Sunday, July 27, 2003
by Wayne Besen
For many years, Rep. Mark Foley, F-Fla., and his chief of staff Kirk Fordham made up a “dynamic duo of denial”. Foley would revel in his active gay social life and Fordham would keep frothing activist and media hounds at bay.
This dog and phony show was supposed to end last week after protective watch-poodle Fordham scheduled an emergency press conference to discuss published and percolating rumors about Congressman Closet’s sexuality.
“Yep, I’m Gay” was clearly the headline people expected to see in the morning’s newspaper. Shockingly, the opposite happened with Foley holding a bizarre press conference to announce he would remain in the closet. Who throws a “staying in” press conference?
''Elected officials, even those who run for the United States Senate, must have some level of privacy,'' Foley said at his press conference. “My mother and father raised me and the rest of my family to believe that there are certain things we shouldn't discuss in public.” Foley went on to call the reports of his sexuality “revolting and unforgivable.”
Foley, who is now a U.S. Senate candidate in Florida, will remember this press conference as his political funeral. It was a craven miscalculation that infuriated gay activists who were disgusted by Foley’s self-loathing. He alienated religious conservatives who will never support and openly gay Senator. And Foley also showed swing voters that he is a remarkably cynical politician who stands for nothing other than advancing his own career.
Foley is now an exiled politician with no core constituency – unless you count closeted Republicans, which incidentally, is no small group. In a statewide race, however, who is going to serve as Foley’s foot soldiers? I doubt Florida’s Christian Coalition is going to mobilize volunteers to elect Congressman Closet.
Foley’s 1950’s-style denial made homosexuality seem like a shameful, dirty secret that shouldn’t be discussed among polite Republican company. He set back the clock and offered a destructive message for gay youth - the subtext being that job success depends on secrecy.
Foley, for his part, seems to wish the issue would just go away so he could propel his career and talk about “real issues”. What Foley doesn’t seem to understand is that gay civil rights and privacy rights are not tangential, but very real issues that are at the top of the nation’s political agenda. The Supreme Court will soon unveil its decision on the constitutionality of sodomy laws.
And Sen. Rick “Sanctimonious” Santorum, R-Penn., caused a recent furor when he suggested that there is no right to privacy for Americans, particularly those who are gay.
It is interesting that Foley is such an adamant “privacy” rights advocate when it comes to his own personal privacy, yet he was virtually silent regarding Sen. Santorum’s dangerous comments. This disconnect proves that until Foley comes out he would make an ineffective Senator who would self-censor and avoid key political debates to protect his closet.
But Foley will ultimately fail because he has been exposed as a political opportunist who lacks integrity and who will be unable to inspire voters. While John F. Kennedy will be remembered for saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” Foley will be remembered for saying, “Don’t Ask.” This is hardly a stirring message and it will turn off swing voters who want politicians who are honest and sincere.
Ironically, Foley smeared Democrats by accusing them of a smear campaign that was entirely imaginary. But despite Foley’s transparent partisan tactics, it is becoming clear that right wing Republicans will ultimately lower the guillotine on Foley’s withering political career.
According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Republican state committeeman for Palm Beach County, John Parsons, recently sent an e-mail raising questions about Foley's sexual orientation to the 24 members of the state House of Representatives who are on Foley's Senate campaign steering committee. Following Foley’s strange press conference Parsons remained unimpressed by Foley’s denials.
"By dodging the question, it makes him appear to be a homosexual to me," Parsons told the Sentinel.
The best political advice I can give Foley is to watch the reality show “Extreme Makeover”. Because once Foley loses his party’s Senate primary after a sustained Republican whisper campaign, he will have to make a tough choice. He can remake himself into a moderate Democrat and apologize for voting in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, a federal law that bans gay marriage.
Or he can pursue his second option, which is staying in a virulently homophobic party that rejects him and offers him no political future. For such a slippery, protean politician I believe the choice will be simple. Foley will do what is best for Mark Foley’s career and eventually switch parties.
Foley is not a man to pity such as the confused and tortured Michael Huffington. He is simply a vain, calculating, solipsistic politician who stands for nothing but his own résumé. He has betrayed the GLBT community, deceived the right wing and offered nothing substantive or enduring to public service. Florida and America deserve more than having Congressman Closet become Senator Secret.
I hope Foley chooses to redeem himself after his political career collapses, but he will have a lot of work to do.
Friday, July 18, 2003
by Wayne Besen
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean's surprising online fundraising prowess has catapulted him to the front of the Democratic pack to take on George W. Bush. Much of the Dean mania comes from his passionate GLBT supporters. Unfortunately, jumping on Dean's deeply flawed bandwagon may be a catastrophic mistake that will cost the GLBT community. Howard Dean is not a miracle, but a mirage - albeit not for the reason most often cited.
The most frequent rationale for calling Dean toast against Bush is Dean's perceived ultra-liberalism. He is sometimes unfairly compared to the failed presidential nominee George McGovern who lost 49 states. The reality, however, is that Dean's record as Vermont's governor is not so liberal. He is a buddy of the NRA, he cut taxes, and even reformed welfare. And Dean's anti-war stance seems less of a liability, as body bags filled with American soldiers become regular fare on the evening news.
No, the problem with Dean is not policy, but personality. Dean seems unable to control his emotions or his mouth on the campaign trail or in presidential primary debates. His defenders say this so-called outspokenness is refreshing. But the truth is, it is more alarming than charming.
At times, Dean seems to suffer from logorrhea - which is defined as the inability to shut up. He has had to offer apologies at least five times in recent months for either reckless statements or for insulting fellow democratic presidential nominees.
"Howard's a pop-off," Garrison Nelson, a University of Vermont political science professor, recently told the Boston Globe. "Howard pops off when he gets challenged. At some point you run out of apologies."
Surely, it is admirable on occasion for a politician to admit he or she is wrong. Dean's handlers are spinning these missteps by saying he is not "programmed" and that he is speaking his mind. But if speaking his mind consists of frequent, habitually mindless statements, what does this say about the candidate? If Dean spastically goes nuclear against Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., in a primary, how will he handle dangerous nuclear non-proliferation talks with North Korea's Kim Jong Il?
Anyone who thinks that Howard Dean is ready for prime time, I've got three words: "Meet The Press". A few weeks ago, Dean was destroyed on the NBC Sunday morning show. While it is no shame to be tripped up by hard-hitting host Tim Russert, Dean's act was considered by many observers to be perhaps the worst performance in the history of the show. The "straight talking" Dean stumbled on a number of issues (military, social security, the death penalty) that made him seem like he wasn't even ready for another run for office in Vermont - no less the presidency.
At one point Russert called him on his bomb throwing reputation by asking him which democratic candidates he was referring too when he said some of them needed a "backbone transplant". Dean would not answer and dissembled as if he were Bill Clinton discussing sex or Bush talking about vanishing weapons of mass destruction.
Dean has received support from the GLBT community because he has been linked to the passage of a civil unions bill in Vermont, which gives same-sex couples many of the same rights and benefits offered married couples. But in reality, civil unions were not Dean's idea. The Vermont Supreme Court mandated that same-sex couples be given equal treatment. Dean simply did the bare minimum to fulfill this requirement - with the maximum being full-fledged marriage, which Dean opposes. His stand on civil unions isn't particularly brave or revolutionary coming from a Vermont Democrat.
Dean's public interest in civil unions probably comes as much from necessity as from true conviction. The civil unions bill was one of the rare opportunities that a governor from Vermont could make national news. It also opened the vault early to a national network of wealthy GLBT donors that could help ignite his long shot campaign. What other national issue could a Vermont governor campaign on - the introduction of a new flavor from Ben & Jerrys?
Don't get me wrong. Dean is a strong supporter of GLBT equality; he has admirably campaigned in gay bars and has spoken more than any other candidate about gay rights in front of straight audiences. But the other Democratic candidates are also good on GLBT equality and deserve a serious look. Dean doesn't particularly stand out on our issues and when you factor in his character deficiencies, he comes up short
More than most people, GLBT Democrats want to defeat George W. Bush. We are outraged that Bush stole the election in Florida. We are crushed that the GOP increased their advantage in the House and gained control of the Senate.
An unfortunate turn of such epic political fortunes has brought an air of political desperation for GLBT Democrats - including myself. Like a punch drunk fighter on the verge being knocked out, we are understandably groping incoherently for a savior to rescue us.
Sadly, I'm afraid this political disorientation is affecting the judgment and ability of some people in our community to accurately appraise Howard Dean. They are seeing a hero where they should see a hapless politician who has ineptly bungled his way through the campaign trail.
Dean is a politician with poor people skills who can sometimes come across as elitist, arrogant and temperamental. His "know-it-all" attitude is increasingly alienating the press and fellow Democratic opponents. He is making enemies where he should be making friends and I don't see how he can appeal to middle America.
The question Dean must answer is whether his early missteps come from inexperience or an inherent character flaw. I sincerely hope that Dean can learn from the past and start behaving presidential. His good qualities are many and he appears tougher and more persistent than many Democrats.
But GLBT Democrats must honestly look at Dean for who he is today and not project onto him an image they desperately want him to be. Any honest appraisal will show that Dean so far is a gaffe prone politician who has shown a penchant for self-destructive comments that may ultimately prove his demise. While his fans compare his shoot at the hip style to Arizona Sen. John McCain, he has so far exhibited more in common with foot in the mouth Dan Quayle. GLBT Democrats should get real and look at the man, not the myth before getting suckered by the seductive Dean Delusion.