Ken Mehlman, who was the 2004 campaign manager for President George W. Bush and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is coming out. Oh, and now he wants to be a gay marriage advocate. The same guy who helped spearhead the Republicans’ horrific assault on gay Americans? Yep, that guy.
It’s a new realization, says Mehlman to The Atlatnic Mark Ambinder, and not something he’s been purposefully hiding. “It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life. Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.” Plenty of folks are rolling their eyes at the comment, knowing Mehlman himself knew for years he’s gay.
Mehlman, who headed the RNC from 2005-07 after the Bush campaign, and who previously served as White House political director during Bush’s first term, is arguably the highest profile Republican to ever come out. He is also arguably America’s most heinous homosexual, actively participating in and driving the demonization of his own community in exchange for political applause and cold hard cash.
It’s a strange albeit not unheard of revelation from a guy whose boss was put in office by rallying conservative voters with anti-gay fear tactics. But Bush “was no homophobe,” Mehlman insists. (He is might be technically correct: Bush might not fear gays, but he certainly doesn’t like them.)
And that’s where the never-married lifelong Republican says he regrets not coming out sooner.
Mehlman’s leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities — such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform (“Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country…”). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.
Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda. “It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.” “What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn’t always heard. I didn’t do this in the gay community at all.”
Might have? Heh.
Not that professional outer Mike Rogers didn’t try to force him out earlier, and not that Bill Maher didn’t out him on national television.
But let’s gussy up the story now, so Mehlner looks better than he should.
Because his tenure as RNC chairman and his time at the center of the Bush political machine coincided with the Republican Party’s attempts to exploit anti-gay prejudices and cement the allegiance of social conservatives, his declaration to the world is at once a personal act and an act of political speech. “I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago. The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult. No one else knew this except me. My family didn’t know. My friends didn’t know. Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic,” he said.
During the Rogers crusades, many news organizations made attempts to confirm rumors and stories about Mehlman’s sexuality. Republicans close to Mehlman either said they did not know, or that it did not matter, or that the question was offensive. Mehlman once joked in public that although he was not gay, the rumors put a crimp on his social life. He admits to having mislead several people who asked him directly.
And what does he plan to do now that he’s come out? Get behind your equality mission within the GOP: “What I will try to do is to persuade people, when I have conversations with them, that it is consistent with our party’s philosophy, whether it’s the principle of individual freedom, or limited government, or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong committment to each other to get married. I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support [for] marriage rights.”
Mehlman now lives NYC’s Chelsea in a multi-million dollar condo, and makes a fortunte working in private equity for KKR: Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts. But he’s already trying to make amends, hosting an upcoming fundraiser and for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (the group behind the Prop 8 lawsuit), which means you can’t entirely hate the guy, because he’s doing his part to make good for his sins, right?
(AFER head Chad Griffin insists “when we achieve equal equality, he will be one of the people to thank for it.” That is — holy christ — the statement of the year.)
Fearing his coming out would leak, he had already notified his closest confidants, including Bush, before going to the press and arranging his reveal with Ambinder.
Well, welcome to the party, fella. Well, if you can get past Rogers first:
So, how can Ken Mehlman redeem himself? I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for being the architect of the 2004 Bush reelection campaign. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for his role in developing strategy that resulted in George W. Bush threatening to veto ENDA or any bill containing hate crimes laws. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for the pressing of two Federal Marriage Amendments as political tools. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for developing the 72-hour strategy, using homophobic churches to become political arms of the GOP before Election Day.
And those state marriage amendments. I want to hear him apologize for every one of those, too.
And then there is one other little thing. You see, while you and I had the horrible feelings of being treated so poorly by our President, while teens were receiving the messaging ‘gay is bad’ giving them ‘permission’ to gay bash, while our rights were being stripped state by state, Ken was out there laughing all the way to the bank. So, if Ken is really sorry, and he very well may be, then all he needs to do is sell his condo and donate the funds to the causes he worked against so hard for all those years. He’s done a lot of damage to a lot of organizations, while making a lot of moeny. A LOT of money. It’s time to put his money where his mouth is. Ken Mehlman is sitting in a $3,770,000.00 (that’s $3.77 million) condo in Chelsea while we have lost our right to marry in almost 40 states.
THEN, and only then, should Mehlman be welcomed into our community.
Rogers is right. This is a man who actively participated in ruining the lives of LGBT Americans. That he didn’t know (or so he says) he was gay at the time is of absolutely no importance. It doesn’t excuse his behavior. It does not bring him closer to deserving forgiveness. Mehlman’s attempt at salvation would be akin to a racist white man who railed against blacks only to find out his grandmother is East Africa, or a neo-Nazi who spread filth about Jews only to learn his mother is one — and had a change of heart about their hatred.
This man aided in Republican terrorism of people like you and me. That he now happens to say publicly he is sexually attracted to other men does little to excuse the damage he’s caused. And it’ll take more than raising a million bucks for AFER to ever associate his name with “do-gooder.”
So, who’s gonna be willing to stamp his gay card? Not me. The man is a disgrace — as a human first, as a gay man second.