 19, 2013
Liz Cheney, left, and Mary Cheney. (AP Photo/File)
Liz Cheney, left, and Mary Cheney. (AP Photo/File)

The Cheney sisters, Mary and Liz, are in the midst of a good old-fashioned sisterly spat – just in time for Thanksgiving.

It all started when Liz, who is currently trailing in her bid for U.S. Senate representing Wyoming, decided to go on the offensive against her incumbent opponent. Faced with charges of carpetbagging (she relocated from Northern Virginia to Wyoming just last year after reportedly considering a run for Congress in Virginia) and being soft on the gays, she declared her personal opposition to same-sex marriage in August. This last Sunday, she reiterated that point in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” saying that the issue is “just an area where we disagree,” referring to her sister Mary, who is gay.

Yep, it’s the old “I love my sister, but I don’t approve of her lifestyle” argument.

Mary Cheney then took to Facebook: “Liz — this isn’t just an issue on which we disagree you’re just wrong — and on the wrong side of history.”

Oh girl.

Papa and Mama Cheney hurriedly put out a statement declaring, “This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public.”

Really? The fact is that Liz is a public figure running for public office. As such, character is an issue. And if we are to believe Mary’s side of the story that Liz has been nothing but supportive of Mary’s marriage and children — the entire family reportedly had a standing Sunday dinner every week at Liz’s house in McClean, Va., after Dick Cheney left office — then Liz, charitably, doesn’t look very authentic. Less charitably, she looks very much like a hypocrite.

Carpetbagger and now hypocrite. How does that poll in Wyoming?

I may be a hopelessly naive California lefty, but what if she had actually decided to take a stand more in line with her past support of LGBT rights and her sister’s family, and run to the left of the conservative Mike Enzi? Would Wyomingites forsake her? Or would at least some of them respect her?

Libertarianism cuts a wide swathe through the West, stronger than any knee-jerk conservatism on any given issue. Westerners don’t take kindly to carpetbaggers, hypocrites or being told how to live their lives. Liz Cheney knows this about Wyoming, noting on her campaign Web site: “Liz grew up with the values that have long distinguished our state – the importance of family and faith, a commitment to honesty and plain-dealing, a love of freedom.” [Italics mine.]

Whatever this situation means for Liz Cheney’s Senate chances, this very public fracas rings true for families, especially its timing the week before Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. After all, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, many of us have family dynamics that are more “The Sopranos” (minus the bloodshed, of course) than “Modern Family.”

The Cheney situation will surely give many an opportunity at the dinner table to bring up LGBT issues and how our views are evolving — or not — in the guise of a conversation about current events. For example, a few years back, when Republican Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, a friend criticized the vote on Facebook. When her cousin bashed her as “a liberal elitist,” my friend wrote, “I feel like what’s elitist is that I can have a girlfriend of 5 years and not bring her to Thanksgiving because it would make you guys uncomfortable.”

Awkward? Yes. But the conversation ultimately brought my friend and her cousin to a new understanding. The cousin apologized and said she had no idea that my friend had been asked not to bring her girlfriend to Thanksgiving, a request that would have been de rigeur (and unspoken) a few years ago but no longer is acceptable for an increasing number of LGBT people.

This holiday season, many of us will be spending time with family we haven’t seen all year. And we’ll have to negotiate the family politics of who will be invited and what’s on the table as far as polite conversation goes. The Cheney sisters’ airing of a “private” matter in a very public forum will, hopefully, make the latter just a bit easier.

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Diana Reese · November 18, 2013