CLEVELAND (TDB) -- When former Sen. John Edwards was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004, Republicans were in high dudgeon accusing him of taking a cheap shot at Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian. By comparison, Ann Coulter's ''faggot" remark is radiocative.
Edwards mentioned Mary Cheney's sexual-orientation during a Cleveland debate at Case Western Reserve University. It touched off a hurricane of condemnation that nearly rivals the Category 5 storm now battering Ann Coulter, who dismissed Edwards as a "faggot" last week.
This Meet the Press transcript has former RNC chair Ken Mehlman firing flak at both Edwards, and Sen. John Kerry, for even discussing Mary Cheney, an official in the Bush campaign at the time, and using the word "gay." Mehlman said her lifestyle was a personal issue and off-limits. Neither Edwards nor Kerry used a slur to point out her sexual orientation.
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, Tim, I think it's pretty simple and I think that, as you pointed out, most of the American people understand it, and that is, it's wrong to bring up the private life of a member of the vice president or president's family to make a political point. It's that simple.
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, I think fundamentally it's pretty simple. Again, you don't use the private lives of the member of the family for political purposes.
MR. MEHLMAN: Remember the famous Dean scream? The famous Dean scream was seen as relevant because it was a window into something that people thought was bigger. And I think what you saw when John Kerry--when he brought that inappropriate point up in the debate, it was part of a larger pattern here, a pattern of someone who is literally willing to say anything--anything--in order to win.
Mehlman's larger point is clear -- there are inappropriate topics that should be off-limits. By the standard he laid down in 2004 over the Edwards incident, Coulter's ''faggot" remark was nuclear by comparison. She's radioactive.
A portion of the exchange between Dick Cheney, John Edwards and moderator Gwen Ifill at the Cleveland debate that kept the row going is as follows:
IFILL: Senator Edwards, 90 seconds.
EDWARDS: . . . Now, as to this question, let me say first that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.
And I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry.
I also believe that there should be partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples in long-term, committed relationships.
But we should not use the Constitution to divide this country.
No state for the last 200 years has ever had to recognize another state's marriage.
This is using the Constitution as a political tool, and it's wrong.
IFILL: New question, but same subject.
As the vice president mentioned, John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage. Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it.
Are you trying to have it both ways?
EDWARDS: No. I think we've both said the same thing all along.
We both believe that -- and this goes onto the end of what I just talked about -- we both believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But we also believe that gay and lesbians and gay and lesbian couples, those who have been in long-term relationships, deserve to be treated respectfully, they deserve to have benefits.
For example, a gay couple now has a very difficult time, one, visiting the other when they're in the hospital, or, for example, if, heaven forbid, one of them were to pass away, they have trouble even arranging the funeral.
I mean, those are not the kind of things that John Kerry and I believe in. I suspect the vice president himself does not believe in that.
But we don't -- we do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
And I want to go back, if I can, to the question you just asked, which is this constitutional amendment.
I want to make sure people understand that the president is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is completely unnecessary.
Under the law of this country for the last 200 years, no state has been required to recognize another state's marriage.
Let me just be simple about this. My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts, which you just asked about.
There is absolutely no purpose in the law and in reality for this amendment. It's nothing but a political tool. And it's being used in an effort to divide this country on an issue that we should not be dividing America on.
We ought to be talking about issues like health care and jobs and what's happening in Iraq, not using an issue to divide this country in a way that's solely for political purposes. It's wrong.
IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.
CHENEY: Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.