August 26th, 2010
12:15 PM ET
4 years ago

Mehlman news fuels divisive reaction

ALT TEXT

 Is former top Bush aid Ken Mehlman – who has told friends and family he is gay - a courageous conservative or shameful hypocrite? (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)


(CNN) - Is former top Bush aid Ken Mehlman – who has told friends and family he is gay - a courageous conservative or shameful hypocrite?

That's the debate raging through political circles and around the blogosphere a day after the former Republican National Committee chairman and 2004 Bush campaign manager told The Atlantic magazine he is gay.

In one corner are those who say Mehlman has arrived at the end of a difficult journey of self acceptance, and should be praised for coming out publicly and pledging to work with groups that advocate for same-sex marriage in the future.

In the other are those whose memory still remains fresh - of the Bush administration's stance on gay rights in general and particularly Bush's 2004 presidential campaign, of which Mehlman was a chief architect, that repeatedly used the issue of same-sex marriage to increase conservative turnout at the polls.

R. Clark Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans – a group that aims to work within the GOP to advance gay and lesbian rights – says Mehlman should be commended for putting himself on the line and pledging to work toward equal rights in the future.

"I am looking at it from a forward looking view, as in onward and upward," Cooper told CNN. "Let's take advantage of this moment. Let's get the Republican Party back to basics, back to its core values and away from its divisive social issues."

As for whether Mehlman deserves criticisms for steering the party down a course that embraced a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Cooper says others should not speculate what Mehlman's thought process was.

"There's not an on and off switch [to being gay]. There's a huge conflict in one's mind…I don't know when or where on the calendar Ken started doing the reconciliation process," Cooper said. "But…when one starts having those conflicts and feelings, there is the immediate reaction to try to fix it."

Christopher Barron, of the gay conservative group GOPProud also praised Mehlman's decision to go public.

"Poll after poll shows the most powerful thing we can do to change hearts and minds about gay issues is to come out," he told CNN, "I applaud Ken for having the courage to take this important step. I think everyone should remember that each of us has our own personal journey as it relates to coming to terms with our own sexuality and coming out.

Meanwhile the Victory Fund, a gay and lesbian political group, issued a more tepid response, saying, "We hope the fact that Ken Mehlman has reached this level of honesty will now encourage other political leaders to reject divisive anti-gay campaign tactics which, as Mr. Mehlman now admits, are purely cynical attempts to manipulate the American public."

But some more liberal-leaning bloggers aren't willing to shower the former Bush aide with adulation, no matter how difficult his own self acceptance may have been.

"The three people most responsible for the anti-gay actions of the Bush reelection campaign are Mehlman, Karl Rove and Bush," wrote Mike Rogers, a liberal blogger who has long sought to out gay Republicans. "Ken Mehlman is horridly homophobic and no matter how orchestrated his coming out is, our community should hold him accountable for his past."

The Stonewall Democrats, a group of Democratic gay and lesbian activists, expressed a similar sentiment, saying in a statement, "Mehlman presided over the Republican Party at a time when the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans were used to ill ends – marriage amendments in dozens of states, vitriolic attacks on our families, our soldiers, our very lives – all for political expediency, votes at the ballot box, and power."

Blogger Joe Jervis added, "You don't have be GAY or OUT to know that discrimination and bigotry is wrong. Don't let Mehlman's "personal journey" babble snow you."

As for Mehlman himself, the former Bush guru told the Advocate Thursday, "One thing I regret a lot is the fact that I wasn't in the position I am today where I was comfortable with this part of my life, where I was able to be an advocate against that [strategy] and able to be someone who argued against it."


Filed under: Ken Mehlman
soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. Alex

    shameful hypocrite

    August 26, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    He's a confused man,who, while having to deal with his personal issues , cose to allign himself with a party that would take away all of his perosnal rights and freedoms.
    Hopefully he is now either a liberal, outspoken Republican or an independent

    August 26, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Austin

    On the one hand, congratulations for being able to accept and embrace your reality. It can't have been easy.

    On the other hand, if you're gay, what the hell are you doing with the Republican Party?

    They make incredibly clear at every rally that they want you to not have the same rights as straight people. You're seriously willing to discard that? To accept whatever version of second-class citizenship they feel like handing out, just because you may happen to agree on other stuff?

    August 26, 2010 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  4. gt

    it dont matter who , or what postion he or any one had , its still wrong to marry one of the same sex....

    August 26, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  5. radicalconversationalist

    I think Mehlman is both courageous AND a hypocrite. The announcement, though, does not seem like a HUGE deal because so many men have exposed as closeted gay Republicans.

    The fight for same sex marriage is not over, and he's still a big name in Republican circles. So fighting for what's right is a courageous thing to do.

    August 26, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  6. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    (CNN) – Is former top Bush aid Ken Mehlman – who has told friends and family he is gay – a courageous conservative or shameful hypocrite?

    YES, he is both.
    I'm sure it is a difficult task for someone like him with such a personal ideological conflict, particularly if his cohorts would dismiss him in a nanosecond for coming out, on the one hand...

    On the other hand, failing to honor your core self in favor of your political beliefs seems tortuously self abusive.

    In the final analysis, one lives one's life as it comes. I'm sure he'll talk more about it and perhaps he can help other closeted Republicans (and Democrats) get over the "shame.," and be who they are, proudly. Maybe then Gays will get the respect, as fellow humans, that they deserve.

    August 26, 2010 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  7. Rickster

    there is nothing worse than a republican gay person who shills for his party by bashing gays.

    August 26, 2010 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  8. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    This is about the time when the GOP will throw Mr. Mehlman and all gays under the bus. I wonder what Cheney thinks about this.

    August 26, 2010 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  9. bernie

    so what's new? typical double talking republican..duy!

    August 26, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. Future expat

    Any minority that identifies with the GOP is bound to be full of self-hatred.

    August 26, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  11. Nick P.

    what a hypocrite, and why should he not look backwards when he was one of the main instigators of this issue and problem in our society! It is cowardice on the part of any individual to say we must look forward when their hateful actions, bigotry and sliminess led to so many problems for a segment of our population! No, Mr. Mehlman, you must look backwards and take those lessons to heart before you can actually move forward!

    August 26, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  12. PHVogel

    The technical term for someone who sells out his people/nation to curry favor, status, power, and pay from those in power is "quisling."

    August 26, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  13. MSH, Miami, FL

    After all the harm this man has done to gays and lesbians all across America, how can he even look himself in the mirror? He should be ashamed, not because he's gay, but because he deliberately and strategically targeted fellow gays and lesbians for mistreatment to promote his own selfish political goals. No, Ken, contrary to what you obviously believe, it is NOT all about you.

    August 26, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  14. Dave Harris

    So does he have to hate himself now, since Republicans have to hate homosexuals? It's ironic that a Republican might find himself on one of the rapidly growing lists of people, groups, and things that Republicans have to hate. The same thing happened to me when I accidentally read a science book and found myself half-educated.

    August 26, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    Both. It takes a lot of courage to come out...especially if you're a conservative and a member of the GOP. He's also certainly a hypocrite, but it takes a lot of courage to admit that publiclly too. Honestly though, I see no reason this should be a huge story. Is what it is and bottom line is that it is his business.

    August 26, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  16. suresh

    So what is new? We all know that the Republicans are hypocrite. The problem is that lot of Americans are dumb enough to buy their arguments. Look at the Tea Party folks. Ninety nine percent of these folks are not rich and fall into the category of middle class or below. However, they are supporting the Republicans who are proposing agenda that is good for the super rich that amounts to only 2% of US population.

    August 26, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  17. Can't We All Just Get Along?

    Hypocrite. Anyone who tries to strip individuals of their rights and then comes back saying "oops" because he was "confused?" Nope, hypocrite.

    August 26, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  18. trojan fan

    Just another Republican who votes against his own self interests and beliefs.

    August 26, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  19. Mesa Mick

    LOVE IT! You can hear the "good chrizz-jun conservative" re-thug-lie-cants and vigilante political evangelicals heads detonating every where!

    It took a set for Mehlman to come out and he should be saluted for his courage...But his intentional use of "family values" political actions just goes to show you once again the level of hypocracy that is embedded in the "get elected no matter what" GOP...

    August 26, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  20. Silence DoGood

    This is only a big story because Democrats and Republicans want their followers to fit into their own tiny molds.

    How about a new party that really includes lots of people. The DemoRepublicans have failed us.

    Time for a 2nd party.

    August 26, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  21. Dwayne

    It doesnt make him a hypocrite. People change and people grow-fellow gays, of all people, should know that process of insecurity and self denial that happens when coming to terms with homosexuality. Some people do it in their youth, others in adulthood, and some people never do. Who are we to judge his particular situation against our own? Just be happy he did the right thing...even if it is late in the game. The main thing people need to see is that homsexuals are normal people, too. Not just raging liberals or the overtly sexual beings that have parades in their underwear.

    August 26, 2010 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  22. Texas Doc

    Lets see Republican values = Do as I Say and Not As I Do and Wear a Pretty Dress to our Tea Parties. Tea Party!? The name expains everything.

    August 26, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  23. Marcus

    As if there's not a well stablished movement of Republican Gays!!!
    As much as some people may find it contradictory, you can be a Republican and Gay.
    In fact, I recall that when there was that gathering of Conservatives a few months back they did show up and voiced their opinions (which, gay rights aside, are pretty much the same of any Republican/conservative) loud and clear.
    The problem is to be, for political purposes, publically in favor of things that you are not and defending ideas that you (unless you're a real sick case of masochism) should and could NOT defend.
    Is that the case?
    Then he's an hypocrit.
    It is not the case?
    Then it's nobody's business what he is or is not regarding his private life (as long as, just like everybody else, he do respects other people's rights while having said private life)...

    August 26, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  24. Unions helped build the middle class

    He has a right to be gay,but the stupid part really hurts all Americans.Im boycotting Koch industries and anything they make.

    August 26, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  25. Kathy

    HYPOCRITE!!! So a big ol republican't. Do anything to get elected and then fail to do anything you promised during the campaign!

    August 26, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
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