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Frank Rich: 'Gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good'

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Published: Sunday December 17, 2006
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"Gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good," but that doesn't stop some Republican contenders from continuing to "woo homophobes," New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes in his latest column.

Excerpts from Rich's column:

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This time around, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage drew markedly less support than in 2004; the draconian one endorsed by McCain in Arizona was voted down altogether. Two national politicians who had kowtowed egregiously to their party's fringe, Rick Santorum and George Allen, were defeated, joining their ideological fellow travelers Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed in the political junkyard. To further confirm the inexorable march of social history, the only Christmas season miracle to lift the beleaguered Bush administration this year has been the announcement that Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay daughter, is pregnant. Her growing family is the living rejoinder to those in her father's party who would relegate gay American couples and their children to second-class legal or human status.

Yet not even these political realities have entirely broken the knee-jerk habit of some 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls to woo homophobes. Mitt Romney, the Republican Massachusetts governor, was caught in yet another embarrassing example of his party's hypocrisy last week. In a newly unearthed letter courting the gay Log Cabin Republicans during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race, he promised to "do better" than even Ted Kennedy in making "equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern." Given that Romney has been making opposition to same-sex marriage his political calling card this year, his ideological bisexuality looks as foolish in its G-rated way as that of Haggard, the evangelical leader who was caught keeping time with a male prostitute.

There's no evidence that Romney's rightward move on gay civil rights and abortion (about which he acknowledges his flip-flop) has helped him politically. Or that McCain has benefited from a similar sea change that has taken him from accurately labeling Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance" in 2000 to appearing at Falwell's Liberty University this year. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that among Republican voters, Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed liberal on gay civil rights and abortion, leads McCain 34 percent to 26 percent. Romney brought up the rear, at 5 percent. That does, however, put him nominally ahead of another presidential wannabe, the religious-right favorite Sam Brownback, who has held up a federal judicial nomination in the Senate because the nominee had attended a lesbian neighbor's commitment ceremony.

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TIMES SELECT SUBSCRIBERS CAN READ FULL RICH COLUMN AT THIS LINK