New York times op-ed editor Tobin Harshaw had an extremely irritating piece in today’s New York Times, where Ken Mehlman was portrayed as a victim of harsh, unforgiving LGBT bloggers. According to the op-ed:
Until this week,Mehlman was mostly known for being the wonkish young man who managed George. W. Bush’s re-election campaign and then ran the Republican National Committee. Now, he’s mostly known for what he shared with The Atlantic’s Mark Aminder: “Ken Mehlman, President Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay.”
Well, it’d be tough enough for most of us to have that conversation with Mom and Dad — imagine it with Karl Rove.
Maybe Harshaw hadn’t noticed, but Karl Rove is not Mehlman’s father. He was Mehlman’s boss — and one that made his political reputation through dirty tricks, particularly gay baiting opponents. In other words, Mehlman carefully and willfully chose his dubious career and association with this known, political gay bashing Republican hack. Mehlman was an adult at this time, so he knew exactly what he was doing when he teamed up with Rove. Together, these cynical men chose power, fame, and riches by exploiting the prejudices of social conservatives, at the expense of LGBT people, particualrly youth, some of whom surely blew out their brains after they were rejected by their churches and families.
Instead of focusing on the damage created by Mehalman and his power-hungry cohorts, Harshaw demonizes bloggers who want to hold the former RNC chairman accountable, as mean and unreasonable. After upholding apologists, such as Gay Patriot B. Daniel Blatt, as voices of moderation, the author concludes that, “given the commentary of the last two days, that [forgiveness by liberals] doesn’t seem to likely.”
Harshaw is just flat out wrong.
As I wrote on this site and The Huffington Post, LGBT people will forgive Mehlman, if only for the sake of pragmatically bringing out other Closet Ken’s. We need conservatives on our side — such as Ted Olson and Laura Bush — to win this culture war. However, we will not be treated like tools by writers like Harshaw, who demand we have amnesia about Mehlman’s ignoble history. We will also not have our intelligence insulted by pundits who want to infantilize Mehlman, by pretending that he was not able to “figure things out” until his mid-40′s.
Mehlman did not just realize he was gay — in the same way he might suddenly discover he likes pistachio ice cream. It doesn’t work that way.
So, highly paid spin doctors or media outlets who sell their souls for access should stop dutifully regurgitating this lie. Unless there was something physically wrong with Mehlman’s equipment — and there has been no indication their was — he knew he was gay for decades. This is a very sophisticated, politically powerful individual. Unlike former Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Mehlman grew up in a time where there were gay role models, LGBT people were represented in the media and there were countless activist groups. An astute individual possessing his high level of intelligence, knew exactly who he was and what he was doing. Mehlman was aware of the gay rights movement. He had likely had sex or romantic relationships with men. He had certainly heard of Ellen, Rosie and Will and Grace.
Yet, while millions of gay people chose to live with integrity and self-respect, Mehlman chose to profit from the virulent vestiges of anti-gay animus that remain a force in the hinterlands. He teamed up with Rove to win infulence, power and riches at the expense of his own people.
What Mehlman did was detestable. His behavior was despicable. His decisions were damnable.
While countless people — including terrified teens — made the right choices, he made the wrong ones. As a result, anti-gay laws were written into state constitutions, helpless teenagers were thrown onto the mean streets, some LGBT people were cruelly written out of wills, partners from different countries could not be together, brave veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were drummed out of the military, and long-term partners had their hearts broken because they could not visit each other in the hospital because they were not married.
Yet Harshaw breezily dismisses this reprehensible record and paints those — such as Pam Spaulding and Joe Jervis — who have embraced an honest version of history, as the “bad guys.” This is incredibly insulting and outrageous.
As I stated in The Huffington Post, Mehlman has three steps to take before he is warmly welcomed:
1) Repent for past sins (Hasn’t happened yet)
2) Be honest with the LGBT community (Hasn’t happened yet)
3) Work tirelessly to undo the damage and propel the LGBT movement towards equality (There has been a pledge to help. Good.)
What could Mehlman say to begin this process and satisfy critics? How about something like this:
“I was wrong and I am truly sorry for harming my own community — and by extension myself. The Republican Party had decided to exploit fears about marriage equality and the lives of LGBT people as a wedge issue to win elections. I could have spoken out against this strategy and demanded an end to the anti-gay rhetoric and actions of my Party. And, had they not heeded my advice, I should have resigned. Unfortunately, the desire to win at all costs — and enjoy the spoils of victory — seduced me into making poor, self-serving decisions. I acted in a way that was greedy and cowardly for personal gain. While I cannot take back the past, I can spend the rest of my life trying to make brave decisions to undo some of the damage that I am responsible for. Please find it in your heart to try to forgive me and offer me the opportunity to contribute to the LGBT movement and end discrimination for future generations.”
A little bit of contrition would go a long way. Mehlman will find that people will move on – but one can’t truly be forgiven and embraced, unless they first offer a sincere apology.