Here we go again. Another prominent Republican, this time former RNC Chair and Bush Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman comes out (to the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder).
And now he’s, like, all into equality and stuff.
Here’s the core of his infuriating mea-sorta-culpa:
Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.
“It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.”
“What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn’t always heard. I didn’t do this in the gay community at all.”
He said that he “really wished” he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, “so I could have worked against [the Federal Marriage Amendment]” and “reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans.”
It’s the last paragraph that had me wishing I’d printed the story out so that I could have torn it into tiny scraps. Note the unstated assumption: He couldn’t help the community sooner, because he wasn’t yet out to himself. As if his long residence in the closet excuses his politically self-serving, homophobic agenda. Try “wouldn’t” instead of “couldn’t.”
This may come as news to Mehlman, but all of us who identify as part of the LGBT community had our own “journey” (to use his word), and many, many of us didn’t engage in gay-bashing while trying to figure it all out. It turns out to be quite possible to support gay rights even when you’re “straight.”
Read the whole story. Ambinder reminds us that Mehlman presided over the RNC and the Bush campaign at a time when our community was being used, again and again, as electoral fodder for their campaign in order to drive the base to the polls and give Bush his disastrous second term. Because of that, we have many more anti-gay constitutional amendments in place than would otherwise have been the case. Mehlman’s attempt at expiation by working with pro-equality groups can’t begin to unravel the harm he helped weave.
Oh, but let’s not be too hard on the guy. After all, he “privately” supported civil unions and, he claims, “privately” met with Republican officials to “beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage.” That seems to have worked well.
He’s still a Republican, of course. No matter that the party is way behind even the pathetic Democrats when it comes to LGBT issues; it’s all about the lifestyle and access to which he’s become accustomed. He’s like Stephanie Vanderkellen, the empathy-challenged character from the old Newhart show, who when forced to apologize for shocking behavior, apathetically intoned: “Sorry, sorry, sorry….”
I’m not usually this unforgiving, but this is a particularly egregious case. And Mehlman still doesn’t seem to quite get it.
The quote that forms the title for this post was plastered on a truck driven by a member of Operation Rescue. The vehicle also sports a poster of a fetal hand on a coin. They’re not going for subtlety.
The vitriolic protests against abortion providers continue, this time with Dr. LeRoy Carhart filling the late Dr. George Tiller‘s role as the focal point for the anger. Carhart, you may recall, led an unsuccessful challenge to the so-called “partial birth abortion law; the sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that Congress could constitutionally rule out one form of late-term abortion as long as it permitted another means of accomplishing the same task. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority misunderstands both medical practice and public health principles, and, as Justice Ginsburg noted in dissent, won’t actually save the life of a single fetus. (At most it will put doctors at risk of liability for making on-the-spot decisions on how best to perform the procedure.)
Carhart’s public stance, courage, and notoriety explain may why he’s now been targeted. And yes, he does some (but very few) late-term abortions; as evidenced by the back-and-forth I had with Andrew Sullivan a couple of months ago (see here, here, here, and here), as well as the many testimonials he published on the issue, these abortions are the ones that get people the most worked up. (Maybe they shouldn’t, though, because most of these abortions are to terminate the life of the most seriously deformed fetuses, many of whom wouldn’t even be born alive. But this post isn’t going to revisit the issue.) Given what happened to Tiller, and the willingness of Operation Rescue to refortify the ramparts so soon after his murder, Carhart understandably fears for his life. If anything does happen to him, the principals of that group will express ritual disapproval, but not remorse.
Also of interest here is the use of the now-familiar “ObamaNation” (read: abomination) slogan and its purported connection to everything that’s thought to be wrong: taxes; health care reform; now, abortion. But what has Obama to do with abortion? The practice has been legal continuously since 1973, yet the anti-abortion forces feel, with some justification, that they have a kindred spirit in office during Republican administrations. Democrats allow this, well, abomination to continue, and don’t even have the decency to mount a rhetorical struggle against it. So violence and the threats of it escalate, dramatically, during Democratic presidencies.
I still haven’t accounted for the “.com” at the end of the slogan. Now we’ve got something concrete: Obamanation.com is the url for a group that is dedicated to stopping what it sees as an Obama-led black genocide; black fetuses are aborted in disproportionately high numbers. (Here’s the organization’s page with data supporting that point; I haven’t checked out the underlying reports.) But in a larger sense it “Obamanation” stands for everything that’s wrong, and for the poor sap who happens to be at the epicenter of it all.
I heard the news of Ted Kennedy’s passing this morning; sad, although hardly unexpected. Here’s a comprehensive obit.
Well, I was driving to work when I heard the news, so I thought I’d listen to what the conservative talking heads were saying. Glenn Beck, nothing (too busy going on about ACORN and other reliable red meat). But Mike Gallagher, whom I’d never listened to and, frankly, barely knew existed, brought me up short. After playing Obama’s tribute, he then went on an extended riff about Kennedy’s many friendships in the Senate, some with conservative Republicans (Orrin Hatch, for example), with whom he disagreed. Gallagher then allowed that his wife and his kids were Democrats.
He expressed surprise at the fact that many people can’t get along, or even tolerate in polite company, those with whom they have political disagreement. Having lived with a family of dissenters, Gallagher isn’t in that group. His talk was a welcome call to civility, and I found it surprisingly moving.
If you live anywhere but on the extreme right-wing fringe, you may not have heard of the will-not-die story that Obama isn’t an American citizen. (OK, political junkies know the story too.) I’ve been avoiding it, but lately I’ve found the reasons for the story (not the ridiculous story itself) oddly compelling.
Here’s a video claiming that President Obama is a Muslim and not a United States citizen. FactCheck.org links to a blogger who explains the elaborate steps taken by the Obama campaign to forge his birth certificate. (Follow the link and be reminded of the true depths of obsessive conspiracy theorists. Not a pretty place to live.)
But all you need is a few minutes to discover that the allegation is baseless. The non-partisan FactCheck.org did a comprehensive investigation almost a year ago and concluded, convincingly, that Obama’s birth certificate and records were authentic. Ditto PolitiFact.com.
FactCheck.org gives an in-depth explanation of the processes used to verify that the President is a citizen. They found that the birth certificate was “three-dimensional and resides at the Obama headquarters in Chicago” and they “assure readers that the certificate does bear a raised seal, and that it’s stamped on the back by Hawaii state registrar Alvin T. Onaka (who uses a signature stamp rather than signing individual birth certificates).” The researchers at FactCheck also found a birth announcement for President Obama in a Honolulu paper.
They conclude that the birth certificate “has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport: “your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records.”
So the interesting question is: Why is this happening? Harry Shearer thinks it’s because the experience of the last two presidents has taught that questioning the opposition’s legitimacy is a much more effective way of rallying the true believers than arguing policy. Thus, Clinton-haters pointed to the fact that he’d been elected with less than a majority vote (because of third-party candidate Ross Perot), while the Anti-Bushies never forgot that he’d lost the popular vote and then been handed the election by a deeply divided Supreme Court. 1 With Obama having glided into office with thundering majorities in both the popular and electoral votes, this crazy birth certificate thing is all they’ve got.
On some level, it works. A shameless California congressman, one John Campbell, has recently been seen and heard trying the ol’ play-to-the-base-while-trying-to- seem-rational feint, defending his co-sponsorship of a bill that would require future presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship. Here’s an excerpt (via Politico) from an interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball:
“What is going on that so many Americans doubt the obvious, that Barack Obama is a citizen, to the point that you felt it necessary to co-sponsor this crazy proposal?” host Chris Matthews asked Campbell.
Campbell didn’t respond directly, saying that his proposal was “only looking forward.”
“It`s 2012 and beyond,” he said.
That wasn’t enough for Matthews, who pressed on — and accused Campbell of trying to appease “the nutcases” while holding up a copy of Obama’s birth certificate.
But Campbell only gave another non-answer, saying, “Don`t you think anybody that who runs for president should — wouldn`t you want to know that, that they meet those requirements before they run? What`s wrong with that?”
Determined, Matthews responded: “Do you have any doubts, Congressman, about the authentic native birth in this country of our president? Do you have any doubts?”
Campbell: “Chris, my — it doesn`t matter whether I have doubts or not.”
Matthews: “Do you have any doubts?”
Campbell: “It doesn`t matter at all.”
After Matthews accused Campbell’s bill of “feeding the wacko wing of your party,” the Californian budged — if only slightly.
Asked if he thought Obama was “a legitimate native-born American or not,” Campbell responded: “As far as I know, yes, OK?”
In fairness, many on the right dismiss this garbarge. This article is an example of a commentator, who, while making no secret of his disgust for Obama, provides three reasons to drop the myth. But that won’t work for the John Campbell and Liz Cheneys of the world, who are determined to hold onto the what’s left of their party’s faithful by playing to every nutty theory out there. Too bad they don’t realize that their future can’t start to improve until they distance themselves from this crazy rhetoric.
Consider this, from Delaware (where my school is located). Rep. Mike Castle, a reasonable, moderate Republican, has his health care town hall hijacked. And note the short step from the “questioner’s” screeching about the birth certificate to the shallow patriotism that follows. Here’s a crowd in search of something, and looking for a scapegoat. Tag: Obama’s it:
For Campbell, Cheney, et al., giving them what they want is easier than trying to fix a party that’s come unglued, or, for that matter, doing the hard work that’s needed to revive the middle class.
For the record, these two cases are nothing alike. Winning a plurality vote is indisputably legal; what happened in 2000 is less so (unless one takes the purely legal positivist position that it was legal becauses the Supreme Court so decreed). ↩
After a political eternity, several bills directly relevant to LGBT equality are queued up before Congress. In order of both expected ease of passage and anticipated timeline, these are: hate crimes, which has already passed the U.S. House, and is expected to navigate the more treacherous waters of the Senate and be signed, possibly within a couple of months; the bewhiskered Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”), which could go through by the end of 2009; repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which seems to enjoy broad support but is trickier because it involves the military; and repeal of all or part of the Defense of Marriage Act (date and prospects less clear).
Friday’s National Legal Panel seemed in remarkable agreement on these issues, and more cheered by these seemingly modest anticipated developments than might have been expected. After all, Obama’s in office and the Democrats hold power in both houses of Congress (even a looming filibuster-proof majority in the Senate now seems very likely, given Arlen Specter’s party flip). As the ACLU’s Chris Anders asked rhetorically: “What’s the problem?” Why shouldn’t all of these agenda items so long sought, and for which so much laborious lobbying has been done, sail right through?
Welcome to the sausage factory! All of these bills have to be introduced, go through committees, survive amendments, and then go to the floor for passage. Then there’s reconciliation of possibly differing versions of the legislation between the two chambers. According to Georgetown law professor and legislative expert Chai Feldblum, the complexity of the process and the list of backed-up agenda items from various constituencies means that we’ve been “given” two slots for this legislative session: one for hate crime and one for ENDA. Time is the most precious resource on Capitol Hill; getting the “face time” you need is vital to move things forward.
The hate crimes law (“The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act“) isn’t strictly a “gay rights bill,” because it also covers criminal acts motivated by a victim’s race, religion, disability, national origin, or gender. It thus has a broad coalition working toward its passage. ENDA is trickier; whether the version that’s passed will offer “gender identity” discrimination is unclear. That’s the goal, but the TG community could be thrown overboard to get the bill enacted. I wouldn’t be in favor of such a bill, because no one needs workplace protection as much as those who are gender nonconforming, and if they’re not included now — forget it. They’ll never get a bill through on their own.
Penn law professor Tobias Wolff, who advised the Obama campaign on issues of interest to the LGBT community, offered a rich and complex account of Obama’s support. Wolff said he “lost count” of the number of times Obama mentioned issues of gay equality on the campaign trail, even when his audience (say, a conservative black church) might have been less than fully receptive to it. Yet Obama never did a presentation before any of the national LGBT advocacy groups; which was also unprecedented (this time not in a good way) for a Democratic candidate. This might be looked at as less than supportive, but Wolff’s interpretation was that Obama preferred to construct coalitions that were more broad-based, and not especially associated with any particular interest group. He also related that Obama isn’t going to independently decide to do things for us; he expects advocacy and persuasive arguments, and can be moved by them. So in an odd yet paradoxically exhilarating way, there’s more work to do with a sympathetic President and Congress, not less.
According to Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director for Lambda Legal, much less promising are the prospects for any kind of substantial help from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality or the military policy. Here the situation is markedly different from that of the state level, where courts have often been strong allies, especially in recent marriage equality cases and on family law questions, such as second-parent adoptions. Although the Court has some good precedent cases (Romer v. Evans, which declared anti-gay animus an unconstitutional basis for legislation; and Lawrence v. Texas, striking down statutes that criminalize intimate sexual conduct between consenting adults), they’re very deferential to the military and not likely to require marriage equality any time soon. The Court might be receptive to the carefully crafted challenge to the part of DOMA that denies federal benefits to legally married couples; that case, though, has just been filed and would take years to reach the Court. By then, perhaps DOMA would have been repealed.
At least as far as “don’t ask, don’t tell” is concerned, though, the Obama Administration could adopt some internal policies and rules that would greatly lessen its arbitrariness and devastating impact on dedicated military personnel. And that interplay between decisional law, legislation, and regulatory law was consistently emphasized by the panelists, especially Feldblum. Moderator Nan Hunter, a Georgetown law professor, did a nice job in getting the participants to explain these relationships, and the law itself, in a way that the “lay” audience could understand.
What we’d have trouble understanding is a lack of movement. If these initiatives fail, the panelists agreed that we’d be forced to take responsibility for that failure. This prospect, though, wasn’t enough for anyone to seek the return of the Bush era.
A gay friend of mine moved from New Haven, CT (he was a Yale professor) to Columbus, Ohio for a year. His dating life, he told me, was a disaster: “Every guy I met told me on the first date that he was a Log Cabin Republican.” There were no second dates.
For those who don’t know, the Log Cabin Republicans are a gay advocacy group that, roughly, adheres to certain “old school” Republican values like lower taxes and limited government (federalism, as convenient, too) while pressing for LGB (but not always T) equality. They’re mostly a bunch of well-to-do white guys. Their argument for existence is that they can work within to transform the Republican Party in what is, after all, a two-party system.
I’m not one of them. My politics are decidedly to the left, and I generally favor a substantial role for government in working towards social justice (while realizing the limits of this reliance, the benefits of markets, and the importance of grass roots advocacy and effort). And my view of the group wasn’t exactly improved after an argument in 2004 with one Log Cabin member who, to my astonishment, supported Bush over Kerry, even asserting that there was “no difference” between them on gay issues. We were (not close) friends before this, not at all after that.
But there he was in late 2008, at a March for Equality in Philadelphia. We walked together. He stated that he’d been an Obama supporter, and that the Republican party was in danger of becoming a “fringe.” I then regretted my boorish behavior in 2004 (I wasn’t exactly civil, I’m afraid) and sent him an email of apology. His response was more than gracious, and he owned some responsibility, too. I wisely refrained from asking about his continued association with the Log Cabin.
Now I’m feeling a bit more charitable towards the group. A recent story reported that the Log Cabin had been involved in getting the leadership of the Republican Party in the New York Senate to allow its members to “vote their conscience” on the pending marriage equality bill. Given that at least four Democrats are poised to vote “no,” this step could spell the difference between success and failure. It would be neither fair nor charitable to deny that the group has had success in galvanizing what’s left of the moderate wing of the Republican party; as a sign of their effect, they and Meghan McCain apparently have a thing goin’ on, too. If she’s the face of young Republicans (or at least enough of them), then we can have a legitimate debate about policy that takes equality as a given and moves on from there.
But I’m still not syrupy sweet on the Log Cabin. They support formal equality, and their blog lists some recent accomplishments at the state legislative level that are, frankly, impressive. But what about addressing the deep and underlying inequities of race, gender, and even sexual orientation and gender identity? Formal equality doesn’t really get to those messier issues. Marriage equality won’t help an adult woman who needs time off to take care of her ailing sister or grandchild, neither of whom is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. A law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace doesn’t address the issue of whether employees make a living wage.
But they’re not the only group that focuses on formal equality, and, if I’m being fair about it, they seem to be making more inroads lately than the national, non-partisan Human Rights Campaign, whose efforts on hate crimes, anti-discrimination laws, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act have yet to bear fruit. (Here’s an example of their behind-the-scenes achievements, though.)
These comments just in from Planet Newt, last seen orbiting the sun circa 1994:
WIC* is bad because it gives mothers nutritious food that they can then use to overfeed their babies! (*This government-funded nutrition program (Women, Infants, and Children) provides formula and nutritious food to families that couldn’t otherwise afford it.)
We’ve made a detour by encouraging women to go into the work force. They should be home with their kids.
We’d solve a lot of our problems if unwed mothers would get married.
These and other jaw-dropping inanities were spouted towards the end of a speech I heard former Rep. Gingrich deliver yesterday. He’d been invited to deliver the keynote luncheon address to a Delaware consortium of health care and educational institutions. And for most of the talk, this twice-divorced (or was it thrice? I can’t keep track) conservative intellectual stated and presented thoughtful (if not uncontroversial) ideas about the state of our health care system and economy, and some of the steps that might be taken to improve the situation. Gingrich is a smart guy, and, to his credit, has worked with a broad spectrum of organizations involved in health care advocacy, policy and delivery to develop a model for health care reform that deserves attention. In this role, he founded the Center for Health Transformation; the site contains a list of members and a mostly sensible (if incomplete) set of ideas for dealing with the related issues of cost and efficiency that challenge the delivery of health care.
But during the Q&A, Gingrich’s deeply ideological bent popped out. First, the morbidly obese morals enforcer actually trotted out a version of “I walked five miles to school in the snow” chestnut, the only refrain heard more than “Hey, Macarena!” (Remember that? Sorry!) You know, kids today: They are glued to their video games, don’t walk, can barely remember to take in oxygen. Back in his day….
Too many audience members nodded sagely.
Then came the diatribe highlighted at the beginning of this post, issued in response to a generic question about possible solutions to our health care problems. This was the point at which it became apparent that Gingrich’s aversion to any kind of government program designed to help the neediest citizens blinds him to reality. Attacking WIC? That is so pre-Obama. The conservative revolution is over, and not a moment too soon.
Several of the audience members (all women, as it happened) said they’d almost gotten up and walked out when the “mothers should stay at home” mantra was thawed out, having been frozen for approximately as long as Austin Powers in International Man of Mystery. (30 years, people!) They should have, but for my money the much more offensive mal mot was the attack on WIC. Beyond the cold-heartedness of depriving women and their infants of access to nutrition they otherwise simply will not be able to obtain, there’s the added problem of illogic: If women want to “stuff” their infants to keep them from crying, without WIC-furnished nutrition, they’ll just do it with food teeming with empty calories.
But the kids won’t become obese, I suppose, if they’ll just crawl to day care in the snow. Just like Newt did — oh wait, he didn’t have to go to day care because his mother stayed home like she was supposed to.
Go here to find comments by the Arizona Senator’s daughter about the dismal state of the Republican party. She sees that Democrats right now are about 1,000 times cooler than members of her own party (being a Republican is about “as edgy as Donny Osmond,” she says). (According to her website playlist, McCain herself is pretty cool at least along one axis: Her website playlist includes artists ranging from flavor-of-the-month Lily Allen, to Charlie Parker, to the sludgy “Our Lady Peace.”)
But her criticism goes way beyond the GOP’s coolness gap: Warming to her task, she then expresses her disagreement with the party’s positions on stem cell research and marriage equality. She even offers this startling statement:
“Where has our extreme thinking gotten us? President Bush will go down as one the least popular presidents in history. I constantly hear stories about Republicans who previously worked for President Bush and my father feeling ostracized, unable to get jobs in D.C. right now.”
If I were a Republican strategist (about as likely as my being selected as host of Saturday Night Live), I’d say: Listen to this woman!
But no: Instead, the clownish Rush Limbaugh (played masterfully by the Obama Administration) elicits oohs and ahhs from the party faithful, while the comically inept RNC Chairman Michael Steele again finds himself in the soup for daring to suggest that the abortion issue should be left to the states (not, as he was “accused” of, stating that every woman should have the right to make that choice — no sirree!). Mike Huckabee and Ken Blackwell (his former rival for a position that now has all of the “earmarks” of a booby prize) jumped all over him, with Blackwell huffing that Steele needs to “re-read the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the 2008 GOP Platform.” So much for Steele’s promised — oh, and risible as well as cringeworthy — “hip hop makeover” of the party.
Let me offer some unsolicited advise for a quick, if incomplete, fix for the party’s problem; one suggested by Meghan McCain’s statements, above. The Republican governor of Vermont, Jim Douglas, should sign the marriage equality bill when, as is expected, it passes the state legislature. As his website discloses, Douglas is fairly progressive — a necessity for a politician in left-leaning Vermont. Yet he has signaled an intent to veto the bill, on the factually insupportable ground that the state’s civil union law is sufficient; and for the facially inane reason that the state has too many other serious problems, what with the collapsing economy and all. (Look again at the website for a list of the things he’s doing and tell me this argument passes the straight-face test.)
I’m no expert on Vermont politics, but I suspect Governor Douglas would suffer no significant backlash from signing the bill. And he might also help change his party’s image for the better. Almost certainly, this means it won’t happen. The GOP seems intent on marginalizing itself at every opportunity.
David Brooks, writing about the financial crisis, puts the party’s current ineptitude succinctly: “If Republicans were to treat this like a genuine emergency, with initiative-grabbing approaches, they may not get their plans enacted, but voters would at least give them another look. Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.”
He’s probably right, but maybe Governor Douglas can break the destructive spell.