Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman announced this week that he was gay. ”œIt’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” he said to reporter Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic
Mehlman makes it sound like he has engaged in a titanic internal struggle to understand and face up to his sexuality, and that recently, in his fifth decade, he has finally accepted the liberating truth that he prefers to sleep with men. Congratulations are coming in all around, from other former officials in the Bush Administration who admire Ken Mehlman’s ”œhonesty”, to gay activists enthused that there is at least one closeted Republican who hasn’t fondled little boys.
Ken Mehlman is a man who took his boyfriend to the 2004 Bush Inaugural. How confused could he have been about his sexuality six years ago when he was so open about it on the Washington cocktail party circuit? Which high Republican officials in the Bush Administration or Congress could possibly have doubted that the head of the 2004 Bush reelection campaign was gay?
In this very same campaign that Ken Mehlman ran, anti-gay venom and anti-gay initiatives were at the core of the Republican strategy to bring out the evangelical vote. Ken Mehlman, along with Karl Rove and George Bush, sponsored in state after state legislation that outlawed gay marriage. A tactic that was especially popular was to put on the ballot an amendment to the state constitution that would forbid marriage to anyone other than a man and a woman.
The tactic worked. Not only did Bush’s culture warriors flock to the polls to provide him a second term – to this day states that would otherwise not have considered the matter now forbid gay marriage. Ken Mehlman says that lately he has been ”œsecretly” working to defeat California’s Proposition 8 that forbids gays to marry, as this will somehow atone for the instrumental role he played in denying equality to millions of Americans.
When Ken Mehlman left the Bush Administration, he took an extremely lucrative job as an executive vice president at the leveraged buyout firm KKR. Mehlman has an apartment in Manhattan worth $3.7, and no doubt has become seriously rich after spending eight years working for peanuts as a public servant, sacrificing personal gain for the public good.
It’s just too bad that part of the public wasn’t well served at all by Ken Mehlman’s devoted public service. Part of the public was vilified and exposed to hate crimes so that Republicans could get elected. Part of the public was not allowed to be with their loved ones when they were dying in a hospital because the two of them weren’t legally married. Part of the public had to hide who they were when serving in the military, and part of the public has gone to their deaths in Iraq or Afghanistan, making the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, while their nation’s leaders denounced them as sub-human.
Do not believe for one minute that Ken Mehlman has spent years in internal torment, wondering whether he was gay or not. He’s known all along. The torment he has gone through has been of a different kind: when is it convenient for a hypocrite who has instigated homophobia as federal government policy, and who has profited handsomely off homophobia, to admit he is a homo himself?
Ken Mehlman’s coming out ceremony is a matter of convenience for himself only. It shouldn’t be celebrated as an example of personal honesty, and the forgiveness Mehlman seeks cannot be given to him by a merciful public. Only those who have been on the receiving end of Mehlman’s self-loathing and hypocrisy are entitled to grant him any absolution, and it will probably be a long, long time before the majority of gays in this country are willing to welcome Ken Mehlman as someone who can stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have spent their lives fighting for equal rights.
If Ken Mehlman wants to use his fame, his rolodex, and his skill at raising money to help the gay marriage cause in the US, fine. Let the gay community exploit him for a good cause, the way he exploited them for malevolent purposes. Just don’t pat him on the back, congratulating him on the courage he has displayed in coming out publicly. Courage has nothing to do with a decision that seems terribly convenient now that public opinion on gays and gay marriage has changed to such a degree that the Republicans can no longer profit from homophobia.