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

Mehlman news fuels divisive reaction


 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. Jack in Florida

    Good luck to you in your "new" life! Being true to oneself is of the utmost importance. Your true friends will be there for you and those you thought were friends, kick them to the curb!

    August 26, 2010 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  2. 'Bama Grandma

    Hypocrite. Mehlman put party politics and his own self interests before the civil rights of America's gay/lesbian community. Hopefully he will now use his platform to fight for gay marriage.

    August 26, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  3. don

    too bad he didn't have this much courage in 2006.

    August 26, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  4. Rose

    Sounds a lot like Barney Frank!!!! I forgot, Barney Frank is a democrat so that doesn't count.

    August 26, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  5. VB Lincoln Park NJ

    The recently documentary showed just some of the hypocritical repugnicans who are shown to be gay, but always spout their homophobic hysteria.

    Their actions are an excellent definition of the word HYPOCRITE!!!!!!

    August 26, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |

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

    Just like Owebama and his close Gitmo thing, with the exectuive order and all.

    label all elected officials as hypocrites, not just the GOP.....educate yourself before you post..............or leave the internet to those who have more than a few brain cells and can think for themselves..........women and the internet dont mix

    August 26, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  7. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Republican = Hypocrite

    August 26, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  8. John

    What do you expect, he's a Republican.

    August 26, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  9. Mike

    Mehlman, Rove and Bush. Two out of three are gay. Guess which ones?

    August 26, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. Eric in Manhattan

    Yes, it couldn't have been easy to come to terms with himself. However, at some level he had to know he was living a lie AND supporting a political party that is shameless in its pursuit of power at the expense of personal freedoms. Being gay, African American or Hispanic AND a Republican is an oxymoron. I sincerely hope that Mehlman now spends his time and energy making amends with those he maligned. I have no hope that any amount of effort will change the Republican party as long as so many of its closeted members stay silent.

    August 26, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  11. Erik

    He's a self-absorbed, opportunistic slime ball. He was very instrumental in seriously damaging us. He's of the same ilk as Edwards and Craig – hypocritical freaks thinking it's all about them always.

    August 26, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  12. ART

    Definately a hypocrite, and I don't care what he does now, too little too late

    August 26, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  13. Al-NY,NY

    Good for him to come out. Too bad he'll now be an outcast in the party of homo-phobic Taliban-like bible thumpers

    August 26, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  14. KLK

    Surprised? I'm not.

    August 26, 2010 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  15. Sid

    Mehlman is vile and putrid. As long as he's still using his powers to raise money and support anti-gay candidates, then he's just another self-loathing, egocentric, power-hungry, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, Republican. Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Roy Blunt, Mark Foley, James West. Mehlman joins a continually expanding circle of men with little regard for anyone but themselves.

    August 26, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  16. Frank in Valparaiso Indiana

    The GOP is full of bigots who will do anything to win.

    August 26, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  17. Clwyd

    The Repulsive Party will probably x-communicate him for his crimes. There is no room in the Party of Gloom for anybody, but right wing conservative straight religious nuts!

    August 26, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  18. NC Ex-Pub

    To tee-baggers, any thing less than a 55+, white, gun totting, bigotted, homophobe, Fox Noise junkie, history revisionist, strict constitutionalist – except for the 1st, 14th and 17 amendments, Paliban-Beck-Hannity worshipper, conservative Christian is a "shameful hypocrite.

    I think this man is courageous!

    August 26, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  19. susan

    Kind of lends credence to the idea that those who work hardest against gay rights are really closet gays themselves. Ones struggling with their identity.

    August 26, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  20. Scott

    In related news, Michael Steele is black.

    Who knew?

    August 26, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  21. JDJ

    Cooper's quote is interesting. He said that when someone is in the "reconciliation process" and feels a conflict, there is an immediate desire to fix it. Although he said there is no on/off switch, it seems like Mr. Cooper unknowingly admitted that becoming gay is a choice.

    August 26, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  22. Charlie

    Interestingly, the only people who think this is big news are the liberals. Conservatives are accepting and tolerant of the mans lifestyle. This isn't the 1950s and isn't even news worthy.

    August 26, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  23. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    When I first saw the brief for the original article yesterday, I thought a Bush aid was outing W, not himself. It was a grabber headline. When I read the article, I thought nothing about it. Many of the most vehement anti-gay rhetoric has come out of people who have admitted (or been forcibly outed) that they are homosexuals. I don't know if it is self-hate, denial or what that causes them to do this. I do know that when someone is finally honest about their sexuality they don't need to be baited about it, bashed or anything else. They do need understanding from their families, friends, etc. I hope for his sake that he does not belong to one of those churches who still think we should be burning homosexuals at the stake!

    August 26, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  24. Jerry D

    This is another perfect example that the right can never win in an argument. Your sexual preference has no bearing on your character, choices in who you step on, or level of hatred. Those who are openly Gay and claim the Republican Party have something else to steer them to the party. Their sexual preference has no issue in their choosing a party who has slowly descended to the lowest form of hate filled divider there can be. It's not about having it both ways, it's about siding with those who care solely about their own gain and reign!

    August 26, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  25. Jamie from Riverside

    Shameful, lying, hypocrite...and he's ugly.

    August 26, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
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