Friday, August 31, 2007

The Family Values Family Tree

Matt Yglesias is right about this:
A reasonable politics of "family values" needs to contain some penalties for heterosexuals with anti-family behavior (see, e.g., Dick Vitter, Rudy Giuliani) and support for gays with pro-family behavior. What they have right now is just loathing of gay people masquerading as defense of the traditional family.
But the underlying pathology goes beyond that. Scott Lemieux does a good job of moving the ball forward:
This is true, but there's another angle to it as well. Republican social conservatism, at least as instantiated as state policy, is about imposing burdens on other people to make oneself feel virtuous....

And this is why gay-baiting is such a useful Republican tactic, even for the many closet tolerants among GOP elites.
But this is a dangerous and destructive game to be playing for at least two reasons: First, it is shortsighted, and destined to back-fire eventually. Attitudes toward homosexuality are progressing quite rapidly in this country, and the population will soon outpace the GOP's increasingly anachronistic, bigoted posture. The evolution of consciousness on the subject of homosexuality will transform this temporary asset into a long-term liability (if the scales haven't tipped already). This is not the first time, in recent memory, that the Republicans have been forced to reckon with an electoral boomerang of this sort. The chickens have been returning home to roost in connection with the immigration issue as well.

After stoking and courting nativist ideas and bigoted elements in the name of electoral politics since at least as far back as Nixon's Southern Strategy, Republican legislators have found it difficult to convince large portions of their constituency that a softer form of immigration reform is necessary. In the process, a certain level of intolerance and xenophobia has been exposed, directed mainly against a key demographic (Hispanics) that Republican Party operatives like Karl Rove had planned on tapping as a necessary future reservoir of voters. Now, the prospects of wooing socially conservative Hispanics have largely evaporated, with such would-be supporters alienated by the thinly veiled racism pervasive in much of the Right's opposition to immigration (of certain people (non European) from, er, certain places (Mexico/Latin America)).

The other reason that gay baiting is bad policy has more to do with ethical and moral questions than pragmatic political concerns. Fostering intolerance and hatred of fellow humans based on normal human sexuality creates an excess of unnecessary anxiety, suffering and repression - which in turn leads to deviant behavior, and unsafe and/or dishonest clandestine activity. Rather than fan the flames of persecution, this country would be far better served by a more mature, humane appreciation of human sexuality in all its varied splendor - a key component of our make-up since humans first made their appearance on the grand stage.

It's not as if this narrow view of sexuality is serving any valuable purpose, or achieving any beneficial results. In many ways, it is being sustained for reasons entirely separate from such aims. In addition to "making oneself feel virtuous," as Lemieux noted, and aside from the cynical electoral maneuvering mentioned above, the advocacy of rigid sexual mores frequently appeals to people who feel they lack the self control necessary to comply with what they perceive as society's norms. Lacking this internal discipline (or misconstruing the need to "discipline" healthy desires), many strive to fortify an external enforcer - which then gets applied across the board to others as well (lest any deviation open the flood gates). Immersion in a group that espouses, at least in theory, such faux-chastity is also a means to hide one's shame - a way to conceal aspects of one's nature that cause discomfort under layers of contrary rhetorical trappings. The last place you'd look for a homosexual would be in a group dedicated to anti-gay causes.

It would be benefit society, however, if we could relax, ever so slightly, some of that rigidity such that the vast majority of humans would feel comfortable enough about their own sexuality that they didn't feel the need to erect such strict, repressive models and/or join in with groups that had already done so. That is an unhealthy way to force humans to live, and it has never succeeded in controlling sexuality, and it never will. While such repression will not eradicate sexual desires, it will twist and contort them into unhealthy manifestations.

As if in a tireless effort to prove this thesis, it is the Republican Party itself which has come to exemplify this very phenomena. Below is a brief sketch of some of the recent episodes that should serve as wake up calls to the GOP and the rest of America. There's a better way to do this.

Larry Craig: The topic du jour, Senator Craig has pled guilty to soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a public restroom. There have been numerous allegations of Craig partaking in this type of behavior in the past. Craig was a vocal opponent of gay rights causes.

Mark Foley: Last year's Larry Craig, Congressman Foley was embroiled in a sex scandal involving teenage boys participating in the Congressional page program. Apparently, Foley had a reputation for such behavior on the Hill. Foley was a vocal opponent of gay rights causes.

Ted Haggard: A key conservative Evangelical leader, who frequently railed against the evils of homosexuality, Haggard was revealed to have had a three year relationship with a male prostitute, as well as a nasty little crystal meth habit on the side.

Bob Allen: A Florida State legislator, Bob Allen was arrested recently for offering an undercover cop $20 for Allen to perform fellatio on the cop. As part of his defense, Allen argued that he was so scared by the fact that the police officer was black that he panicked and...offered him $20 to, er, you know. Allen was not only opposed to gay rights, but he was also particularly focused on laws addressing public acts of lewdness. Nice touch Bob.

Ed Schrock: Despite being an opponent of gay marriage, gays in the military and a host of other gay rights issues, Congressman Schrock was caught soliciting gay sex on the phone, and had a reported history of cruising for male prostitutes in certain areas of Virginia. He resigned as a result of these allegations.

Jim West: An avid anti-gay crusader, this former Mayor of Spokane, Washington was forced to resign after he admitted to offering "gifts, favors and a City Hall internship during Internet chats with a man he believed was 18." West denies allegations by two men that West molested them when they were in the Boy Scouts some 20 years earlier.

Glenn Murphy: Recently elected leader of the Young Republican National Federation, and rising star in the Indiana GOP, was forced to step down amid sexual assault allegations. A police report filed by the alleged victim, claims that he awoke to find Murphy performing fellatio on him after he had passed out subsequent to a Young Republican function. A similar police report had been filed against Murphy back in 1998 (again, the alleged victim awoke to find Murphy performing fellatio on him).

Jeff Gannon: Who could forget the lovable, fake journalist who was granted a press pass and access to the White House (he logged over 200 visits). Oh yeah, and he also worked as a male prostitute in the recent past.

Matt Sanchez: A darling of gay slur hurling Ann Coulter, and other gay-baiters in the conservative punditry, Sanchez had worked as a gay porn star as well as offering his "massage services" to male clientele as recently as 2004.

And that's just exposing one side of the sexual coin - from the recent past! I didn't even have to mention the heterosexual scandals and criminal conduct of recent months, as perpetrated by family values crusaders and anti-gay champions such as David Vitter, Randall Tobias, Michael Flory, Don Sherwood, Jack Ryan or Steve LaTourette, for example.

Nor did I have to scour through the golden oldies, like Henry Hyde, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Bob Barr and Bob Livingston.

Understand that, aside from the criminal (and abuse of power) aspects to some of these stories, I am a firm believer in live and let live. And I acknowledge that the Democrats have their own sex scandals (though quite a bit fewer than the GOP if you check the master list). This isn't about scoring partisan points though. This post is an attempt to point out the folly of trying to repress basic human sexuality, and how that endeavor leads to unhealthy outcomes and undue anguish.

Life would be better for us all - including and especially those pols - if we just accepted the fact that homosexuality is nothing to be scared of and that human sexuality in general should not be so closely proscribed, monitored, outlawed and controlled by others. We could make some of that scandalous behavior less, well, scandalous.

[UPDATE: See, also, the inimitable publius at Obsidian Wings.]

[UPDATE: More GOP scandals:

Brown County GOP Chairman Donald Fleischman has resigned his post, says a
spokesperson, after being accused of enticement and fondling of an underage

They just keep coming.

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