Back when I used to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog regularly, that is, before 2/24/04, the transformative date in his political life, I appreciated that he was able to praise as well as criticize President Bush. (I did not read him much prior to 2003 when I understand he was often a gusher of admiration for the president he now reviles.) He hailed the president for his leadership in the War on Terror, yet at the same time, took him to task for having difficulty firing officials who were derelict in their duties. (I am grateful to Andrew for drawing my attention to this flaw of the president — which I might not have noticed had I not read his blog.)
Before 2/24, Andrew showed that one could support a leader even while disagreeing with some of his policies. What makes his transformation which James Taranto calls “one of the oddest, and saddest, stories on the World Wide Web over the past few years,” particularly sad to gay conservatives is not only that he had been the first prominent openly gay, conservative pundit, but that he had also been a kind of role model, even a “poster boy,” for us. He wrote well, indeed still writes well, spoke well and made solid arguments. He could not easily be pigeonholed.
Many conservatives looked up to him and saw a smart gay man who did not let his sexuality define his politics. In many cases, it allowed them to see gay people in a different light, no longer as individuals who change their politics as soon as they come to terms with a sexual orientation which differentiates us from the social norm, but as complex individuals who make political decisions pretty much as everyone else does, by balancing a number of concerns.
Thus, when the blogger who once held a nuanced view of President Bush shifted so completely when the president, on February 24, 2004, announced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment (which, like Andrew, I also oppose) Andrew, as the most prominent gay conservative, made it seem, for a moment, that, unlike most people, gay conservatives would let one issue so completely change their view of a man they had once praised.
With that as introduction, perhaps you can see how Andrew came to mind as I finished up my post yesterday on Tom Coburn. (And even before Bruce posted his piece about being fit, like Andrew, with a CPAP mask to help him breathe better at night!) If we were to judge the Oklahoma Republican, as Andrew has judged President Bush, letting his view on one gay issue, cause us to change our political views altogether, we would fail to appreciate those aspects of the politician we would otherwise have admired. As I noted in the post, Coburn has taken the lead in opposing earmarks and in standing up for fiscal restraint — to the great delight of many of my favorite conservative bloggers and pundits.
We should not let the rather bizarre comments this freshman Senator has made about gay men and lesbians in the past color our overall view of the man. It’s not always easy supporting someone who has said some of the things that he has. Nor is it always easy for us to support a president who backs a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We should of course take them to task for these statements and policies.
That said, Senator Coburn has not proposed any legislation which would prevent us from living freely and openly as gay men and lesbians. By the same token, while President Bush opposes gay marriage, he has said he favors letting states decide whether to recognize same-sex civil unions while inviting the Vice President’s daughter together with her female partner on stage when he declared victory in the fall of 2004. I say this to indicate that I do not give a politician a blank check on gay issues. Were a politician to support incarceration of gays, mandatory “conversion therapy,” or otherwise limit our freedom, I would of course oppose him no matter how much I agreed with him on other issues.
Overall, both Senator Coburn and President Bush have compiled a strong record on issues of concern to Reagan Republicans. Senator Coburn has risked the wrath of his more senior colleagues by standing up against spendthrift practices which have grown out of control. The president had shown leadership in the War on Terror and has been steadfast in his prosecution of the war in Iraq despite setbacks there and dissension at home.
Andrew Sullivan’s example notwithstanding, most gay conservatives are aware that while some of the men we admire don’t always have the views on gay issues we would like them to have, they have nonetheless shown leadership on other issues. Serious gay conservatives don’t let our disagreements with leaders on gay issues get in the way of our admiration of them on others.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com