A crass below-the-belt political

“A crass, below-the-belt political strategy to attack the vice president’s daughter.”

Is that what John Kerry did in Wednesday night’s debate? That’s what President Bush’s campaign spokesperson calls it.

People can interpret things differently. So perhaps you could say it was inappropriate or cynical or a bunch of other things. But an ‘attack’ on the vice president’s daughter? That’s just saying up is down.

And ‘below-the-belt’? Like ‘cheap and tawdry’, why are all the criticisms coded in sexual language?

One way or another, the Republicans do seem to be playing most of the folks in the press like a fiddle on this one.

If you look at the words used by the Bush campaign’s communications folks and their foot soldiers among the commentators, the issue is not so much the reference to the vice-president’s daughter or her sexuality. (After all, Dick Cheney has repeatedly discussed his daughter’s homosexuality on the campaign trail. And when John Edwards mentioned it during the vice-presidential debates, Cheney thanked him for doing so.) It is a fever over the use of the word ‘lesbian’, which these folks seem to feel is the equivalent to calling her by the name of a sex act itself.

It’s a telling example of how the heavy-weights on the cable nets, the gilded and the gelded, can be played into running with genuflections to anti-gay panic as though it were a riposte to homophobia.