It’s not often I get to be out in front of Frank Rich on an issue, but as usual, my favorite New York Times columnist, manages to make his point more eloquently and persuasively than I could ever hope to. [“Just How Gay Is the Right?“] Ah well, I suppose that’s why Rich is an Op-Ed columnist for the paper of record, whereas I’m… well… just some blogger.
Rich uses the DVD release of the 1962 political potboiler “Advise and Consent” as a springboard for discussing the right’s war on the judiciary and the violently anti-gay rhetoric that fuels it. The movie focuses on a McCarthy-era confirmation battle, and the gay secret of a conservative Senator from Utah. It depicts the gay-baiters as the real menace.
That message remains on target now. But in the years since, even as it has ceased to be a crime or necessarily a political career-breaker to be gay, unprincipled gay-baiting has mushroomed into a full-fledged political movement. It’s a virulent animosity toward gay people that really unites the leaders of the anti-“activist” judiciary crusade, not any intellectually coherent legal theory (they’re for judicial activism when it might benefit them in Florida). Their campaign menaces the country on a grander scale than Drury and Preminger ever could have imagined: it uses gay people as cannon fodder on the way to its greater goal of taking down a branch of government that is crucial to the constitutional checks and balances that “Advise and Consent” so powerfully extols.
Rich goes on to present a rogues gallery of right-wing notables “whipping up homophobia” including Jerry Falwell’s “Declaration of War” against homosexuality, Pat Robertson’s claim that activist judges are a greater threat than Al Qaeda, and former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore (of Ten Commandments monument fame) who has suggested the state has the power to prohibit homosexual conduct at penalty of death. And of course, Rich points out the irony that I have been somewhat dwelling on recently.
What adds a peculiar dynamic to this anti-gay juggernaut is the continued emergence of gay people within its ranks. Allen Drury would have been incredulous if gay-baiters hounding his Utah senator had turned out to be gay themselves, but this has been a consistent pattern throughout the 30-year war. Terry Dolan, a closeted gay man, ran the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which as far back as 1980 was putting out fund-raising letters that said, “Our nation’s moral fiber is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement and the fanatical E.R.A. pushers (many of whom publicly brag they are lesbians).” (Dolan recanted and endorsed gay rights before he died of AIDS in 1986.) The latest boldface name to marry his same-sex partner in Massachusetts is Arthur Finkelstein, the political operative behind the electoral success of Jesse Helms, a senator so homophobic he voted in the minority of the 97-to-3 reauthorization of the Ryan White act for AIDS funding and treatment in 1995.
But surely the most arresting recent case is James E. West, the powerful Republican mayor of Spokane, Wash., whose double life has just been exposed by the local paper, The Spokesman-Review. Mr. West’s long, successful political career has been distinguished by his attempts to ban gay men and lesbians from schools and day care centers, to fire gay state employees, to deny City Hall benefits to domestic partners and to stifle AIDS-prevention education. The Spokesman-Review caught him trolling gay Web sites for young men and trying to lure them with gifts and favors. (He has denied accusations of abusing boys when he was a Boy Scout leader some 25 years ago.) Not unlike the Roy Cohn of “Angels in America” – who describes himself as “a heterosexual man” who has sex “with guys” – Mr. West has said he had “relations with adult men” but doesn’t “characterize” himself as gay. This is more than hypocrisy – it’s pathology.
Some of my readers have criticized me for trying to tarnish the image of the far-right Christian movement by focusing on the personal hypocrisy of a few of its leaders, but as Rich points out, this is more than just the ironic tale of a handful of secretly-gay gay-bashers… it is politics, pure and simple.
A likely inspiration for the gay plot line in Drury’s “Advise and Consent” was the real-life story of a Wyoming Democrat, Lester Hunt, who shot himself in his Senate office in 1954 after the Republican Campaign Committee threatened to make an issue of his gay son’s arrest in Lafayette Park on “morals charges.” Those were the dark ages, but it isn’t entirely progress that we now have a wider war on gay people, thinly disguised as a debate over the filibuster, cloaked in religion, and counting among its shock troops politicians as utterly bereft of moral bearings as James West.
People have always hated gays, but anti-gay sentiment is now being politicized, much in the same way the Nazis politicized long standing anti-Jewish sentiment to help secure Hitler’s ambitions in the early 1930’s. So if you think I’ve just been writing about sex or religion or hypocrisy, you’ve missed the point entirely. I’ve been writing about the politics of hate, and warning about the dire consequences to our republic should it be allowed to triumph.