Mehlman: Conservative case for marriage
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.)
Andrew Breitbart’s contribution to the gay community
March 1st, 2012
Andrew Breitbart died today, presumably due to longterm heart problems. Response to his passing has been, to an extent, flavored by how one perceived his activism and where one stands on the political spectrum.
Breitbart served as sort of the Right’s answer to Michael Moore. Like Moore, he carefully selected anecdotes and presented them, often out of context and without explanation or contrary evidence, as representative of broader trends and themes. While anecdotal illustration can be useful if your goal is reform of abusive institutions, too often – as in their case – this is merely a means of galvanizing the forces, demonizing the opponent, and leading the charge for total destruction of the enemy in the Great American Culture War. It matters little that the “enemy” is your next door neighbor or your cousin and that outsiders find it hard to distinguish between you.
And, also like Moore, he delighted in his role as provocateur. With a bombastic style, palpable contempt for the idiots on the other side, and an unquenchable thirst for attention, they never miss an opportunity to see the worst in other and describe it in detail.
But while I have little use for Breitbart’s propaganda efforts and find his antics a bit distasteful in a man older than 22, I neither hate him nor revile him. So my response has been primarily to note that Breitbart is younger than I am and that “died of natural causes” has suddenly taken on a new meaning. I won’t miss him or his work, but I offer my condolences to this family and loved ones.
Yet, the time of his passing may be a good time to note observation of a social phenomenon about which Breitbart is a good illustration. He, perhaps as much as anyone, represented a significant shift in social and political acceptance of gay people.
There have always been those in the Republican Party who believe in and supported gay rights. Many of the old guard, those who were active in the 60’s and 70’s, were not part of the social conservative wing and did not hold their values. While folks like Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, and Alan Simpson may not have advocated for gay rights specifically then (few politicians did), they held the worldview and perspective that allowed them, along with their Democratic counterparts, to grow to support equality.
And there have been those who are called – and often call themselves – Moderate Republicans. They tend to see politics from the perspective of pragmatic solution-finding rather than with rigid adherence to a set of partisan distinctions and are often open to gay-supportive positions. Like Moderate Democrats, their instinct is to find a way to advance policy which can be accepted by the broadest majority of constituents, often to the annoyance of those in their respective parties who are more dedicated to specific goals.
But Andrew Breitbard was not old guard. He was not a moderate. Andrew Breitbart was a Conservative Republican and a darling of those who see the country in terms of ‘friend or foe’. He was a Culture Warrior and he did not view those whom he considered to be The Left with benevolence. Andrew Breitbart was also on the board of a ‘gay organization’.
I put ‘gay organization’ in quotes because I don’t find much about GOProud, the organization in question, that is dedicated to advancing issues of importance to our community. Nevertheless, to many on the Right, self-identification as gay is in itself offensive. To those who insist that they don’t hate anyone but are so motivated by ‘religious conviciton’ that they find it to be ‘supporting the homosexual agenda’ if they are physically in the same room with gay people who otherwise agree with them, GOProud is a militant homosexual activist group seeking to destroy the family.
So it is of some social importance that Breitbart not only sympathized with GOProud, but joined their Board of Directors. And what his participation did, along with that of Grover Norquist, Chuck Muth, and humorless comedienne Ann Coulter, was send a message that one could still be a Conservative Republican and be pro-gay. And as a firebrand and one who was currently relevant (sorry, Ann), his may have been the most surprising and impactful.
I don’t suggest that GOProud’s Board Members necessarily have pro-gay positions (Ann Coulter certainly doesn’t seem to), but rather that they introduce the idea that a Conservative could actually find themselves siding with gay people on an issue without having an identity crisis. And once one accepts that a Conservative need not, by merit of identity, oppose gay people on every issue, then one is opened up to support on at least some issues. The notion that one could be hardcore on taxes or immigration or abortion or funding of social programs, and not be compelled by bonds of association to also oppose ‘the evil homosexual agenda that seeks to destroy America’. For example, Breitbart reportedly supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
A message that “Conservatives are allowed to like gay people” may not seem like much. And GOProud is certainly not going to capitalize on this message by actually seeking to influence any conservatives to change their policies.
But it does open the door for real gay advocacy organizations like Log Cabin or HRC or Marriage Equality to present our case without facing automatic hostility. And it also frees Moderate Republicans to be supportive on gay issues without having their legitimacy challenged or them paying a high price in committee assignments or party influence. And I can’t think of a vote in which we didn’t need at least some Republican support.
And it also moves the goal post.
Pat Robertson railed against gay people in vile terms. George Dubya said that the debate over ripping civil rights from gay people had to be respectful. Sarah Palin had unnamed and possibly mythical “gay friends”. Andrew Breitbart joined a ‘gay’ group. It may not feel like progress that is meaningful, but unapologetically conservative and unapologetically accepting of gay people (though not necessarily gay politics) is a position that was unthinkable a short time back.
In short, the pro-gay visibility of Breitbart and others like him is not a great thing, but it’s a good thing.
I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture or praise Breitbart too highly; he doesn’t deserve it. His contribution to our community was more emblematic than intentional. Yet he did choose to join (though he resigned later over the outing of Tony Fabrizio) and that is worth something. And at the time of his passing it is appropriate that reflection on his life be tempered – on both the Right and the Left – by that contribution.