First off, I feel somewhat sad about Senator Larry Craig. If the rumors are true, then he has lived a side clandestine life, all to keep up appearances. Most gays and lesbians spend some part of their life in the closet, and it is never fun. Life is a hell of a lot better when you are out in the open.
A few days ago, my blogmates Michael van der Galiën and Pete Abel had a civil discussion about how the netroots are having a major affect on the Democratic Party. More and more, they are going after anyone that doesn't toe the progressive line. In my mind, it is not unlike what the religious right has done to the GOP; forcing people into ideological straight jackets (pardon the pun).
It's easy to look at people like Larry Craig and Mark Foley before him as hypocrites that deserve the treatment they are getting. But I tend to think that this might be more the sad result of what it means to "play to the base." When politicians are forced to adhere to positions that they themselves don't believe, they are forced to live double lives, forced to hide what they really think and be nothing more than a puppet.
Dale Carpenter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota , hit the nail on the head when he said:
What unites these cases is not really hypocrisy. It’s two other things. First, nearly all the gay Republicans working in Washington or elsewhere are to one degree or another closeted. Second, at a personal level, very few Republican officials around them care whether someone is gay.
From the top of the party to the bottom, few Republicans personally and viscerally dislike gay people. President Bush has had friends he knew were gay. So has Vice President Cheney. Even the most prominently and vigorously anti-gay Republican, Sen. Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum, had a gay spokesperson whom he defended when his homosexuality became known.
The big, open secret in Republican politics is that everyone knows someone gay these days and very few people – excepting some committed anti-gay activists – really care. It’s one of the things that drives religious conservatives crazy because it makes the party look like it’s not really committed to traditional sexual morality.
So to keep religious conservatives happy the party has done two things. First, it has steadfastly resisted efforts to ease anti-gay discrimination in public policy, even when Republican politicians know better. I can’t tell you how many Republican staffers told me, for example, that their bosses privately opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment but would be voting for it anyway.
Second, to keep the talent it needs and simply to be as humane and decent as politically possible toward particular individuals, the party has come up with its own unwritten common-law code: you can be gay and work here, we don’t care, but don’t talk about it openly and don’t do anything to make it known publicly in the sense that either the media or the party’s religious base might learn of it. It's the GOP's own internal version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
This uneasy mix of the public and the private is not exactly what I’d call hypocrisy. It’s perhaps better described as a form of ideological schizophrenia: private acceptance welded to public rejection. It’s a very unstable alloy.
The Left tends to think that all GOP politicians are bigots who hate gay people, but in reality, that's not totally true. Many of these politicians have friends and family that are gay. Many of them love their gay friends and family members. Vice President Dick Cheney truly loves his daughter Mary, who is a lesbian in a relationship. And yet, he has not said much when it comes to the effort to pass an amendment banning gay marriage. Not because he hates gay people, but because he is beholden to the religious right that really does hate gay people.
But if it is hard for straight, gay friendly Republicans to truly be who they are, then it is shear hell for the closeted gay Republican. Carpenter notes:
For the closeted gay Republican, this alloy means a life of desperation and fear and loneliness, of expressing one's true feelings only in the anonymity of the Internet, of furtive bathroom encounters, of late nights darting in and out of dark bars, hoping not to be seen. It means life without a long-term partner, without real love.
Worst of all, it may mean a life of deceiving a spouse and children. It’s hardly surprising that most of the men caught cruising in parks, bathrooms, and other public places are deeply closeted and often married. They don’t see themselves as having many other options.
Nevertheless, it seems to work until the day you get caught tapping your toe next to a cop. Desperation sets in and you say things that bring everyone much mirth at your expense, like, “I’m not gay, I just have a wide stance.”
Yes, Mark Foley's sleazy web chats with teenage boys was just chilling and Larry Craig's "wide stance" was just pathetic, but in the end this is what happens. A gay GOP politician can't say he is a proud gay man because that means some hateful preacher out there will conduct some slime campaign against him. So, he (or she) has to live out their existence in this poor way.
Carpenter closes his post by saying that if the GOP doesn't want to see anymore scandals like this, then it has to match it's private belief with it's public stance. Of course, with the power that the Religious Right still has on the party, that might be a long time coming.
But maybe all it takes is for one politician or staffer to say they have had enough. Maybe one day, there will be a senator or governor that will just say they are gay and be done with it. Maybe it will be some straight politician that will say they are tired of hearing their gay son or daughter is a sinner bound for hell.
I don't know. I do believe that at some point, some prominent person in the party is going to say "enough." And that voice will be joined by another and another until the religious right no longer has the power to threaten.
As a gay Republican who is out and proud, it's what I hope for.
After all, you have to have your dreams.