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Closet Tolerants

Via Julie Saltman this interesting look at the early days of the Bush 2000 campaign in which, among other things, George W. says he's not going to "kick gays" for political advantage. Julie remarks, "I don't for a moment think that George Bush really believes in treating gays as human beings." I think that's wrong. What's so especially disgusting about the president's opportunistic deployment of gay-bashing for political purposes is that, by all accounts and evidence, he doesn't believe a word of it. As Andrew Sullivan said of the White House on just this point, they're "closet tolerants" who know perfectly well that what they're doing is wrong. When I meet people who, out of sincere conviction (usually religious) believe homosexuality is sinful and that public policy ought to be deployed to prevent this sinful behavior, I disagree with them, but understand that this sort of deep moral disagreement rooted in faith is a part of life.

When I meet people who, thanks to limited horizons in life, just get a vague "icky" feeling about gay people that they can't seem to overcome, I think that's unfortunate, but I realize that my own perspective in this matter is a question of contingent circumstance (not everyone grew up with liberal parents in lower Manhattan) and that I no doubt have my own blind spots. When you see someone who knows perfectly well that the view he's adopted for political purposes is wrong, but who adopts it anyway out of cyncial thirst for power, well, then, that's just disgusting.

February 20, 2005 | Permalink


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» Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin from Brad DeLong's Website
Matthew Yglesias weighs George W. Bush in the balance and finds him wanting: Matthew Yglesias: Closet Tolerants: Via Julie Saltman... the early days of the Bush 2000 campaign in which, among other things, George W. says he's not going to 'kick gays' fo... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 21, 2005 11:53:38 AM

» The Wallace Defense from Lawyers, Guns and Money
To Bush's moderate apologists, this is a defense for the way he used the FMA as an election year wedge; the homophobia is just a public display, so what's the big deal? Where I think Yglesias is exactly correct is that if this take on Bush is true--a... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 21, 2005 12:10:07 PM

» Not good. Not principled. from Here's What's Left
Yglesias, on the Bush tapes, saysAs Andrew Sullivan said of the White House on just this point, they're [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 22, 2005 3:01:33 AM


But the people using rhetoric they know doesn't reflect what they believe the reality of the situation to be to gain political power are also acting according to moral principles rooted in faith: they believe that gaining and holding political power is fundamentally more important than honesty or intellectual integrity.

Your disgust is also a matter of moral principles rooted in faith: you believe that honesty and intellectual integrity is fundamentally more important than gaining and holding political power.

So if you're willing to accept that other people have deeply-held principles that can't be rationally justified about one thing (religion) that are fundamentally different from yours, why aren't you willing to accept that people will have equally deeply-held and irrational principles about another thing (political utility)?

Posted by: Matt G. | Feb 20, 2005 2:20:29 PM

Well it might be disgusting but its par for the course with this administration and while we can decry the fact that Bush is gunning for gays and has done so in the past to court an electoral advantage, shouldn't we also be asking who gave him the ammunition? It's not that we couldn't predict he would be capable of something like this is it?

Posted by: postit | Feb 20, 2005 2:21:44 PM

Matter of degree, I think. I doubt that GWB is as accepting of gays as you are, in his heart of hearts. Nor is he as homophobic as his most homophobic supporters. I would guess he would prefer a general "Don't ask, don't tell" policy and gays as longs as they don't confront him with their homosexuality. And in a secret ballot, I do think he would vote for the FMA.

Since Bush is so secretive and closed and deceitful, it is up to us to determine what is calculation and what is conviction by whatever evidence available. I personally believe he is more like Tom DeLay than he is like Dick Cheney (whatever Cheney might be, I don't think he is a fervent Christian Conservative) or Richard Nixon.

This is important because at some point the cynical calculator will compromise for his survival, at a point far before the true believer.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 20, 2005 2:23:18 PM

I think this is a little overstated. All politicians will say what they think voters want to hear instead of their real opinions.

Howard Dean acted like a regular person at times instead of a politician, and look what that got him.

Posted by: Abigail | Feb 20, 2005 2:39:16 PM

NB--It was actually my co-blogger, Mok, who wrote that.

Posted by: Julie | Feb 20, 2005 2:45:28 PM

I don't think it's a matter of hiding one's true feelings, as it is adopting policy positions entirely at odds with one's own values. This poses problems on the abortion front all the time as politicians who find abortion to be an abominable crime refuse to support any legal banning of it because women should have the "choice" to commit this crime. But it's well understood that abortion poses a moral conundrum because of its "evil necessity", to quote Thomas Jefferson about another wicked institution in early American life. But Dean's scream is just a matter of letting his personality loose - not revealing true sentiments that run contrary to his real beliefs.

The problem for Bush here is that his personal views should put him more in line with his Vice President on matters of homosexuality. Yet he supported and courted a camp of people who find homosexuality an abomination. There really is no halfway here. It isn't about "marriage", as most people understand. It's about "deviance" and the limits of tolerance of non-traditional sexual relations. Bush struck a deal with the Dobsons of the world even though their views are, supposedly, repugnant to Bush's own internal moral compass. Something must give.

Posted by: Elrod | Feb 20, 2005 2:48:33 PM

Did you actually read the article? When he said that he didn't want to kick gays it was because he was a sinner and didn't feel it was his place to judge homosexuals. Even on the tapes, he said that homosexuality was a sin and that he didn't support same-sex marriage. That's exactly the same as his public message. It's pretty close to Kerry's public message too, BTW.

Bush is less tolerant of homosexuality than I would like, but he is consistent. Even in public, he's far more tolerant of homosexuality than the left gives him credit for. He opposes same-sex marriage, but that's a pretty common position among Democrats, too. The left's image of Bush as an extreme social conservative has never had much basis in fact. He's really not that far to the right of Kerry on social issues.

Posted by: Xavier | Feb 20, 2005 2:53:35 PM

It's something like a "half a loaf is better than none" attitude.

"While I'm not crazy about some of the positions I would have to take in order to get elected, I have no doubt that I would be able to do more good as Executive than The Other Fella."

Posted by: Jaybird | Feb 20, 2005 3:00:53 PM


Who said that?

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Feb 20, 2005 3:04:06 PM

What's so especially disgusting...[is that] he doesn't believe a word of it...

Oh, please, spare me. Insincere politician is disgusting, huh.

Posted by: abb1 | Feb 20, 2005 3:13:08 PM

Oh, please, spare me. Insincere politician is disgusting, huh.

I think Matt's particularly disgusted with insincere bigotry, not with general insincerity among politicians.

Posted by: Guy | Feb 20, 2005 3:48:59 PM

Wesafer, it wasn't supposed to be a direct quote.

I saw Matt's assumption that it arose out of a "cyncial thirst for power" and thought that if there were a possibility that his beliefs/actions rose out of something approaching a good intention, what would it look like?

And I came up with that.

Posted by: Jaybird | Feb 20, 2005 4:01:38 PM

Ah, ok. I'll have to credit "that guy who calls himself Jaybird on Internet" when I quote it, then.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Feb 20, 2005 4:24:03 PM

The position that Bush supported on the tapes is that homosexuality is a sin, but it wasn't his place to judge homosexuals. He also said that he opposes same-sex marriage. I challenge you to find one statement that Bush has publicly made that is inconsistent with his honestly held beliefs. I certainly can't think of any. Unless you can point to something specific, I don't see how you can accuse him of insincerity.

BTW, I'm not willing to accept opposition to same-sex marriage as an example of "kicking gays." First off, Kerry took the same position, so you would have to accuse him of the kicking gays also. Second, even on the private tapes he said he opposed it, so if you accept that what's on the tape is his honest opinion, you can't claim that his opposition to same-sex marriage is insincere.

Posted by: Xavier | Feb 20, 2005 4:27:47 PM

Part of the problem I think the democrats have is that they always assume that the Republicans must have the worst of (or at least *BAD*) intentions.

"When you see someone who knows perfectly well that the view he's adopted for political purposes is wrong, but who adopts it anyway out of cynical thirst for power, well, then, that's just disgusting."

Imagine a swing voter hearing this. He doesn't know who to pick between Dubya and The Other Fella and then he has it explained to him that Dubya is doing what he does out of a cynical thirst for power. He looks at Dubya and thinks "Guy doesn't strike me as that cynical... strikes me more as conflicted."

And then the guy goes on to discard the baby with the bathwater.

I think that an assumption that Bush is a misguided idealist will allow the Democrats to make counter-arguments to Dubya's policies that have a good chance of being listened to.

The assumption that he is a bad, awful man (Hitler!) and the worst President of the 20th century excepting Harding resulted in a lot of people who may have been willing to listen to serious criticisms about Bush just tuning out after they heard the word "Gestapo tactics" for the second time in a paragraph.

But I ramble.

Posted by: Jaybird | Feb 20, 2005 4:31:40 PM

The FMA was, of course, nothing but "kicking gays." It was not a serious proposal that had any chance of passing. It was an attempt to mobilize the base by mobilizing homophobia.

The attempts of Bush apologists to pretend that Bush and Kerry have almost the same position on these issues is just not tenable. On the two major federal issues--FMA and DOMA--they in fact have diametircally opposed positions (and in the latter case Kerry was one of a handful of Senators to vote against it.) Kerry thinks states should be permitted to have gay marriage; Bush doesn't. Kerry had the most liberal position for a viable national candidate; Bush certainly didn't. Kerry's position was not ideal, but his "personal opposition" to gay marriage would have no effect on federal law, unlike Bush's.

And, of course, Xavier's attempt to make this claim about "social issues" is even more absurd. Their posiitons on abortion, stem cells and separation of church and state are all *very* different. Bush is not as radical as his base on these issues, but he's considerably to the right of Kerry. You think Kerry would nominate anyone like Pricilla Owen to the federal courts?

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Feb 20, 2005 6:05:09 PM

they're "closet tolerants" who know perfectly well that what they're doing is wrong

Yet everybody does this - both on the left and the right. I mean, does anyone really believe that the folks at Daily Kos who have hounded Jeff Gannon don't understand that their vitriotic homophobia is wrong? I am absolutely positive that they know very well that they have figuratively tied Jeff Gannon to a Laramie fencepost. And yet for political expediency they have ruined his life anyway. So is it really surprising that other people -- Republicans like Bush even -- have engaged in much, MUCH milder versions of the same thing?

Posted by: Al | Feb 20, 2005 7:28:19 PM

Are you folks crazy? Matt says that Bush is "gay-bashing," the second commenter says that Bush is "gunning for gays," etc. Why? What has Bush done to gays? Has he called for sodomy laws? Of course not. Has he made statements that in any touch upon gays per se? Hardly ever.

Wherein does anyone purport to find all this "gay-bashing"? I'll answer: In Bush's opposition to gay marriage. Note that no President in American history has ever supported gay marriage -- not Clinton, not Carter, not Johnson. Not Kerry either. Where does anyone get the idea that if Bush merely fails to take an action (supporting gay marriage) that would be unprecedented, and that would even have been unimaginable a decade ago, therefore he is a "gay-basher"? Talk about hysteria.

Posted by: Functional | Feb 20, 2005 7:39:41 PM

Bingo. Scott Lemieux nails the distinctions between Kerry and Bush and their (public and private) positions on same sex marriage right on the nose. I also really enjoyed Matt G's initial comment in respose to The Y Man's initial post.

I would like to point out that insincerity in politicians does hurt, even when it is not insincere bigotry. Of course the most compelling examples of these were displayed by Bill Clinton in Fall 1996 when he signed 3 horrendous pieces of legislation into law: The Defense of Marriage Act (which as a constitutional law professor and former Attorney General in Arkansas he must have known is fatally flawed), The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (this had all sorts of horribly xenophobic and plain old nasty things in it. From stripping federal judges with the right to rule on certain asylum cases, to lengthening sentences on crimes committed by immigrants to making deportations easier. Former Senator Alan Simpson exited the conference committee meeting say "We did everything but twist screws into them.") and, of course the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (more commonly known as "Welfare Reform." Although it is true that WJC did believe in some of the core principles of reforming the welfare system, Republicans actually spread around a number of welfare reform components in this bill and the evil IIRA-IRA immigration bill.)

By compromising with Republicans far far to the right of him and his party (the infamous "third way" or "triangulation" strategy between himself, congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats), Clinton signed and said things he could not possibly have sincerely
believed in.

Posted by: MadProfessah | Feb 20, 2005 7:44:58 PM

Whatever his beliefs about gays, Bush's public positions are pure political manipulation. He spent months campaigning for the anti-gay marriage ammendendment, thereby helping motivate an enourmous number of social conservatives to work for his re-election.

Then just a week before the election, he stated he has no opposition to civil unions, betraying all the social conservatives who are totally opposed to it and had assumed he was too. Why the sudden announcement? No doubt because he though he could rope in some moderate voters who approve of civil unions. Maybe everything he said was honest, but the timing was very cynical.

Posted by: Les B | Feb 20, 2005 10:34:30 PM

If you think it is not "kicking gays" to support a BAN on their marriage, you need to "walk a mile in their shoes" as Bush once said.

Imagine that your wife is on her death bed. She is suffering -- she will be dead in hours. Now realize that, as a gay person, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SEE YOUR WIFE DIE. Further, imagine that all the assets you have accrued over living a life together go to her father -- someone who detested you both, and hadn't spoken to his daughter in years. All because she died suddenly and lacked a will, so assets went to the closest surviving relative. Which, of course, you were not considered -- because the state did not recognize your relationship.

Further, go listen to some of the OTHER things the proponents of "saving marriage" say about gays.

You're goddamn right Bush was kicking gays. And it's all the more disgusting because Bush has indicated he knows better.

This is not "voting for it before I voted against it" type of politico waffling. This is knowing that treating a certain class of human being as lesser is wrong, but doing it anyway, because it helps you get votes. That's disgusting.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Feb 20, 2005 11:17:25 PM

Disgusting, perhaps. But effective. I suspect politics selects for politicians with strong stomachs.

(Thanks, MadProfessah.)

Posted by: Matt G. | Feb 20, 2005 11:45:05 PM

It was obvious throughout the 2004 campaign that the Bush/Cheney team meant to send a mixed message about their tolerance of gays, with a bad cop/good cop routine. Bush never had a problem with gays, but he had to pander to the base and pretend, in order to draw the conservative Christian vote.

The campaign clearly exploited Mary Cheney in order to "wink" to gay voters that they didn't really mean what Bush was implying about his pseudo-homophobia.

Can you ever imagine Bush and cheney contradicting each other on the War in Iraq, Social Security or the defense budget? No!

Bush commands and receives absolute loyalty when he wants it. I wrote about this months before the election. Late one night on MSNBC in Fall 2004, two commentators (one was Ron Reagan) were even smirking about Bush not really meaning the whole homophobia agenda.

It was brilliant political strategy that was totally devoid of honesty or integrity. Or values. Of course....because it's Bush/Cheney.

Posted by: Deborah White | Feb 21, 2005 12:09:42 AM

Faith without works is dead--I judge politicians by the policies they support and work for. I don't give a flying fuck what they actually believe.

That said, the VP debate this year was fascinating and will at some future point in time be a study in the oddity of this era in the progress of gay and civil rights. Both candidates were blatantly pandering to their supporters misrepresenting what they thought about the gay marriage issue.

Posted by: flip | Feb 21, 2005 12:15:18 AM

Speaking of the VP debate and consistency (even though this is OT sort of), Cheney always has and still does oppose Head Start and programs like it. Nice leaders we chose. And we chose them partly on their hate-filled positions like gay-bashing and poor-child abandonment. The common denominator is the faux-Christianity that is bastardized to mean punishment of gays, and is bastardized to mean that faith-based groups should get the gov tax money and decide themselves which (coughconvertedcough) poor families deserve help and just how much help.

Posted by: wishful | Feb 21, 2005 12:53:13 AM

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