Two pairs of political siblings and their travails have been in the news this week: The Cheney sisters have been fighting with each other about gay marriage, and the Ford brothers have been fighting with everybody about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's fitness for office.
The struggles of both families offer object lessons about how political ambitions can become positively poisonous when they conflict with family values -- real ones, like respect and honesty and self-sacrifice.
Liz Cheney, who is running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Wyoming, is struggling to prove her anti-gay marriage bona fides in a state where only 41% of the population supports same-sex marriage and she seems to be trailing badly in the polls.
Because she once opposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and supported extending benefits to same-sex partners when she worked at the State Department, Cheney has been accused in ads by ultra-conservative advocates of being “wrong for Wyoming.”
Cheney wants the world to know that she does not support gay marriage, and she does not support the nuptials of her younger sister Mary Cheney to Heather Poe, whom Mary dated for 20 years before tying the knot in Washington, D.C., last year.
She broadcast that view Sunday on the Fox News Channel and was immediately taken to task by her wounded sister-in-law who posted an angry response on Facebook. "When Mary and I got married in 2012," wrote Poe, "she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least."
In a response provided to the New York Times, Liz Cheney responded, "I love my sister and her family and have always tried to be compassionate toward them. I believe that is the Christian way to behave.”
For years, Dick Cheney has been at odds with Christian conservatives, and his one-time boss, President George W. Bush, on the issue of gay marriage. Though he’s never given a full-throated endorsement, he’s made it clear that same-sex couples who want to marry should have that right.
Yet Monday, his political ambitions for one daughter seem to have trumped his concern for the basic human rights of his other daughter.
“This is an issue we have dealt with privately for many years, and we are pained to see it become public,” Dick and Lynne Cheney said in a statement. “Since it has, one thing should be clear. Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage. She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done. Compassion is called for, even when there is disagreement about such a fundamental matter, and Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.”
(Left unsaid: Compassion for whom? Is it kind to your sister, her wife or their two children to publicly call into question the basis of their marriage?)
Meanwhile, across our northern border, a much more bizarre sibling spectacle is playing out at Toronto City Hall.
Doug Ford, a member of the Toronto City Council, is the older brother of crack-smoking, vulgarity spewing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Despite his brother’s extraordinarily obvious addiction issues, Doug, who looks like a less-inflated version of his brother, has blindly supported his sibling, accusing the Toronto City Council of acting as a “kangaroo court” when it voted Monday to strip the mayor of virtually all his powers.
Back when rumors of Rob Ford’s misadventures began to circulate, Doug Ford vowed they were lies, promulgated by political enemies invested in his brother’s failure.
When Rob Ford finally blurted to reporters that he had smoked crack cocaine, Doug Ford said it was the worst day of his life. But did he use the opportunity to urge his brother to step away from the mayor’s office and give the beleaguered city of Toronto a break? Guess.
I’m not sure which sibling is worse: the ambitious sister who cloaks her disdain for her sister’s civil rights in the language of Christian piety, or the ambitious brother who enables his brother’s political death spiral.
From where I sit, it’s kind of a toss-up.