Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A Closet In A Glass House

In mid-July of 2004, the DailyKos picked up a story about blogger Michael Rogers, and his new project blogACTIVE. The mission of blogACTIVE, according to Rogers, is to expose the hypocrisy of openly gay or closeted members of Congress, and their staffs, who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment. This controversial tactic set off a spirited debate in the comments sections on Publius' site, Legal Fiction, here and here. Almost every aspect of the morality, wisdom and strategic worth of these tactics was discussed in full. Publius raised an idealistic and commendable argument against probing into the private lives of politicians, at least not in this new way for fear that it would further lower the bar. My response was as follows (please ignore the blatant egotism of quoting myself):

There is only a line to be drawn, or a bottom to be avoided, in as far as you believe that the GOP considers any area "off limits" and that the Dems would be initiating a new method of attacks by trespassing on such ground. That may be true, but private life attacks didn't end with Clinton. Remember the Kerry intern scandal promoted by Drudge and other wingnuts? That wasn't even true, and they still spread it.

Another problem I have is that if the Dems follow that reasoning, they forever cede the first mover advantage to the GOP. In other words, the Dems would let the GOP decide which methods of personal attacks are OK and which aren't, never being the first to break with tradition, even if something is germane. Instead, the Dems will play within the GOP set boundaries which will be determined more by the political expediency of the day rather than by bright line ethical rules. This gives enormous tactical advantage to the GOP.
The bottom line remains that these politicians willingly thrust this issue into the national debate, going as far as to support amending the Constitution in a way that will impact the freedoms and rights of homosexuals in perpetuity. If they want to legislate about the sexual preferences of citizens, be it a ban on gay marriage, discrimination of homosexuals in the work place or anti-sodomy laws, their own personal hypocrisy is fair game. The private lives of politicians should only be deemed off limits to the degree that those same politicians treat the citizenry with the same forbearance and respect for privacy. Rogers quotes an item from About.com that captures the spirit of this argument:

If an important member of PETA, actively involved in popular efforts to ban the sale of meat, was known to grab a Big Mac a couple of times a week, would it be wrong to publicize that fact? I don't think so. By making a political issue out of what others eat, they are no longer entitled to the same privacy about what they eat. By politicizing the issue, their real beliefs about it become a matter of public interest.
The wisdom of taking this route may be a moot point, however, as it appears that Rogers has drawn first blood, taking "out" his biggest prize yet. CNN.com is reporting that Congressman Ed Schrock (R-VA), one of the most conservative members of Congress (the Christian Coalition gave him a 92% rating in their 2003 voter guide), suddenly, and unexpectedly, announced his decision to abandon his run for a third term this November, amid allegations that he is gay. Schrock, a married retired Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, is one of the strongest supporters of the Federal Marriage Amendment, also took a famous stand against the "don't ask don't tell" policy, so that the military could actively screen gays from the military.

He has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, but Michael Rogers purports to have
evidence, in the form of phone records (and recordings) and personal accounts, that Schrock was engaged in numerous liasons with other men in the Virginia area. Will the outing campaign undertaken by Rogers impact the policies emanating from the conservative wing of the GOP? That remains to be seen, but in the meantime you will likely hear the shatter of glass and the creak of the closet door with some frequency between now and November.

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