I’ve got this thing about hypocrites and opportunists: I cannot stand them or their unrestrained inclinations.
Arizona’s latest self-disembowelment over gay people, and the chorus of voices that urged the state to come to its senses, reminded me of four people who used sexual politics to succeed professionally before they changed minds.
The first is Mark McKinnon, who, in the 70s and 80s was the kind of progressive liberal who would’ve given Karl Rove a wedgie if he’d had the chance. McKinnon became a Republican when he saw his opportunity to jump on the Bush train and take off for the big show at the White House. He has long insisted it was nothing more than the fact that he got older and his politics changed. They didn’t; they were simply overwhelmed by his ambition.
“I’m not really a Republican,” he once told me. “I’m a Bush guy.”
Ah yes, that whole compassionate conservatism thing, which the great Molly Ivins said was beautifully expressed when the state of Texas asked “if you wanted green or red Jello to eat just before they stuck the needle in your arm.”
McKinnon became W’s media guy, too. When Karl Rove decided the best way to make sure the president got elected and then re-elected was to animate fundamentalists and conservatives by telling them the law could protect traditional marriage, McKinnon got onboard and developed the ads and earned media strategies for the Defense of Marriage Act. In 2004 Ohio, gay marriage was to be banned under a referendum known as Proposition One.
The homophobic posturing of Bush and Rove and McKinnon turned out voters. I remember being in an historically black church in Columbus, Ohio on the Sunday morning before the 2004 presidential election. The pastor’s last words to his congregation were a clear indication that the anti-gay thematics for Bush and McKinnon and Rove were working with traditional non-Republican voters.
“Remember on Tuesday,” he practically shouted. “Don’t you dare vote against god.”
I am, therefore, mildly amused that McKinnon, constantly seeking penance with the left that he left for W, is the Texas co-chair of a new group called Freedom to Marry. The man who helped Bush get elected by demonizing the dangers gay people presented for marriage is going to work with Rep. Joaquin Castro, the San Antonio Democrat, to raise $1 million to help legalize gay marriage.
McKinnon issued a statement to his fellow Republicans whom he had once very effectively convinced that gay marriage was a scary, scary thing that would destroy heterosexual marriage if George W. wasn’t elected.
“As a conservative,” he wrote, “I don’t believe you or I or the government can tell people who they can marry. Freedom means freedom for everyone, not just for some. That’s why I’m a southerner for the freedom to marry.”
The other reason is that McKinnon is, regardless of public protestations to the contrary, a progressive liberal who has been conflicted since he got on the presidential money train. This is also why I find people like him so infuriating. It was okay to be against gay marriage as he was riding his way to the White House and lucrative business connections to advance his career.
But now it’s not such a good thing.
I suppose it’s best to be forgiving and acknowledge that people evolve. But I knew Mark McKinnon after years of working around him in the Texas capitol and election campaigns and there was nothing about him that would’ve suggested he gave a damn about the sexual orientation or personal lives of other people. It only mattered to him for the same reason it mattered to Bush: to win the election. It’s okay to mess with lives for a political purpose when you benefit but if there’s no upside for you any more then it’s time to go ahead and do the right thing.
In fact, even President Bush didn’t care about gay marriage on a personal level. I asked him about it during a conversation on the running trail in Austin one fine spring day and his response indicated much about his character.
“It’s just politics, Jimmy,” he said. (Only my mother got to call me Jimmy.)
Bush, basically, had admitted he was craven and was just pushing a position that would get him elected, which is the same thing that was occurring with McKinnon.
The two other prime movers in the anti-gay marriage movement of the Bush administration were Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee. Rove’s father, who came home on Christmas Eve the day before his son turned 18, (Yeah, get that in your head, Rove was born on Christmas Day), announced he was leaving the family and moving to Los Angeles. Whether Rove knew it then or not, the man who had raised him from age one was gay. Louis Rove retired as an oil field geologist and settled in Palm Springs. His son visited him often and accepted his father but even as Louis Rove was dying of diseases associated with cigarette addiction, his son was pushing an anti-gay platform for the Republicans and George W. Bush.
The most self-loathing of all the Bush anti-gay guys was Ken Mehlman. He traveled the country touting a policy that could have ruined his own life had he fallen in love and wanted to be married. Mehlman pushed very hard on Proposition One in Ohio and spoke to many groups during the campaign. During a speech in Columbus, a gay reporter, who had been researching Mehlman, asked him if he were gay.
“You’ve asked a question no one should have to answer,” Mehlman said. And then he walked off.
Fundamentally, he is correct, but when you are promoting laws that discriminate against people because of how they were born, then you need to be careful to avoid contradictions in your own behavior. But Mehlman kept his mouth shut as he climbed the political ladder that connected to power and the corporate boardroom and large salaries and relationships.
There was cash in that closet where he was hiding.
Mehlman has since apologized for his role in pushing the anti-gay marriage laws that helped propel him and Bush into their sunny places in life. And we’ll never know how many young people, struggling with their sexuality, felt an increased level of oppression and fear because of the political rhetoric against equal treatment of gays.
We can assume, though, we are not as far along as we would be in the effort to provide equality if Mehlman, Rove, Bush, and McKinnon were as interested in their country as they were their own craven self interests and ambitions for power and money. Instead, they’ve left behind a culture that empowers people like Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman who is drafting legislation to ban gays from the National Football League, or the legislators in Arizona who approved a law that would’ve given businesses a right to refuse service to gay people.
Forgive them if you wish. I cannot. They are hypocritical asses who have hurt untold people for their personal benefits.
And they don’t deserve our forgiveness.