Former RNC chairman and George W. Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman came out of the closet yesterday, a move he described as an “evolutionary process.” The announcement should garner support for Mehlman, and sympathy for his party peers.
“It was an evolutionary process. The reality is, it’s taken me 43 years to come to terms with this part of my life,” Mehlman told The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder of his decision to come clean. “The process has been something that has made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”
The announcement obviously comes as an enormous relief for Mehlman, who built his career in part on helping George W. Bush’s homophobic campaign retain the White House in 2004, when gay marriage was used as a wedge issue to divide Americans. Mehlman would go on to chair the RNC, which made it its mission to end equality.
Now that he’s more comfortable in his skin, Mehlman has been using his powers of persuasion to enlist his former colleagues in the fight against California’s loathsome Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage. “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,” said Mehlman of gay marriage.
As a gay man, I’m empathetic to Mehlman’s struggle. Remaining in the closet causes incalculable pain, and the self-hate often manifests itself in mysterious, dangerous ways. Mehlman himself admits that he would have played politics a bit differently had he come out earlier in life, so too has fellow Republican Roy Ashburn, the California State Senator who came out of the closet after a DUI earlier this year.
Both men are a testament to the closet’s nefarious nature. They also provide insight into the collective mind of other conservatives who, though perhaps not gay, are clearly motivated by fear and loathing.
Though gay marriage and related rights continue to come up on the campaign trail, Republicans have recently been focusing on a new common “enemy:” illegal immigrants. As with gays, illegal immigrants have erroneously been blamed for various civic ills, such as violent crime, and are described in the most detestable terms.
Just as Mehlman and others propped up their insecurity with restrictive politics, so too are anti-immigrant and other generally racist Republicans: they are using whatever means necessary, such as altering the 14th Amendment, to protect themselves from a 21st century existence that threatens the perfect order of their lives, lives they don’t want to admit need to change to accommodate a new world.
Mehlman’s doing just that, however slowly, and I hope makes other conservatives pause to realize how fear, whether of one’s self or others, breeds hateful politics and undercuts American ideals.