Sex, Lies and Ken Mehlman
While the GOP's latest wunderkind, Ken Mehlman, is having the time of his life addressing the Republican Governor's conference, sitting down with reporters and editors of several daily newspapers and basking in the afterglow of President Bush's November 2nd victory, the Internet is abuzz with rumors, innuendo, chitchat, and plain old Page-Six-type gossip about his sexual orientation.
What if Ken Mehlman is gay? Would he be sitting down with the editors of the Washington Times? Would GOP governors still think he is the sharpest young strategist to come along since the late Lee Atwater? Would his sexual preference disqualify him from heading up the RNC in the minds of the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, and the American Family Association's Rev. Donald Wildmon?
Mehlman has come a long way from his undergraduate years at Franklin and Marshall College and from Harvard Law School. Having worked on Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and George Herbert Walker Bush's 1992 reelection effort, Mehlman knows up close what it's like to wake up the day after losing a presidential election. This time around, as chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, Mehlman is being widely credited as being a major force behind the party's massive get-out-the vote effort. For his efforts, he's been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee.
While Mehlman has been more than willing -- both before and after the election -- to talk specifically about campaign-related issues, he has made his personal life off limits. By refusing to answer direct questions from reporters about his sexual orientation, he has left open the possibility that he is gay.
Does the public need to know, or have the right to know, whether Mehlman is gay?
Over the past few years "there have been lots of questions about Mehlman's sexual orientation," but he refuses to answer any questions about it, long-time activist John Aravosis, author of AMERICAblog, pointed out in a recent posting.
* According to Aravosis, there are a number of reasons why Ken Mehlman should answer these questions:
* "There have been rumors for years about Mehlman's sexual orientation. Now that he's a very public figure, those rumors gain an importance they didn't have before...
* "Mehlman has already said publicly that the gay issue is fair game for politics. If it's fair game, then the same rules apply to him.
* "Mehlman has publicly defended the president's anti-gay policies, including the federal constitutional amendment. Were Mehlman gay, he'd be guilty of hypocrisy, and that would justify his outing -- again, were he gay.
* "The GOP has made it perfectly clear that gays and lesbians and their relationships are a threat to the fabric of society. As American citizens and voters we have the right to know if Ken Mehlman's so-far-undisclosed relationships are posing such a threat or not. The last thing the GOP should be doing is giving a position of prominence in the party to someone who, for all we know, might have a secret agenda of undermining the family...
* "The Republican National Committee is an organization that makes NO BONES about using gay-bashing to help Republican candidates. There is good reason to believe that any RNC chair, were he not 100% straight, would be at pains to effectively run an organization that relies on gay-bashing to get its way. Don't red-state Americans have the right to know if the leader of their party, whomever it turns out to be, actually embraces the party's preferred lifestyle?
* "We have been told that part of President Bush's supposed "mandate" in the most recent election was a vindication of his attack on gays. The voting public has a right to know if the next RNC chair plans on subversively undercutting that mandate or actively supporting it.
Meanwhile, at a recent meeting of Republican governors in New Orleans, Mehlman regaled the crowd with campaign stories, anecdotes and the inside scoop on the party's ability to turn out its voters. According to the New York Times, Mehlman also talked about the GOP's successful effort at voter profiling:
"We did what Visa did. We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married? Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote -- not based on where they live but how they live. That was critically important to our success."
Mehlman added: "If you drive a Volvo, and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat. If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for George Bush."
On Friday, November 24, Mehlman sat down with the editors and reporters from the Rev. Sum Myung Moon's Washington Times. "One of my jobs at the RNC will be to institutionalize this grass-roots focus," Mehlman told the group in his first post-election editorial board interview.
"We have an opportunity to take that and make it durable and continue building on the gains we've made," he said. Talking about the thousands of volunteers that helped fuel the president's victory, Mehlman pointed out that "At the end of the day, love beat money. And the fact that 1.4 million volunteers, and 7.5 million e-activists, were out working their hearts out, day to day, beat a paid army" of union members and Democratic Party activists.
In a recent column, the New York Observer's Michelangelo Signorile points out that since Mehlman appears "so confident labeling people based on outward characteristics," the fact that he the 37-year-old "'bachelor' who refuses to answer questions about his sexual orientation is a tip-off to many that he's a pathetic closet case, and a pretty vile one at that, having used antigay hatred (aka 'moral values') to help elect Bush."
According to Signorile, "more than 20 years ago, the noted journalist and former Washington Monthly editor Taylor Branch wrote a piece in Harper's headlined, 'Closets of Power,' in which he predicted a future 'war of outage' launched by gay activists... almost a decade before the term and practice of 'outing' arrived on the scene, and long before the internet would become outers' greatest tool to circumvent the arrogant corporate media."
Over the past few months, the "war of outage" -- targeting gay GOP politicians and gay inside-the-beltway GOP staffers -- has escalated thanks to the intrepid work of folks like John Aravosis, Mike Rogers at Blogactive and John Byrne at rawstory. Weeks before the election, Byrne's blog reported that California Republican Congressman David Dreier "was involved with his male chief of staff, with whom he shared a residence," Signorile points out in his column. When interviewed on his radio program Dreier "would not tell" Signorile "whether he is gay or straight." Several months earlier, Rogers "posted the audio of Virginia Republican Congressman Ed Shrock's gay phone-line personals, forcing Shrock to resign in September," writes Signorile.
In an e-mail interview with John Aravosis, I asked him about the vetting process that Mehlman must have gone through with the White House.
"I absolutely believe that with regards to Mehlman the gay issue has come up at the highest levels of the White House," said Aravosis. "Of course he was vetted, but who knows if he told them the truth. And, who knows what 'truth' he told them. After all, Mehlman's a Harvard lawyer -- there are lots of truths, depending on how you define 'is,' so to speak.
"The White House may know he's gay and be fine with it -- after all, there are lots of out gays in the highest levels of the Republican Party. They may, however, be lying about his orientation to the religious right leaders, telling them he's straight, or they may be telling them that he is gay but he's a 'good gay' who is happy to sell his people out."
In a subsequent e-mail, Aravosis said that two of his "trusted sources" confirmed this scenario: "Mehlman and the GOP are telling people that he's straight, though they're only willing to say this off the record -- they refuse to say it on the record, which is rather suspicious, to put it lightly. That the incoming head of the RNC is afraid to publicly admit that he's straight, when being straight is a big asset in this party. That's fishy as hell."
Regardless of the outcome of the Mehlman Affair, the GOP has been put on notice that in all likelihood, eventually the truth will come out, even if Mehlman won't. After all, "the goods didn't come out" on Congressman Schrock "until years after the rumors began," Aravosis added.
"The GOP declared war on gay Americans, and the gays have accepted the challenge. They wanted a war, they've got one."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
Other Recent Articles by Bill Berkowitz
Heiress' Cultural Coarsening