Lesbians, Autism and a Stand-up Guy

Dick Cheney should be respected for standing by his daughter. Bob Wright has entered the Benedict Arnold strata of rottenness by issuing a press release repudiating his daughter.
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Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian who recently produced a vice-presidential grandson. I reckon that Mary Cheney has gone as far off script as the Cheney vision for Iraq. But he has forsaken neither.

Robert Wright is the former head of NBC and current vice chairman of General Electric. This weekend he issued a press release all but disowning his daughter for having the temerity to disagree with him on what caused one little boy to come down with autism.

The disagreement is especially heartrending because the little boy, Chris, is the grandchild of Robert Wright, and son of his daughter, Katie.

Cheney has been criticized for draft dodging, making false claims about WMDs and failing to practice good shotgun safety. Politics aside, he deserves the respect of his office. Personally he should be respected for standing by his daughter.

Bob Wright has raised some money but now that he's pitched his daughter from the boat, I think of it as blood money.

We are parents of a 19 year old son who suffers from severe autism. I dreamed he would be a swashbuckling world traveler. After all, his mom and I were foreign correspondents and he had visited half a dozen countries by the time he was three.

Over that year his life slipped away. He became withdrawn; nervously chewed shirt collars to shreds, tried to eat glass and by age four, lost his ability to speak. We haven't heard a sentence in 15 years. Doctors at Yale, and a host of subsequent experts, say it is a form of autism. When he was first diagnosed, it was called "rare." Autism is now an epidemic that affects 1 out of every 150 newborns.

I don't know what caused it. It's not like tuberculosis where the diagnosis shows up on an X-Ray or germ that shows up in a blood test. The kid has had every imaginable diagnostic test, has seen specialists from Yale to UCLA and with us climbed up a mountain in the Dominican Republic to consult a witch doctor, just in case. Nobody knows what is "wrong" and nobody knows what causes it. No world traveler, these days Dan needs help crossing the street.

There are two leading "schools" regarding the cause of autism:

The Genetic Folks who believe the culprit is a stray strand of DNA.

The Bio-Medical Environmentalists who believe the children have been poisoned.

Millions of dollars have been spent looking for a cause. Some experts believe answers are close, but this isn't horseshoes or hand grenades and "close" means no cigar.

The "Genetic" theory is the favorite of government and big business; it's all about science, it's too complicated for laymen and would provide explanation without blame.

The most vocal environmental bloc, whom we'll call "The Mercurys," are all about blame. They believe that 'Thimerosal,' a mercury-based preservative inexplicably used in children's vaccinations, is a leading cause of autism. This group's bible is a book called Evidence of Harm, written by renegade former New York Times reporter David Kirby. It makes a strong prima facie case (albeit inconclusive) identifying toxic poison as the cause of the autism epidemic.

Wright and his wife, Suzanne, are amongst the leading voices of the Genetics. They are co-founders of a group called "Autism Speaks," a fundraising powerhouse that has gobbled up or steamrollered most of the other autism groups. Autism advocacy started with moms and bake sales. Autism Speaks is now multi-million dollar fundraisers, Hollywood spokesfolks and evening gown photos in newspaper society .They have gotten so big that outsider might think they've got all the answers.

The Autism Speakers like the Wrights pay some minor lip service to environmental toxins, but they basically they reject the poison theory and describe the Mercurys as simple-minded flat-earthers getting in the way of progress. (Personally it doesn't surprise me that a big shot in GE would reject anything blaming poison. Isn't GE the company that "Brings Good Things To Life" -- like refrigerators, TVs and PCBs?)

My stance? Raising money is good, but the Autism Speakers seem a bit too self-congratulatory for my taste and they have a track record as bullies. As to the theoretical science, my guess is that autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Katie Wright's very public announcement of her allegiance to the Mercurys--which was a very public rebuff to her parents -- started on Oprah Winfrey's recent special on autism. Katie broke script and surprised even Oprah by rebuking an Autism Speaks pediatrician's denial of a poison-autism link.

And so, in the past days, Ma and Pa Wright issued a statement on the Autism Speaks website that says, in part:

Katie Wright is not a spokesperson for Autism Speaks. Our daughter's personal views differ from ours and do not represent or reflect the ongoing mission of Autism Speaks...There is no question that genetics plays the leading role in autism and that environmental triggers are key issues for many children.... We apologize to our valued volunteers who were led to believe otherwise by our daughter's statement.

It is important to remember that nobody knows what causes autism. Despite what the Wright's claim there are legitimate scientific questions as to whether genetics plays a "leading" role. There is not yet conclusive proof either way.

So what does this have to do with lesbian politics and the GOP?

Let's revisit Dick Cheney. Here we have a man who lacks the "irony gene." He continues to chant the antediluvian GOP "Family Values," decidedly heterosexual mantra, but does so without deserting his daughter, her lover, their non-sanctioned lifestyle or his grandson. In short, a stand-up guy.

Bob Wright has entered the Benedict Arnold strata of rottenness by issuing a press release repudiating his daughter. So, in response to the Wright's "Statement" here is mine:

Hey Bob, you became interested in autism because of your grandchild. Your daughter lives autism. You fundraise autism, you visit autism, and you give autism a ride around the block in your GE funded limo. You congratulate yourself with autism. Your daughter lives autism as only a mom can.

Father Knows Best was an NBC radio show (and later a CBS TV show; so much for the infallibility of your television network); "Mother Knows Best" is real life.

Bob you are one of the few Americans who could improve your moral standing by adopting Dick Cheney as a role model. Nobody ever said, "Grandfather Knows Best" and no one should ever disavow their daughter.

Oh, and Bob, Happy Father's Day from all of us who live with autism every day.

Neither Bob Wright nor Autism Speaks responded yesterday to a request for comment.

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