Mehlman: Conservative case for marriage

Timothy Kincaid

October 13th, 2012

Considering that Ken Mehlman is perhaps best known for being George Bush’s campaign manager during his “ban gay marriage” reelection campaign, it’s a bit ironic hearing him now advocate for equality. Nevertheless, the message – in this case – is more important than the messenger. And this is a message that needs to be heard.

“Conservative” can mean adherence to a specific set of political positions. However, it also can also refer to a way of life, an approach to thinking and the manner in which one structures their personal affairs. While “conservative” (in this sense) may have a loose correlation with the political term, a far-left Democrat who has a wife and children, a college fund, and retirement savings invested for the long term is far more conservative than a Republican playboy who throws lavish parties and is invested only in risky schemes.

I suspect that because the terms are the same, many people (especially those who live in conservative areas) believe that while they cautiously plan and prepare and value tradition and family, those liberals out there in San Francisco are irresponsible and wife-swapping and are all divorced and their kids run free like animals. That may be an extreme, but I do think it likely that they genuinely believe that liberal people do not value marriage and family as much as they do.

Which raises an interesting disconnect. What do you do with the gay folk who are clamoring for the right to marry, raise kids, live in a white picket fence neighborhood, volunteer for the local boy scout troop, and march in the Halloween Parade? That’s so… conservative. Those aren’t “San Francisco values”. How can this be?

One answer, the one pushed by those who have an interest in dividing the nation and living off the discord, is that Teh Gheys are only trying to get into marriage – and other conservative institutions – to destroy it! They don’t really want to marry, they hate marriage (because it was designed by God) and they want to bring it to an end.

And if you live in that bubble and are looking for a way to make your conflicting impressions make sense, this is an appealing answer. And besides, it’s championed by people who claim that they are good conservatives, the same people who value tradition and family and morality and decency, so it must be true.

Which makes it all the more important that another answer be heard. And that it too be championed by people who are good conservatives. They don’t want to hear from the people who insist that there be no crèche at Christmas or those who think it’s better to live together before marriage or those who think that more taxes are the solution to an economy without jobs or the folks who insist that Palestinians have as valid a claim on Jerusalem as the Jews. They don’t trust their judgment and they aren’t going to agree with anything you say.

But a conservative – especially one they trust – well, they’ll maybe at least listen. So I love that Ken Mehlman starts his op-ed this way: (StarTribune)

What do Clint Eastwood, Dick Cheney, Ted Olson, and John Bolton have in common? All are strong, lifelong conservatives. Each has fought on behalf of smaller government. And all support the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.

You may think Eastwood a doddering fool, but they LOVED his speech about the empty chair. You may think Cheney a war-monger, they think he’s a defender of the nation. And John Bolton, well he’s that Fox News guy who stood up to the United Nations or something.

And Mehlman speaks their language.

But this amendment would put a one-size-fits-all government mandate on all private institutions, including our churches, by telling them that any marriage they choose to perform is null and void for the purposes of Minnesota.

As Republicans, we respect the individual and work to empower people to live as they see fit, with as little intrusion by the government as practical. This idea is grounded in an important Judeo-Christian value that we should all treat others as we would like to be treated.

The argument isn’t new. It’s not really that revolutionary. And to those who think conservative lives equals conservative politics, this is an appeal that allows them the ability to hear our appeal and to consider us as maybe, just possibly, a little bit, well, conservative.

This is the message that will eventually win them over. And let’s hope that Mehlman’s appeal will work with voters in Minnesota. (And some day later we can deal with the eventual outcome: the day that conservatives start ranting about how The Gays need to settle down and find a good man and get married and raise a family like decent people and lesbians do.)


October 13th, 2012

I do think Mehlman’s opinion matters as a person who can “translate” marriage equality into conservative language but I don’t see him, personally, being effective because people don’t know him. To give credit where credit is due, Mehlman is quoting almost perfectly Andrew Sullivan’s long-standing, even MORE thoughtful conservative case for marriage equality. At least Mehlman didn’t distort Sullivan’s work. I don’t know how Mehlman could convey what Sulliivan wrote in sound-bit size any better than he did. I’m sure Andrew breathed a sigh of relief.

I’ve been doing this *exact* pitch for the last ten years and my talking points *all* come from Sullivan. I didn’t expect to see more of it when Sullivan published his, “The Conservative Soul” but that book turned out to be the primer in how to frame the debate in a language conservatives understand. CORRECTION: “… a language conservatives can HEAR” because the dog whistles have to be embedded in the argument.

Mehlman is correct when he says the majority have a core of conservatism in them and it’s the everyday, plain common sense understanding that we all have to balance a check book and we don’t want things to get complicated to the point that we fear people are talking over our heads. We want our religion, or we want our freedom *from* religion and it’s a conservative to want the government to keep their hands off our marriages as it is to say keep your hands out of my religion.

From experience, I know these approaches work and I’ve seen them work on some incredibly ugly anti-gay bigots. But you have to have conservative cred before they’ll hear you and in that regard, you just have to by-god assert it, even to the point of telling self-identified conservatives what ISN’T conservative about their views. Religious fundamentalists are especially vulnerable to having their lack of conservative credentials exposed since so many of them believe that their religious beliefs – alone – is what defines them as conservative. It’s pretty easy to show them how their beliefs are in direct conflict with classic conservatism – actually more closely associated with liberalism’s tendency to nanny the country by force of law. When you can show them how they are doing that, it’s pretty jolting to religious conservatives. The *do* start questing what it means to be conservative.

One conservative at a time. The line forms here.

Rick Loesser

October 13th, 2012

What do you do with the gay folk who are clamoring for the right to marry, raise kids, live in a white picket fence neighborhood, volunteer for the local boy scout troop, and march in the Halloween Parade? That’s so… conservative. Those aren’t “San Francisco values”. How can this be? As a San Franciscan – I thought these were ‘San Francisco’ values. Pray tell, what demonic values do we represent?


October 13th, 2012

First off I have to say this: Dick Cheney and small government used in the same sentence? How laughable.

I also take umbrage at the phrase “San Francisco Values”. As Rick stated it seems that conservatives have a weird view of what people in San Francisco value. I do not live in the area, but that phrase along with liberal elite and intellectual elite annoy me greatly.

Other than that it was an interesting article and while I greatly dislike Ken Mehlman for much of the anti-gay rhetoric used to elect and re-elect bush I appreciate what he is attempting to do. Still does not make up for what he did, in my opinion, but it’s a start.


October 14th, 2012

“San Fransisco values” means “fags”, of course. It’s barely even a dog whistle. As for the article, Cheney and Mehlman are cowards who only defended gay equality after becoming politically irrelevant. Eastwood kicks ass, period, full-stop. And the true conservative heroes are people like Olson, Susan Collins, and the four NY Senators, who fought for gay equality in a quantifiable, meaningful way. Cheney (who would obviously be 100% apathetic to gay equality if his daughter wasn’t gay) and Melhman sought money and power at the deliberate expense of gay people and should never be spoken of in a discussion of gay rights unless in derision and scorn.

John D

October 16th, 2012

It seems to be a good thing from Timothy Kincaid’s view that all Melman did was to inflame anti-gay sentiments to get a Republican in the White House, as opposed to (allegedly) endorsing an anti-gay politician. Oh, wait, he worked for a politician who ran on a platform of restricting gay rights.

If Barney Frank, who has worked for equality far longer than Melman, is somehow tainted because you think you remember that he endorsed John Silber (I don’t remember that, though I lived in Massachusetts then), how tainted must Melman be? Clearly, we must never trust him after what he’s done.

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