Twisted sister, and brothers
And I thought my family Thanksgivings were rough.
My sister, who loved W. and worked on his 2000 convention, made it clear that I was not welcome in her guest room when I was writing about the phony run-up to the Iraq War. And my brother once scolded me at a holiday dinner, “If there was a hurricane, you’d blame Bush for it.”
Then the Katrina catastrophe unfolded, as W. blithely mountain-biked in Crawford, and I did.
But my conservative siblings never would have quarreled with me in public. And, besides, as my sister once said, she knew I’d be the one holding her hand at the end, not W.
So it’s painful to watch the Cheney clan tear itself apart over politics — one of three titanically screwed-up political sibling relationships playing out now.
As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a piece last year, “Sibling discord has been around since the Bible. Cain killed Abel. Leah stole Rachel’s intended husband, Jacob. Joseph fought bitterly with his 10 older half-brothers. Parents often have a hand in fostering it.” The paper noted that research shows that “our sibling relationships are often the longest of our lives, lasting 80 years or more” and that up to 45 percent of adults have “a rivalrous or distant relationship with a sibling,” even though such estrangement often causes regret later in life.
Being estranged is not the issue for the Ford brothers. Enabling is.
For Doug, a member of Toronto’s City Council, family loyalty should be about ushering the deranged mayor of Toronto off the stage, not pushing a narrative that his brother is the “white Obama” while Rob is doing his embarrassing Chris Farley skit. (Farley’s brother says the comedian would have “crushed” the impression.) The brothers call each other “Jones” for some reason and call their political stronghold of suburban Toronto wards “Ford Nation.” They started their own talk show Monday night — canceled after one episode — and appeared in tandem on the “Today” show.
Doug has been defending Rob to CNN and on the council floor by lambasting critics as hypocrites, and both brothers are vowing Godfather-style vengeance on the opposition — sane politicians who are worried about Toronto’s image with the mayor careering around, knocking down a council member, a 5-foot-tall grandmother; talking about smoking crack, parking lot urination, oral sex and drunken stupors; and warning his adversaries, “You guys have just attacked Kuwait.”
Their damage control puts the emphasis on damage. When CNN’s Bill Weir asked Doug about the charge in The Globe and Mail of Toronto that he spent much of the ’80s as a midlevel hash dealer, Doug replied: “I smoked marijuana, and I didn’t deal marijuana. If you want to go — calling, you know, going to your buddy, and says there is a joint for 10 bucks, if that’s what you want to call it?”
After saying he thought recreational marijuana should be illegal, Doug endorsed it, saying “if someone is going to drink and get hammered, or some guy smokes a joint, and you’re going out with them, you’re — in my opinion, I’m going out with the guy who’s nice and calm.”
Monday, the Toronto Council stripped the mayor of most of his power. The Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer reported that Rob raised his fist and shouted “Socialism’s great!” while Doug kept calling out to a heckler, “Bring it on, big guy.” Keep it classy, Ford Nation.
The most mythic sibling saga belongs to the Bushes. As Jeb tries to sneak into the presidential race, proclaiming himself “temperate,” not “moderate,” he will have to once more argue that W. was “misunderappreciated,” as he joked at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on Monday night. Poppy and Bar had long assumed Jeb to be the white hat destined to be president while W. was the black sheep. But, instead, Jeb was the one who had to sinuously deliver Florida, and the presidency, to his prodigal brother. W. then marred the family name and mucked up Jeb’s future path by listening to that other dynastic disaster, Dick Cheney, and trampling on the globe and Constitution.
The Cheney feud is the most stomach-turning, with Liz Cheney grubbing for a Senate seat as a carpetbagger against an incumbent Republican. What on earth makes her qualified to be a senator? And why didn’t she simply run in her real home state of Virginia?
The spectacle of Liz, Dick and Lynne Cheney bullying Mike Enzi, known in Congress as a real gentleman, is topped only by the spectacle of Liz, Dick and Lynne throwing Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, and their two children under the campaign bus.
Dick Cheney is given a lot of credit for saying during the 2004 campaign that states should define marriage and that “freedom means freedom for everyone.” But he said it — and Mary kept working on the campaign — while his party’s key strategy for keeping the White House was demonizing gays by drumming up state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in 11 states, a way to lure conservatives to the polls.
Dick’s Secret Service code name was once “Backseat.” Liz’s should be “Backstab.”
As bruised family friend and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson told NBC News about Liz, “It’s almost like, ‘I will do anything to win this race,’ because I cannot ever believe that there would be a breach between she and Mary.”
The Cheneys have caused enough damage to this country. They should exit, stage right.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.