WASHINGTON -- It wasn't quite Dick Cheney vs. Barack Obama, but another little debate broke out yesterday that raised a few eyebrows in some political circles.
Of course, the debate was conducted entirely on Twitter, so it wasn't as wordy as the back-to-back speeches on torture by Obama and Cheney a few weeks ago. And the players were Meghan McCain -- the McCain campaign blogger-turned-would-be-GOP-modernizer -- and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, so it didn't get the advance hype those speeches did.
Cheney actually played a minor role in how the whole thing started. The former vice president, who has a gay daughter, decided Monday that gay marriage was okay with him. On Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, Steve Benen noted Cheney's diversion from years of GOP talking points. McCain has been telling anyone who would listen lately that Republicans need to support gay marriage. But Benen dismissed her arguments as "meaningless," compared to Cheney, who is far more influential in the GOP.
McCain got offended. "So it's only important to speak out for marriage equality if [you're] an old man?" she wrote on Twitter. (Benen later apologized). That set off Moulitsas, who began a series of Twitter updates reminding McCain that she has a political audience because of her father. "What movement is [McCain] part of?" he wrote at one point. "She's just a last name."
McCain told me she realizes she only got the chance to speak out -- on anything -- because of her family. "I wouldn't have an initial platform if my father weren't famous, but people wouldn't still be listening to me if I wasn't saying something that was resonating," she said. "I'm just sick of men in the media treating me like I'm a Playboy bunny. I am young, and I'm blonde, and that means I shouldn't have an opinion?" (She does frequently bring up the fact that she's young and blonde, possibly more frequently than her critics do.) Of course, Moulitsas pointed out to me, accurately, that it's her opinions on other subjects that don't endear McCain to liberals. "We may agree on that one issue, gay marriage, but there's no doubt that if Meghan had had her way, we'd have a homophobic, war-mongering president in the White House," he said.
Still, there doesn't seem to have been much reason for Moulitsas to have gone after McCain here. Yes, Cheney is more influential than McCain. And yes, she might have overreacted to the Washington Monthly post, which Benen says he didn't mean to be insulting.
But no matter how it came to be, she does have people listening to her; besides her TV appearances and book contract, she's got more than 42,000 followers on Twitter, many of whom are probably -- like her -- nominally Republican, but don't agree with the party's doctrine on some issues. Picking a fight with her in front of them isn't likely to help convince them to drift the rest of the way into the Democratic column.
It's true that one reason she's not particularly persuasive to Republicans much older than she is is because she admits she only registered with the GOP as a Father's Day gift to John McCain last year. But why denigrate any ally on an issue like gay marriage? When she's using her fame -- and her name -- to speak out for ideas progressives agree with, attacking her for it seems gratuitous.