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Tom Malin, Media Culture & Redemption

After a pretty intense three weeks of blogging, I found myself slowing down a bit this week. It seems I’ve been more in a thinking than a writing mood, some thoughts for future posts, others related to ideas for my dissertation (ideas which I have finally been putting down on paper) and yet others for screenplays and this fantasy epic that has been kicking around in my head.

And some stories in the news (and on this blog) have given me pause.

As I follow the news about vile terrorists blowing up a shrine sacred to one sect of Islam, I see some similarity between the sectarian violence those terrorists hope to foment and that which took place Great Britain for the better part of two centuries (the 16th and 17th).

When I read that Senate Majority Bill Frist has scheduled a vote on the “Marriage Protection Amendment” for June 5, 2006 (as part of his already-doomed bid for the White House in 2008), I wonder if advocates of gay marriage would use this an occasion to have a serious debate on the topic or return to the juvenile rhetoric which has dominated the debate in the past. (The initial signs are not good.) But, there’s more than three months until the vote.

Let us hope that gay leaders come to their senses and make arguments for gay marriage like Jonathan Rauch (especially in the chapter “What is Marriage for” in his book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America) and Dale Carpenter (in his columns) have made. Instead of having angry adolescents, ever eager to repeat mantras from Poli Sci 101, dominate the debate, it would be nice if such grownups would lead the way, encouraging all gay marriage advocates to engage their opponents with serious arguments rather than ideological attacks. (Yes, I have been accused of being a “cockeyed optimist.”)

One subject which has occupied my attention has been the case of Tom Malin, not so much because I particularly care whether or not this man wins a seat in the Texas legislature but because of what his case says about gay culture and American politics today. First, it shows the hypocrisy of many gay left bloggers, eager to expose the hustling past of a Republican journalist, yet indifferent to a Democratic candidate’s similar past. (And it seems those very bloggers believe “hypocrisy is quite possibly the greatest crime one can ever possibly commit.“)

Then, there’s the political angle. Malin should have known that, in this era of tabloid journalism, that many in the media believe a public figure’s private life, even if in the past, is not his own. Although he has changed his behavior, he should have been prepared for this to come out. (Just as in 2000, then-Texas Governor Bush should have realized that even though he had long since stopped drinking, Democrats and the media would be eager to exploit a near quarter-century old drunk driving arrest.) So, Bruce was right to update my post with his question of how Malin could imagine he “could run for public office without the past being disclosed.”

That said, his past is his past. The third issue this story raises is thus redemption, an individual’s ability to turn from past mistakes and improve his life. Jewish law teaches us that if someone does Teshuvah or repentance (the word itself literally means “return”), by forsaking his sin and not doing it again, it cannot be held against him.

It’s not just Jews who believe in redemption. Our culture has countless stories of redeemed prostitutes. Mary Magdalene’s repentance is central to the Christian tradition. We see this as well in movies as diverse as Stagecoach and Pretty Woman. (I’m sure the movie-loving readers of this blog will remind me of other such films.) I even have such a character in a play I sketched out.

Tom Malin showed terrible judgment in not being prepared for his past to come out in this era of tabloid journalism. That perhaps says more about his fitness to serve that anything else I have read. Well, that is, unless it’s true that he lied about his past as the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas have claimed.

To me, the Tom Malin case is fascinating because it says much about where we are as a culture in this media age. Some will exploit an individual’s past peccadilloes provided that individual is an ideological adversary, yet ignore another man’s sins if he is their ally. (Compare, for example, Barbara Boxer’s reaction to claims of sexual harassment leveled against Republican Clarence Thomas and Democrat Bill Clinton. To her the partisan affiliation of the accused matters more than the evidence of wrongdoing.) And we live in an era where too many in the media have no respect for the private life of public figures.

More important than showing the state of the media today, this story raises the fundamental issue of whether an individual can make a change and improve his life. It is a story as old as storytelling itself. From Achilles in the Iliad to the man who would become Henry V in Shakespeare’s plays to movies as diverse as Casablanca and About A Boy, our species has delighted in such tales of redemption.

If characters throughout history could transform their lives and accomplish great things so too can a gay Democrat in Texas. It’s too bad this man compromised his chances by ignoring the political reality of his age and by lying about his past.

Perhaps he will have learned from this experience. Because he still has time to change — and accomplish great things. As do we all.

-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com

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21 Comments

  1. I knew there was something that bothered me about the Malin story, and I think you’ve just articulated it – thank you. I think the gay community (such as it is) has to be particularly careful about rejecting the value of redemption and forgiveness, on a macro level in addition to the micro level that is demonstrated here. After all, is not the quest for marriage or military service after years of obnoxious “direct action” activism and pride parade excesses a demonstration of the gay rights movement growing up and trying to live responsibly? Nobody can say that collectively gays haven’t had a pretty ugly set of indiscretions – it is only because America encourages and accepts repentent “sinners” that we have hope of moving beyond judgment for those actions. As individuals we may not be responsible for that image, but really, what adult is entirely responsible for his actions as a kid? Just thinking out loud.

    Comment by Casey — February 26, 2006 @ 2:29 pm - February 26, 2006

  2. Well, it didn’t take Frisk long to hop back over to the Bush team over theport issue. Just good hard talkin’ too.

    Comment by hank — February 26, 2006 @ 3:46 pm - February 26, 2006

  3. I dunno Dan. Hypocrisy on the GayLeft? Gays not being true believers in redemption and protective of the opportunity for a man to repent and renew himself? I don’t see it that way.

    I think it’s more about Malin’s flawed electability because of a) lying about his past in the hope of ultimately fooling voters but immediately fooling a gay activist group for an endorsement; b) having a past which involves the felonious acts of prostitution; and c) trying to be a “gay candidate” and, through his chicanery, has exposed gays to further tsk-ing from mainstream Texans. Frankly, he let us down. Period. It’s not about the gay community’s inability to forgive, believe in God and the redemptive powers, or anything else.

    With respect, it’s not about the hypocrisy of the gay community or its untendered capacity to forgive and forget; for me, it’s all about Malin’s deception, how that deception led to a flawed endorsement, how the gay community seems to dismiss his prostituting past and his redemption with an equal caviler attitude, and the harm Malin has or may cause our community to appear responsible, diligent, and worthy of voters’ respect.

    Hypocrisy? Not giving a guy a chance at redemption? I sure don’t see it that way.

    And you know Dan, when a guy is truly putting the group’s benefit ahead of his own –as would be the case in which someone truly was repentant, found redemption, and took Christ as his Savoir—they’d withdraw from the race, return campaign contributions, acknowledge the error of their way, and ask for further forgiveness.

    Malin’s response: take out a webpage and fight.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — February 26, 2006 @ 5:28 pm - February 26, 2006

  4. I think Matt’s got it right. This isn’t another silly partisan battle. Malin’s political gaff gives people a reason for believing their worst fears of homosexuals. I don’t think the story has any more depth than that.

    Comment by James — February 26, 2006 @ 6:13 pm - February 26, 2006

  5. What do people really expect from Frist?
    Raymond B
    http://www.voteswagon.com

    Comment by Raymond B — February 26, 2006 @ 6:55 pm - February 26, 2006

  6. Instead of having angry adolescents, ever eager to repeat mantras from Poli Sci 101, dominate the debate, it would be nice if such grownups would lead the way, encouraging all gay marriage advocates to engage their opponents with serious arguments rather than ideological attacks.

    Except that if you rely on serious arguments in American politics, you generally lose.

    Comment by Tim Hulsey — February 27, 2006 @ 1:32 am - February 27, 2006

  7. If Americans liked articulate, well thought out arguments, instead of sophomoric rhetoric, would George W. Bush really be our president?

    Comment by Anonymous — February 27, 2006 @ 3:28 pm - February 27, 2006

  8. If Americans liked articulate, well thought out arguments, instead of sophomoric rhetoric, would George W. Bush really be our president?

    Over Kerry? Absolutely.

    Comment by rightwingprof — February 27, 2006 @ 4:22 pm - February 27, 2006

  9. The left wing bloggers may not care about the Malin story not because they are less offended by his actions being a Democrat but because they tend to operate on the east and west coast and it just does not effect them. Anyway, it is far less of a story then a non repentant hustler having access to the President of the United States.

    Comment by Michael - Arlington, VA — February 27, 2006 @ 4:38 pm - February 27, 2006

  10. Regardless of the left bloggers and how they dealt with this issue (I don’t read any gay left blogs, they bore me), if they didn’t go around comparing him to Jeff Gannon, I give them kudos.

    Comment by Carl — February 27, 2006 @ 8:41 pm - February 27, 2006

  11. Yes, I think that we should criticize homophobic officials without regard to their party affiliation.

    I also think Jonathan Rauch’s book – Gay Marriage, Why its Good – was an amazing piece of argumentation and very intellectual. It is a proud addition to the freedom-to-marry movement.

    Though might you consider that some of the more “louder” displays of activism might have their own value? Raising morale? Publically showing outrage in numbers (as opposed to letting these politicians think that “gay marriage” is just by a fringe bunch of dismissable deviants?

    By the way, I’m a straight ally. The advantage is that the government may be free to ignore gays, the numeric minority, but not a world of straights (even though we don’t yet have an overwhelming majority of straights on our side.

    I understand (as best I can right now) your desire for more sophisticated arguments by us advocates. Rauch’s book was a perfect example and I would love to read the columns of the other author you commended. I believe that for these arguments will appeal to those, like yourself, want more sophisticated and thought-depth.

    That being said, we should also consider the possibility (though I’m not saying I’ve got the proof) that some/many of those in power – senators, represntatives, President, those making the laws – have no ears for ANY argument supporting gay marriage. I’m suggesting they’re motivated by the power to do what they want. They seem to have it. White House and Congress (maybe even Supreme Court) seem to be controlled by the anti-gay government members and these folks are ACTIVELY working to take away gay civil rights, particularly marriage. Now, conceivably it’s possible that they are partially motivated
    by our “juvenile” arguments, but they seem pretty intent (Brownback, Santorum, Coburn, Frist, generally most Congress Republicans) on fighting for the ban on gay marriage. If they are so reasonable, such that they are waiting for reasonable arguments, then why are they jumping the gun to ban marriage? In our Constitution? Doesn’t it seem that these folks are deaf to ANYTHING we have to say?

    You probably have some more words on this, and I’ll admit I chose easy targets (homophobic Congress Republicans? Duh!!!!!!!) But I hear your call for more sophisticated arguments and I say, your right they will help, we should have them, but the powerful ones may not care.

    But they won’t be around forever. Perhaps the future belongs to reasonable people like you and me. :)

    Comment by Harry — February 28, 2006 @ 12:13 am - February 28, 2006

  12. I have always wondered why people think that Gannon (as Michael claims in #9) had access to the President of the United States. Yes, he attended several press conference, but so did countless other reporters. He doesn’t appear to have had any special access to the President nor to have gotten any closer to him than any other reporter, indeed, much further away that such left-wing gadflies as Helen Thomas.

    Given that we’ve learned how easy it is to get White House press credentials, I simply don’t see where the story is. Unless of course, you wish to make “scandalous ‘gate’ out of every murky act.”

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — February 28, 2006 @ 3:54 am - February 28, 2006

  13. I have always wondered why people think that Gannon (as Michael claims in #9) had access to the President of the United States. Yes, he attended several press conference, but so did countless other reporters. He doesn’t appear to have had any special access to the President nor to have gotten any closer to him than any other reporter, indeed, much further away that such left-wing gadflies as Helen Thomas.

    Given that we’ve learned how easy it is to get White House press credentials, I simply don’t see where the story is. Unless of course, you wish to make “scandalous ‘gate’ out of every murky act.”

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — February 28, 2006 @ 3:54 am – February 28, 2006

    WHY? You wonder? The reason this KEEPS coming up is that Mr Gannon/Guckert was at the WH over 200 times, and not always with the correct admission papers/credentials to enter or leave???? Even Leslie Stauhl was quoted as saying even a seasoned/popular reporter as she is STILL scrutinized when obtaining documents/credentials for WH breifings/mettings etc……it’s just ALL TO FISHY TO LET “SLIDE” – If it was Clinton – the Repubs would NEVER let it go…..and YOU KNOW IT!

    Comment by JRC — February 28, 2006 @ 9:57 am - February 28, 2006

  14. That’s just it Dan, there is no more story. The Gannon story happened and it is over. The real scandal was not nearly as exciting as the possible scandal. No “little black book” was ever found. It had more significance at the time then the Malin story today because of its potential implications. The titillation was about whether he could become the Washington “Hiedi Fleiss.” The more access to the players means more opportunity for scandal.

    Comment by Michael - Arlington, VA — February 28, 2006 @ 12:43 pm - February 28, 2006

  15. If they are so reasonable, such that they are waiting for reasonable arguments, then why are they jumping the gun to ban marriage? In our Constitution? Doesn’t it seem that these folks are deaf to ANYTHING we have to say?

    Because, Harry, they realize something; gay groups and gays don’t care if you support stripping gays of rights by constitutional amendment as long as you’re a Democrat and/or an abortion supporter.

    When gay groups go around calling people who openly advocate constitutionally stripping gays of rights “pro-gay” and “gay-supportive”, plus shovel them millions of dollars and endorsements, these people you talk about are getting the message, as are voters; gay rights are nothing more than a smokescreen for political opposition and have nothing to to do with actual rights or privileges.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — February 28, 2006 @ 12:54 pm - February 28, 2006

  16. Just an aside, but your reference to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute is mistaken. Pope Gregory I mistakenly labeled her a whore in the 6th Century and the label has unfortunately stuck. The Catholic Church formally corrected the error in 1969. There is no biblical support for the claim.

    Comment by Chris — February 28, 2006 @ 2:33 pm - February 28, 2006

  17. The greater hypocrisy involves gay men who have no moral objection to adult entertainment as a part of gay nightlife–a sizable number of gay men, I dare suggest–who then beat their chests in faux repentence or who hold up Malin as a model of moral rightness in turning away from “sin.” If one is a libertarian-type gay man–which I thought most gay Republicans at least pretended to be–and doesn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with Malin’s his “past conduct” or doesn’t think it’s anyone business, then that libertarian-type gay Republican is an utter hypocrite to laud Malin’s grand repentence performance. I don’t find anything wrong with his past; I don’t think it’s any of my business; and I find his hypocritical, politically motivated born-again rhetoric and the sycophants who laud it nothing more than a gay version of the same vomit-inducing hypocrisy that permeates the antigay religious right.

    Comment by Steve — March 1, 2006 @ 11:16 pm - March 1, 2006

  18. The issue of Tom Malin is far simpler than has been generally reported.

    I am a Democratic Precinct Chair and live two blocks from Tom.

    Tom filed to run without anyone knowing who he is, was, or anything about his history. Got cross-wise with well-known and respected Democrats and then prostitution business came out. Addtionally, there were rumors of other shoes that could drop.

    Because Tom was completely new to the community of Democratic activists, we felt he had lied to us, and he had problems with known and respected Democrats, there was no goodwill or history he could call on to bring people to his aid.

    Had he come to me before filing and told me about his past, I would have told him to do some public speaking, public service, and charity work where he disclosed his past and used it to help others to stay clear of the substance abuse and prostitution. By establishing a reputation as someone who had overcome these things and as a known commodity in the political community, Tom could have filed to run for election 2 or 4 years from now and he would have been embraced and supported as a viable candidate.

    But, appearing out of nowhere, with an unfortunate past exposed, and no one who has known you for more than a couple of months, is a formula for disaster.

    The unfortunate part is that Tom is now lashing out at anyone who criticizes him and making up the story as he goes along to make himself look good and every Democrat in Dallas County look bad.

    It’s a damned shame because he’s a talented guy who could go far if he would show a little bit of humility.

    Leaders of the Dallas County Democratic Party, including some he lied about, agreed to stand up with him if he would withdraw so that he could save face.

    But all we get from him is that he’s a perfect child of God and whatever happens will be God’s will.

    Give me a break and pass the antacid.

    If you are curious about further details, go to:
    http://www.turtlecreekdemocrats.com

    Geoff

    Comment by Geoff Staples — March 4, 2006 @ 11:21 pm - March 4, 2006

  19. I just wanted to piont out something about “redemption.” First, redemption is about being forgiven for your flawed actions through repenting – which means giving it up and being sorry for it. Tom Malin IS NOT sorry (at least publicly) for his past…that’s a problem. Second, being forgiven for something doesn’t mean you get to wipe it clean and walk away from the fallout caused by your actions. I agree with the post above – an up-front honest admission about the past would have made a difference to many people and would be the kind of thing a person who no longer wanted to make wrong choices would do.

    Oh, and just for the record: Mary Magdelene was NOT a prostitute. That was an ancient fabrication that the Catholic Church formally recanted many years ago. She was just “a sinner” (like everyone else). The early church men may have cast her that way to kill her credibility.

    Comment by DallasDan — March 14, 2006 @ 4:42 pm - March 14, 2006

  20. NO dallas dan, Mary was a prostitute, eventho i dnt beleive in the church at all. but it is writen in the bible that she was and i believe in the aucenticity of the bible. so i got to disagree with you on this one. but i agree with what u said earlier.

    Comment by mishela — November 19, 2007 @ 3:41 pm - November 19, 2007

  21. Mary was not a whore.. She was demon possesed:

    Luke 8:1 Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.

    Comment by Vince P — November 19, 2007 @ 4:06 pm - November 19, 2007

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