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. Stanhope

    Mehlman's queerness was no secret. Why the GOP let him assume the leadership of their party is the big question.

    Then again, Terry Dolan was their fundraising wunderkind back in the 80's. He was all but completely out of the closet.

    August 26, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  2. Robert

    As a gay man, I say better late then never... but gay Republicans are too much to take. expecially when they are working against their own best interests and the interests of those in their community. Glad to see that you came out though! :)

    August 26, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. Tori

    Gee. Color me shocked. Not.

    Mr Mehlman was not a confused child or in high school when he fought against equal rights for GLBTs in the Bush admin, he was a educated, intelligent, fully grown man who knew exactly how his actions would affect others.

    I wonder how much gay bashing he heard in his presence. I wonder if he ever defended others against it. Whether one considers him a hypocrite or a courageous conservative is irrelivent now – the hurt he caused and the damage he's already done cannot be taken back. That's why having integrity is more valuable than any amount of money or power.

    August 26, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  4. Lama

    So did it just occur to him last week that he was a homosexual? Or has he lived a life of self hatred and denial? I'm betting the latter. While he's a sympathetic figure because of his presumably life long struggle, he's also been a catalyst for the religious rights take over of the R party. It may seem cliche and a bit out there, but I see little difference between him and jews who helped the nazi's round up other jews in Germany.

    August 26, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  5. Von Bismark-Vienna

    Who will be next? Maybe Newt Gingrich!

    August 26, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. Former Republican, but never again!

    Another Republican hypocrite!

    August 26, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  7. John Metsopoulos

    How many lives he destroyed, how many people his actions hurt emotionally, physically and mentally. He has taken a very small step forward, he needs to do alot more to help undo all the damage he has caused to lives of millions.

    August 26, 2010 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  8. edward

    I wouldn't be surprised if Rove will be the next one to come on out. Gay's who have an epiphany late in life after having bashed other's for being gay themselves need to eat some humble pie for a long time. The GOP is just full of hypocrites!

    August 26, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  9. picturethisifyouwill

    Hahahaha, another gay republican closet-burner. It never gets old, does it?

    August 26, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  10. Jake

    Pathetic little man. Hypocrit. Just look at the damage the Republican's did while in office and he was part of it. Liar, cheat, thief, republican, fool.

    August 26, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  11. JTinCowtown

    Noble, not nobEL....bugger-all, apologies to Alfred B. !
    Damn these fingers!

    August 26, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  12. Ron , West Coast

    Ken Melman is a self hating hypocrite who has no shame and should be given no respect .... And by the way , I knew even before he was "out-ted" in 2006 by Bill Mahr that he was gay . Just take one good look at his mouth , if that look does`nt say gay ,..... then grits ain`t groceries , eggs ain`t poultery , and Mona Lisa was a man . Karl Rove was the head honco and numero uno gay in the Bush / Cheney administration who is still in the "closet". Another one is Ari Fleisher , Bush`es ex – White House Press secretary , who got married to disguise the fact that he is gay , and again , take a good look at his mouth , just the way Ken Melman`s looks , just like a lot of gays mouths look .

    August 26, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. Bill

    When Bill Maher outed this guy on the Larry King show in 2006, Mehlman's response was:

    "Mehlman denied that he was gay in May 2006. “I’m not gay,” Mehlman told the New York Daily News, “but those stories did a number on my dating life for six months"

    SHAMEFUL HYPOCRITE!!!

    August 26, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  14. JD in Moraga, CA

    A political expedient and nothing more. When he was with the "in" crowd he used their power; now that his (former) crowd is no longer in power, he chooses a quick path to attempt to retain relevancy in the political world. No stunning revelations here.

    August 26, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  15. Blkman

    YET another bit of proof of the level of HYPOCRICE within the GOP. Are republicans even HUMAN? Dayummmmmmmmmm!

    August 26, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  16. Lucas Breen

    I don't think every gay person in the public spotlight should have to come out to be considered a person of integrity.

    However, I do think there is a special place in hell for those closeted gays who use their public positions to inflame homophobia in pursuit of power for themselves or their patrons..

    August 26, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  17. John

    Gee..all the lying, cheating, hateful chickens are coming home to roost. As a proud, professional gay man, I think Mr. Mehlman must make a public apology to the gay community for the hateful and evil agenda against gay people that the right wing/republicans have foisted upon us for many years. Mr. Mehlman was in the epicenter of this hatfulness. For years his ilk have denied EQUAL rights to the LGBT Community. Now that he is gay, he needs to apologize to all of us and prove to us in word AND deed that he is worthy of being welcomed into our community.

    August 26, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  18. chuck

    The harm that he has done in his previous and powerful capacity to generations of unborn gay people and young openly gay and brave adolescents who dodge name-calling and physical abuse on a daily basis will forever outweigh anything he could possibly do or say today. His career meant more to him than any gay persons struggle for the promise that our founding fathers made to all of us. His "struggles" with his homosexuality were partially caused by his strong affiliation with those that would gladly denigrate his family, life and liberty without blinking. His sycophant behavior has won him nothing but a sad and pathetic position in history that he will never be able to erase. He was happy to tell millions of gay people all across the planet that their relationships mean nothing and don't even compare to George and Laura. What a waste!!!

    August 26, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  19. Jonny-Boy

    "Silence DoGood August 26th, 2010 12:39 pm ET

    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."

    Smartest comment here.

    As to those who insist gay Republicans are voting against their own self interest, consider this: gays, statistically, are a wealthier group than average Americans. So, perhaps they ARE voting in their own self interests, just not the ones you'd like them to pursue.

    August 26, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  20. mike

    So does that mean the rest of his party will consider him the same as a dog since they equate gay sex to bestiality? Aaah nothing like family values loving, gay hating republicans. Oh by the way Ken... I hear Lindsey Graham is available :)

    August 26, 2010 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  21. A. Goodwin

    I am glad he has come out and is true to himself, but its such a shame that he took away the personal rights of so many during his leadership. If he really had the guts to do his job at the time, he would have come forward, but he put party and politics above all others – including himself. How shameful.

    August 26, 2010 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  22. Marty, FL

    I guess it's just fine now Mr. Mehlman "all-of-a-sudden" had an epiphany about his orientation (as if he 'never' knew before). Come on.

    Ken Mehlman was RNC Chairman and Bush's campaign manager while his GOP "leadership" pushed a disgraceful agenda of bigotry & homophobia (sadly still do). Ken remained shamelessly silent, which equated to complacency of his party's persecution of the gay community. Hypocrisy here is unfortunately an understatement.

    All Americans surely deserve better.

    August 26, 2010 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  23. nfl1

    Both. He does need to look back, and hopefully take a leadership role in undoing some of the tremendous hurt caused by the Bush Administration's policies. If, in particular, he stands up and as loudly and proudly (as he did in his political roll getting people elected and policies enacted) now works to educate all the staunch Republicans who are not "enlightened" and help them to support dismantling some of the prejudicial and discriminatory programs and laws that are still in place, that would go a long way in regaining respect from those harmed by the policies (and their straight allies).

    August 26, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  24. Rosslaw

    I'm sure he can redeem himself with his Republican friends by dwelling on the "drug running" illegal immigrants, no matter how many times the Border Patrol says that is not true, "anchor babies", "terrorist babies" and a few good shots at American Muslims, even with the knowledge that Al Quadi considers that expression of vitriol by the Rethugs to be yet another gift from them. You know, all the real issues that impact Americans today.

    August 26, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  25. John

    "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."

    I regret that he did not have the [integrity] to stand up for equality and civility of his own community whether or not he felt comfortable to come out personally. Lots of us have had similar struggles. That did not mean that we maligned, injured and sought to injure others who are making the same journey.

    August 26, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
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