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Mehlman's announcement was no big deal -- and that's a big deal

The reaction to former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman’s announcement that he is gay has been resoundingly muted. Most Republicans and conservatives seem neither surprised nor scandalized.

The few criticisms that have emerged seem half-hearted and strained. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council sees confirmation that the “Republican establishment” is ambivalent on conservative social issues, which “contributed to the GOP’s electoral failures in 2006 and 2008.” Anyone who believes that these elections were fumbled because of insufficient attention to gay marriage has lost contact with political reality. In fact, Ken (who is a friend of long standing) was a wise advocate at the Bush campaign and the RNC of both firm adherence to conservative principles and creative outreach to new groups. I would place this political strategy up against Tony Perkins’s any day of the week.

One reason for the muted reception to Ken’s announcement is the high regard in which Ken is held. No one who knows him would accuse him of grandstanding, or question the sincerity of his struggle. He is a decent, honest, thoughtful man. People understandably wish him well.

But the collective indifference on the right to Ken’s news indicates a broader shift in attitudes.

Sexual identity is, well, complicated and seems shaped by factors that have little to do with individual will. Even those holding traditional moral views generally respect a zone of privacy and personal autonomy on these matters.

This tolerance is increasingly an assumption of American life across the political spectrum. Gay marriage, which Ken supports, remains more controversial. Conservatism is naturally suspicious of modifying enduring social institutions and concerned about the unintended consequences that might result. But some conservatives are open to the argument that the public recognition of gay relationships -- through civil unions or marriage -- may encourage commitment and social stability. America seems destined to test these possibilities in a number of states. Only one development might cause a serious national backlash -- if the Supreme Court were to impose a single definition of marriage on every state, from Massachusetts to Mississippi.

However Ken chooses to weigh in on these debates, his seriousness and civility will elevate the argument. And the fact that his news wasn’t that big a deal is, in fact, a pretty big deal.

By Michael Gerson  | August 27, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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Comments

There has been little comment from the Right because it exposes their cynical use of the issue for divisive political gain. It was a tool used by the RNC (Rove, Bush,etc) to enrage the christian right and mobilize them to vote. It was a bogus Republican Weapon of Mass Distraction. Without a coordinated Rightwing Noise Machine attack .... quiet.

Both Bush and Rove knew Mehlman was gay, everyone did. The fact is, they couldn't care less about gay marriage except as a wedge issue, a distraction from the real issues of failed ideology, phoney wars, politicization of the Government. They no longer care about the Evangelicals, they served their purpose.

Mehlman's, "let's not demonize gays" anymore plea is suspect. The next group to demonize is Muslims and, you know, they hate gays!!

Posted by: thebobbob | August 27, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

What we have here, I conclude, is a Mehlman apologist. If "tolerance is increasingly an assumption of American life," that's no thanks to Ken Mehlman, who worked hard to ensure that no gay American would ever be married in their country of birth. It was Mehlman, after all, who worked dilligently to ensure that anti-marriage amendments got on ballots in as many states as possible. Eleven of those initiatives actually passed during his tenure as head of the RNC. And it was Mehlman who watched with indifference as gay people were rounded up in Iraq for assassination. If, as you suggest, Mehlman now supports tolerance for his kind, it's only because, wealthy as he has become on the blood of his gay countrymen, Americans by and large detest him and what he stands for. Poor Ken can't get a date, I'm guessing, and while that's unfortunate, it's not something I find myself motivated to help him redress.

Posted by: tomsj | August 27, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

a. Not surprisingly, Mr. Gerson chooses to ignore the fact that through DOMA his fellow conservatives already "impose[d] a single definition of marriage on every state, from Massachusetts to Mississippi." Also not surprisingly, he fails to mention that in January of last year, the primary author of DOMA, Bob Barr, serial adulterer and serial polygamist, went in print to apologize and to call for its repeal.

b. Mr. Gerson bypasses the fact that despite himself being gay, Mr. Mehlman played a major role in getting anti-marriage initiatives onto the ballots of numerous states in order to get more people to vote for Republicans. Now that Mehlman may himself be in a position where he sees that being able to have someone become legally committed to him as desirable, he has decided that the inability to marry is a liability for himself personally.

c. Mr. Gerson seems not to think that Christianists have finally recognized that there is a credibility problem when many claim opposition to same-sex marriage but heroes such as Ted Haggard have been hypocritically destroying other people's lives, when "family values" Republicans are caught frequenting prostitutes, and when the really Christianist politians inhabiting the C Street house are perfectly happy both to be sexual predators having people who work for them pimp their wives and to be active accomplices in covering this up.

d. Mr. Gerson certainly recognizes, as do his fellow travellers, that Mr. Mehlman has no intention of repudiating the other scummy things that Republicans embrace, such as opposing equality in employment and repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Of course, these are not issues that affect anyone in his income bracket.

The fact that a conscienceless, amoral, Romney-like Republican opportunist (yes, I know that there is a lot of redundancy there) continues to look out for #1 and continues to be a sociopath is indeed not that big a deal.

Posted by: edallan | August 27, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

A GOP member who is a closet gay??? Someone has got their facts mixed up, for shure. GOPers are family value people, it's democrats who break the commandments. The GOP is trying to protect the environment, while democrats want to sell it in the short term to make a profit. Just look it up. We need Sarah to restor sense.

Posted by: johnnormansp | August 27, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

To all you liberal posters out here .... Obama does NOT favor gay marriage so its not just Republicans....

To all of you who keep chanting for Obama you will see what you have done when this country is taken over by fanatics of Islam.... the first ones to be persecuted will be you- the ones who opened the door to them. Gays, women and Jews to the front of the line for judgement.

Its not just a Republican thing folks..

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | August 28, 2010 6:45 AM | Report abuse

Ken Mehlman's is a disgraceful human being. He successfully supported a wedge issue, same-sex marriage, that has forced gay couples and their children to live as second-class citizens, all while being gay himself. I can't imagine why his announcement is being received with such warmth. Aren't conservatives more than a little ashamed of this guy, who actively worked against the rights of a group to which he knew he was a member?

Posted by: jdavis115 | August 28, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

The right is silent because that would put the spotlight on the glaring hypocrisy of mr. mehlman. The self-loathing slimy pol that went out his way to ensure that numerous states had ammendments banning gay marriage just in time for the elections. But now he's a proponent for gay marriage. Yeah, I'd want to keep that hypocrisy and cynicism deep in the closet too. There's no honor in what mehlman did - his past actions speak louder.

Posted by: JilliB | August 28, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Gerson,

This was no big deal because the silence on the right that you speak of comes from the fact that everyone on the right already knew, and who is going to fulminate about the fact that one of the useful idiots has decided to leave the fold? Absolutely, thebobbob. Now, who's going to out Mehlman's republican enablers, the people for whom he did his puppet work?

Posted by: DaveinNorthridge | August 28, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

In addition to the other good comments above, I would note Gerson's statement: "One reason for the muted reception to Ken’s announcement is the high regard in which Ken is held."

To me, that's most of the GOP in a nutshell -- an inability to empathize with anyone not like you, and consequently one set of rules for you and yours, and a separate set for everybody else.

Posted by: simpleton1 | August 28, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

"Sexual identity is, well, complicated and seems shaped by factors that have little to do with individual will. Even those holding traditional moral views generally respect a zone of privacy and personal autonomy on these matters."

When did the Republican party come to this realization? Does this mean their idiotic platform will be changed? Or does it depend on how many Republicans are gay? Is that what it comes to?

Posted by: vrob125 | August 28, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Another great example of Republican and conservative hypocrisy. During the Bush Administration Mehlman was a committed advocate of anti-gay policies and actions. To now come out and admit he is gay is the height of hypocrisy. But what's new with these folks?

Posted by: constitutionsupporter | August 28, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

The response was muted because Mehlman is the FORMER RNC chairman. If Steele were to come out of the closet, there would be a firestorm. Don't take the socially conservative AND fiscally conservative for granted.

Posted by: GiveMeThat | August 29, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

I already knew most Republicans were gay, and hiding it either from themselves or the rest of the world.

If they could all just admit it, I think they'd be a lot happier and healthier.

Posted by: roblimo | August 29, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

If Mehlman was still head on the RNC, his announcement would be a big deal. Now that he is in the private section, not so much.

Posted by: redclaws | August 30, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

If Mehlman was still head of the RNC, his announcement would be a big deal. Now that he is in the private section, not so much.

Posted by: redclaws | August 30, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Say what? Michael, you remain as clueless as ever about the origins and impact of homophobia on heterosexual and same-sex loving people alike.

Disclaimer: I am a heterosexual physician and have LGTB friends, colleagues, and family members. I fully support their civil rights to marry, parent children, et al.

Mr. Mehlman, despite his recent epiphany, has a long record of simultaneously catering to his own self-hatred while contributing to the hatred of other gay people.

I am glad that Mr. Mehlman has now publicly come out of the closet (not that he was especially closeted), but IMHO, he has alot of 'splaining to do. More important, Mr. Mehlman needs to perform some penance for the lies he told and the lives he undermined.

In this month of Elul, we Jews take teshuvah seriously. We are required to apologize to those who we have harmed, and repent for our previous sins against other people. Perhaps Mr. Mehlman can borrow a page from our heritage? And you, too, Mr. Gerson, for your blatant hypocrisy!

Posted by: bloommarko4 | August 30, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

"Sexual identity is, well, complicated and seems shaped by factors that have little to do with individual will"

Please inform the evangelical, Mormon and Donohue Catholics who are Palin and Beck's inbred teabagger cousins of Fred Phelps.

Posted by: areyousaying | August 30, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Foley, Haggard, Craig, Crist and now Mehlman.

What is it about closeted gay Republicans that they can't see their own hypocrisy of gay basing to exploit an Atwater/Rove wedge issue of hate?

Let's pray to Glenn Beck's "special" Christian god that there is not more than 25% of Americans who can't (or won't) see through this.

Posted by: areyousaying | August 30, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Foley, Haggard, Craig, Crist and now Mehlman.

What is it about closeted gay Republicans that they can't see their own hypocrisy of gay basing to exploit an Atwater/Rove wedge issue of hate?

Let's pray to Glenn Beck's "special" Christian god that there is not more than 25% of Americans who can't (or won't) see through this.

Posted by: areyousaying | August 30, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Foley, Haggard, Craig, Crist and now Mehlman.

What is it about closeted gay Republicans that they can't see their own hypocrisy of gay basing to exploit an Atwater/Rove wedge issue of hate?

Let's pray to Glenn Beck's "special" Christian god that there is not more than 25% of Americans who can't (or won't) see through this.

Posted by: areyousaying | August 30, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Mehlman is a "decent, honest and thoughtful man." I believe he possesses all but three of these qualities.

Posted by: itsme12 | August 30, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

I have been a frequent critic of Gerson, who for a year seemed unable to write except from a narrow conservative perspective. But in recent months he has written several honest, courageous opeds, to his great credit and the Post's. Thank you for your honesty and courage, Michael. This was a fine evaluation of Mehlman.

Posted by: ejmurphy414 | August 30, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

It's wonderful that there hasn't been much of a response, but I also don't congratulate someone who, while closeted, worked against the rights of his own community. I prefer an honest, open politician like Christine Quinn to set an example, not Mehlman. http://ourscenetv.com/main/show/id/431

Posted by: abbygirl2010 | August 30, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with the other commenters. The blasé reaction is really because anyone who paid the slightest attention to Mehlman as campaign manager and/or RNC chair ALREADY KNEW THAT HE WAS GAY. Whether or not he formally revealed his orientation back then, it was most definitely public knowledge.

His recent "coming out" was merely a publicity stunt.

Posted by: Snafoo | August 31, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

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