It was my intention to write a piece about Ken Mehlman’s official, official coming out, pointing out the fact that he has, actually been outed for most of the past decade. From what I hear, people who knew him, knew he was gay for much longer than that. There are discussions of that available online going back to at least 2004. One of the issues from that time period that interested me, in particular, was the cover up for one of the people in charge of the gay-bashing Bush II campaign, Mehlman, by the prominent gay paper, The Washington Blade. The Blade's editor Chris Crain who had been at Harvard Law school with Mehlman, quashed his own paper's scoop on it. Reporters at The Blade wanted to go with the story, Crain, prevented it. It was Crain who also hired the infamous rent-boy-“reporter”, James Guckert “Jeff Gannon” who had extraordinarily easy access to the Bush II White House and could be relied on to ask the right questions.
As I said, that was the idea, but it kept getting tied up in the various and outrageous attempts of the legitimate media to pretend they hadn’t known what was public knowlege at the time it was most convenient for the Republican Party, in the period when Mehlman was named head of the RNC by the gay bashing Bush administration after he had been head of the 2004 Bush campaign.
In view of the history it’s more than enraging to be told that we have to cut Mehlman some slack, as he tries to make an honest man of himself. Especially when we’re told that by people who were cutting him slack while he was stabbing lesbians and gay men in the back. That’s especially true because he’s clearly a part of the current Republican effort to soften the extremely disturbing images of the Republican hate campaigns of the past two years. As Rachel Maddow pointed out the other night, Haley Barbour’s blatant lying about his and his state’s jim crow past is another part of that effort to soften the image of the party of hate to get the votes of centrist independents who might find voting for the party of bigotry distasteful. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mehlman is providing the same cover for the party of anti-gay hatred, especially given his past activities.
Some of the calls in the mainstream media for understanding and compassion for Mehlman cite his turn around on a few gay issues, such as gay marriage. Some have cited Ted Olsen’s surprising role in the recent challenge in California as well. Speaking as a gay man who has never, in my adult life, hidden my sexual orientation, no, I don’t have to feel compassion for Mehlman, to date, because I understand him all too well. I have seen and known conservative gay men who have always wanted to have it both ways, to be a fully entitled member of the upper class while enjoying their sexual preferences. If he was sincere he wouldn’t be trying to promote the party of hate, the party that still has gay bashing as one of its central organizing tools. He would have left that party as a part of the recovery of his soul.
But there is a deeper, more fundamental reason for these attempts by editorial writers in major newspapers to rehabilitate Ken Mehlman to be rejected. Beneath all civil rights struggle, at the very base of all struggles for rights and democracy there is the core moral value of equality. And equality is not a partial or sometimes thing. You don’t get to carve out an island of privilege for yourself, your family, your social circle or your minority group and have a right to call for everyone to acknowledge that attempt to equalize yourself with a privileged group. There is nothing easier than to be for the civil rights that you and your group are denied as you ignore other inequity. While the Republican Party is using hatred of Latinos, Moslems, the poor the destitute and numerous other groups as their central organizing tactic, I reject the attempt by even the well-intentioned members of the elite to obtain that status for the Ken Mehlmans who they went to school with, who they socialize with and who has access to the centralized power of the political and corporate elite.
As merely a practical matter, associating gay rights with the privileges of the economic elite will make those rights less easy to obtain, they will make them less secure and the target of future right wing political use. It also ignores the fact that many lesbians and gay men are members of other groups at the low end of inequality. There have always been lesbians and gay men who have enjoyed an elite status, despite infrequent occasions when even the most elite members of targeted groups have been victimized. Believe me, poor members of those minorities get it a lot more often.
Equality is the absolutely essential moral value of a democratic government and society and democracy is the only legitimate form of government. Without that equality, as seen in ancient Athens, democracy is only a scheme by the members of favored classes of people to make sure they get theirs. Women, slaves, foreigners... none of them had equal rights under that frequently cited, relatively short-lived and unstable, form called democracy. The fact that it is cited as relevant to our democratic aspirations only shows how using a word to denote distinctly different things over long periods of history can hoodwink even rigorous thought about it.
Modern American democracy reached its apex in the 1960s a result of more equal income distribution and the passage of civil rights legislation . Since then it has been gradually transformed into that kind of phony democracy in which some people are more equal than others, some people are not equal at all. Some gay members of the upper class want to be accepted by other members of that class to which they belong, other gay people who share that attitude want to join the same elite. Some of those well off gay folks are sincerely dedicated to the ideal of real equality, in which everyone is really equal. Some aren’t. Mehlman is, clearly a member of the pro-privilege group or he would reject the Republican Party that is the foremost engine of bigotry and inequality today.
I don’t have any illusions about the moral status of granting privileges to my minority group based on class and the potential of partial equality to function as a privilege instead of a right. I don’t have any respect for people who want the gay members of their economic class to have equal rights as they conveniently ignore the inequality of other groups and within the larger lesbian and gay communities. I especially won’t let Ken Mehlman’s identity as a gay man blind me to his activities in the past or now. If Mehlman wants me to sympathize with him he will have to earn it by working hard to undo the damage to equality and rights that he has done as a member of the Republican establishment, he can’t do that while remaining a promoter of that bunch of thugs.