This past week, Liz Cheney created something of a stir by stating her support for the traditional definition of marriage on Fox News. As a Republican candidate for the 2014 Wyoming senatorial election, it should not be at all surprising for her to make a statement on the GOP’s propaganda channel that follows the party line. But Cheney is not like other rank and file members of her party: her sister, Mary, is a lesbian.
While Mary Cheney’s sexuality should not define Liz’s policy positions, the family tie does raise some questions about the sincerity of Liz’s statements. Liz Cheney described her position on same-sex marriage as a “simple disagreement” with her sister, but Mary Cheney and her wife have reacted to it as anything but. From the perspective of Mary Cheney (who is a Republican in her own right), Liz’s opposition to same-sex marriage contradicts the love and support she demonstrated around Mary’s wedding. In addition to facing personal accusations from her own family of misrepresenting herself to get voter support, Liz is also being attacked by political opponent Mike Enzi,the incumbent senior Republican senator from Wyoming, for not taking a hard line against all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
In all this political turmoil, voters and observers are left to wonder, “What does Cheney really believe?” Is she a hypocritical conservative who only accepts her sister’s marriage because they’re related? Or is she a flip-flopping wannabe politician who will say anything to get elected? The likely answer falls somewhere in between. Regardless of how Liz Cheney feels about same-sex marriage or her family, her goal is to get elected in Wyoming. With less than 30 percent of Wyomingites in support of same-sex marriage, her position on the issue is clear.
This forced clarification of position is part of a larger trend in American politics: the expectation that politicians will follow the party lines on every issue. The extinction of the moderate Republican has been heralded by expressions like RINO (Republican In Name Only), which targets conservatives who do not blindly accept the party line. With the Citizens United ruling and the growth of super PACs, it has become easier than ever to attack “soft” conservatives with negative campaigning, creating an ultraconservative Republican Party.
Encouraging politicians to follow the party line is nothing new. The purpose of the majority and minority whips in our Congress is to enforce party discipline, and it’s a political mechanism inherited from the United Kingdom. Consequently, political whips appear in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The difference between the United States and these other nations is the lack of a “free vote” (or “conscience vote”).
The free vote permits legislators to vote however they choose on an issue rather than along party lines. Interestingly, virtually all votes in the U.S. are free votes because the party whip does not have the ability to remove politicians from their party based on how they vote. The point here is that while other English-speaking governments allow political parties to regulate themselves, the U.S. system relies on super PACs, lobbying firms and fundraisers to decide who can be part of the party.
What does this mean for us, the American people? It means that our legislators are prevented from representing our viewpoints. If the people of my voting district support the Second Amendment and a woman’s right to choose, who do we vote for? How can we ever run a candidate who supports our unique views if a super PAC will depict such a candidate as breaking the party line? In our two-party “democracy,” our social positions MUST be attached to our fiscal positions and MUST be connected to our views on foreign policy and domestic security. Not only does this limit our voices in our government, but it also discourages change and growth in the parties’ views on an issue, which ultimately makes compromise impossible.
Liz Cheney had an amazing opportunity to show her support for same-sex marriage not as a political statement but also as a manifestation of her love and respect for her sister. Although only an estimated 28 percent of Wyomingites support same-sex marriage, an additional 36 percent support civil unions. That’s nearly 65 percent of the population in support of recognition of same-sex relationships (compared to only 32 percent opposed, with 3 percent undecided).
For what it’s worth, Liz Cheney supported states’ right to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, in line with her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Four years later, she is bowing to the party line and disrespecting her sister — a fellow Republican — in the process. Until our government returns party-line maintenance to the parties themselves (by passing campaign finance reform laws and curbing the power of lobbyists), the people’s views and politicians’ sincere beliefs will always be silenced by money.
Richard Furstein is a senior anthropology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].