This deification of Ken Mehlman over his recently discovered homosexuality is already getting absurd.
Tonight, Michael Luo from the New York Times absolved Ken Mehlman from any involvement in George Bush’s fiercely homophobic campaign back in 2004:
Mr. Mehlman was in Mr. Bush’s inner circle in both presidential campaigns, and ran his campaign in 2004. But Mr. Mehlman, in his work as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as head of Mr. Bush’s campaign, tended to avoid social issues, arguing that they would undercut the Republican Party’s efforts to expand its appeal.
I’m not sure how Mr. Luo determined the Mehlman “tended to avoid social issues.” Maybe Luo took Mr. Mehlman at his word (just like reporters took Mehlman at his word when he said he wasn’t gay.)
But, perhaps Luo should have at least checked the archives of his own newspaper. For example, there’s this story from James Dao from November 4, 2004:
Proposed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage increased the turnout of socially conservative voters in many of the 11 states where the measures appeared on the ballot on Tuesday, political analysts say, providing crucial assistance to Republican candidates including President Bush in Ohio and Senator Jim Bunning in Kentucky….the ballot measures also appear to have acted like magnets for thousands of socially conservative voters in rural and suburban communities who might not otherwise have voted, even in this heated campaign, political analysts said. And in tight races, those voters – who historically have leaned heavily Republican – may have tipped the balance.
Hmmm. Who came up with that strategy. Well, maybe if Luo googled something like “mehlman” “gay marriage” 2004, he would have found this:
According to religious leaders, the conference calls with White House officials started early in the Bush administration and became a weekly ritual as the campaign heated up. Usually, the participants were Rove or Tim Goeglein, head of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Later, Bush campaign chairman Ken Mehlman and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and the campaign’s southeast regional coordinator, were often on the line.
Yes, Mehlman was in the thick of it. I don’t think that strategy decided the election, but Mehlman and his colleagues used it.
Luo might have found this, too, from 2006:
“I think the issue was injected when a liberal court in Massachusetts said they were going to redefine a 200 year old institution in this country by judicial fiat,” said Mehlman, who also endorses a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage — political catnip for the Christian Right.
See, we gays tend to see using those strategies and that kind of language as engaging in social issues, specifically anti-gay engagement.
So, let’s not rewrite history. Many of us remember vividly how the Bush campaign, managed by Ken Mehlman, used gay baiting and gay bashing as a core part of its strategy. It was ugly. And, it happened.
I get that Mehlman is now trying to make amends. After what he did to the gay community in 2004, he has a long way to go.