For as long as I have been a Republican, I have heard critics of the GOP tell me what my party is all about. I’ve heard that we’re a bunch of money-grubbing selfish businessmen, that we’re white Christians who hate Jews, that we don’t welcome blacks and on and on. And on. You’ve heard the criticisms. You’re familiar with the insults. You’re aware of the name-calling. Now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee has joined the fray, telling everyone what Republicans are.
On Monday, Hillary’s rhetorical mentor, Howard Dean claimed that most members of my party are “not very friendly to different kinds of people, they are a pretty monolithic party ? it’s pretty much a white, Christian party.” And yet so many who describe the GOP in such terms, it doesn’t seem Mr. Dean has spend much time among Republicans. Indeed, his latest broadside reflects not on the reality of my party, but rather appeals to the narrow prejudices of certain members of his own party.
Very often when I come out as a Republican, some express shock that I, who am fluent in three languages, read widely, and have a variety of intellectual and artistic interests, could identify with a party of troglodytes (or other such demeaning terms). These people insist they know what Republican are all about. We’re not people who read books and talk about ideas. We’re just supposed to self-righteous, greedy bigots.
But, like Mr. Dean, few of these people so firm in their convictions of what defines a Republican, have ever attended a Republican meeting — or taken the time to get to know real Republicans, to ask us what drives us, to learn of our interests and to understand our political views. Too many seem unwilling to challenge their own prejudiced views of the GOP, its members and supporters. Not familiar with Republicans themselves, they define us not as we are, but as they want us to be.
Back when I lived in Virginia, I was active in the Arlington County Republican Committee. The first time I volunteered for a campaign with the committee (in 1990), I worked with an African-American distributing campaign literature throughout the county. I have since volunteered with Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, fellow Jews as well as individuals of other ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Republican Party that I know is as diverse as America itself.
And while some may think all Republicans embrace the Christian Right, I have encountered Republicans with a great variety of views on social conservatives, from those who would ban them from the party to those who accept them begrudgingly in the party to those who welcome them because they appreciate their energy and commitment to the party. I have even volunteered a few times with social conservatives themselves. In short, the attitudes of Republicans toward social conservatives are as diverse as the backgrounds of members of the GOP.
When I came out as a gay man to my fellow Republicans in Northern Virginia, I found my welcome no less warm. The only thing that changed was that they stopped telling me about the single Jewish Republican women they knew.
In 1999, I headed the Log Cabin effort to help Republican Mike Lane win a special election to the Arlington County Board. At his victory celebration, Mike invited me, as the leader of this group of gay Republicans, to join him on stage with other campaign and party leaders.
For as long as I have been “out” as a gay Republican, I have heard similar stories from other gay Republicans. Even when they identify themselves as gay, most continue to find themselves welcome in the GOP. The New York Times reports today that the Empire State GOP “rebuffed” a Republican State Senator who “was trying to block gay Republicans from obtaining greater power within the state party organization.”
Yes, there are a handful who would include us from the GOP, but increasingly party leaders, like those in New York, stand up to those who would exclude gay Republicans and welcome us into the party. We may not agree with our party on all issues, but that’s politics. We join the party whose general philosophy we share — or with whom we agree on the most issues.
Just as the GOP increasingly welcomes gay Republicans, it continues to include Republicans of a great variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Even in comments to this blog, we see attitudes toward Republican based more on the prejudices of the writers than in the reality of the GOP. And now we have the chairman of the DNC talking about the membership of a party about which he knows little. The Republican Party is as diverse as America itself. It’s time for Howard Dean–and other Democrats–to recognize the party as it is–and to engage its leaders, elected officials and supporters in an exchange of ideas and a debate on the future of our great nation.
To have that debate, Mr. Dean–and other Democratic–leaders need to stop calling Republicans names, stop defining us by their prejudices and to start taking our ideas–and us–at face value.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com