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