The Advocate interviews Ken Mehlman; what is the political path forward?

Posted on 26 Aug 2010 at 1:44pm

Kerry Eleveld landed an interview with the freshly self-outed former head of the RNC and Bush 2004 campaign Ken Mehlman and she gets down to brass tacks about his personal life in the closet and his professional participation in the fight to socially demonize and legally demean LGBTs. I’ll share a couple of questions; it’s a lengthy interview worth the click.

There’s a lot of gays and lesbians and other people who are still angry about the 2004 election and the fact that that those 11 amendments were on the ballot. Is there anything that you would like to say about that in particular?

Look, I have a lot of friends who ask questions and who are angry about it. I understand that folks are angry, I don’t know that you can change the past. As I’ve said, one thing I regret a lot is the fact that I wasn’t in the position I am today where I was comfortable with this part of my life, where I was able to be an advocate against that [strategy] and able to be someone who argued against it. I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.

But I understand the anger and I talk to friends about it – it’s something that I hear from a number of friends.

As the strategy developed, did it ever make you uncomfortable?

Yes.

There were a lot of people, including people that supported the [Federal Marriage Amendment], for example, that worried about this being divisive.

I obviously found it particularly challenging to deal with and, because I wasn’t in the place I am today where I’m comfortable with this part of my life, it was really hard and it was particularly hard because there was really nobody who knew this about me and so there was no one I could even talk to about it. So it was a period that I’m very glad is over.

It’s not clear to me that he realizes the depth of destruction he caused in 2004 that we are now fighting back from.

Kerry also asks Mehlman about his general gay conservative philosophy (the “not a single issue” matter), and the direction of the GOP.

I think like a lot of people, there are a lot issues that are important to me – free enterprise and lower taxes and less regulation, a strong national defense, education reform, immigration reform – these are all things that are important to me. [Marriage equality] is also an issue that’s important to me, but I’m someone that tries to find the totality of the issues and support candidates based on the totality of the issues.

…And from the perspective of, what I care the most about, first, and second of all, someone who’s trying to build support in the party for these issues – or at least discourage opposition – I think that’s a good thing.

That was an unsurprising answer. He — and we — have to reckon with a slice of the LGBT population that may in fact weigh party over equality in their support for candidates in some cases. How do we handle that reality? As we noted yesterday, Mehlman still opened his wallet this year for anti-gay pols. The natural follow up to Kerry’s question is whether he would change his mind in the future and weigh equality issues with more importance when an virulently anti-gay pol comes knocking for dough. Only time will tell.

For another take on this, I point you to Steven Petrow, the past president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, who has a piece up at Huff Po, “In Defense of Ken Mehlman: Former GOP Chair is no Roy Cohn.” An excerpt is below the fold, as well as my thoughts.

It’s hardly ever easy for any of us to take those steps, especially because of the contributions of people like Mehlman to the anti-gay chorus of the previous decade. But Mehlman had to know that his coming out would be front page news and fuel the cable news cycle for what I’m sure will be days. To say that his coming out is harder than most is not true, but it certainly is more public and he is certainly being more vilified than any other gay person who has come out in recent times.

What disturbs me most thought is the rage being unleashed by some members of the LGBT community against him. One blogger called him “a piece of human garbage. Another says he is “so digging [the] rage over this vile POS. Keep it up!” he implores. For a community that well knows the power and danger of hate and it’s connection to violence, how can we condone this kind of “discourse”? We can’t. We don’t need to support him. We don’t need to forgive him. But we do need to have some empathy and understanding of the closet he has just left. It’s a closet every LGBT person knows all too well.

I understand the rage, but I also can find the empathy in this story. My initial reaction was more of amusement at first (his poorly kept secret), then anger at his ability to coast out of the closet on the backs of the work of people he worked to oppress now that the Prop 8 ruling has cleared the way for him. I think had my moment of cynicism of course, speculating that Mehlman had to come out, given the AFER fundraiser, so the timing made this “debut” was just as political as any other act he’s participated in.

But as I’m not prone to holding on to rage for long (ask my wife; I don’t really “rage”, I quickly go into problem solving mode), I finally settled into a more pragmatic position of “what comes next” because I’ve long discussed here about the need for both parties to court the LGBT vote. That’s the reality when you see how spineless and pickpockety the Dems have become, thinking there was no where else for us to go. This is not to say the GOP is now welcoming with open arms, but that time is not far away.

So I understand the rage that is expressed in the wake of the news, but if Mehlman is to atone, we have to ask ourselves what is the marker for him to get a passing grade when you cannot change what has transpired? What will constitute falling short of that? He’s not going to become a progressive, nor should expect that.

We are eventually going to have to agree to disagree with members of our community as individuals when it comes to policy that may or may not intersect with equality issues from different places on the political spectrum. I find it a fascinating area to contemplate as the long view.

The caveat: we’re not there yet. We need full equality now. There is much to be done, and we need to have begin that dialogue about the political gulf now — and continue it even after full equality is reached.

***

Here are other random thoughts after my last post.

On finding out Mehlman’s and AFER’s position on ENDA: If we are to extend the libertarian conservative line of thinking shown by counsel Ted Olsen regarding marriage, it’s not a given that Mehlman or Olsen would necessarily support ENDA. On the other hand, they could align with the constitutional notion that discrimination is wrong. But asking the question in my mind is necessary.

On holding the media accountable for its role in shielding Mehlman. As the whitewashing of Ken Mehlman’s past professional role in the oppression of LGBTs begins (do they think our memories are that short?), this is relevant. It is as important as the political nightmare Mehlman perpetrated back in the day, because it could have been stopped if the MSM didn’t have the homophobic notion that 1) being gay and hypocritically hurting the LGBT movement is not a story and 2) believing that reporting on someone’s sexual orientation is wrong ONLY if you are LGBT.

It’s assumed in the MSM that one is heterosexual — and that is never off the table when wives and children are routinely brought up in reporting. The result is that one is left with the impression that there is something unseemly about being gay. If exposed, Mehlman would likely not have been able to be the architect of a political war that resulted in 11 state amendments passing in 2004 and fomenting rank bigotry that hurt so many.

And there’s no one I know who believes that Mehlman just came to the realization that he was gay. That whopper was not even worth telling in the PR story that rolled out.
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