August 26th, 2010
12:15 PM ET
13 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. Joe

    Yes, I do think that it is sad that Mehlman's decision to live in the closet all these years did lead to him actually advocating in support of policies that were not in his own self-interest. But that is really no different than lower-middle class families who are being duped into supporting Republican policies because they are fed up with the way Washington works (who isn't fed up with the way Washington works?).

    I say this. Maybe some good will come out of this. Maybe the bigots who have so thought homosexuality was "wrong" but liked Ken Mehlman all these years will figure out that homosexuals are no different than anybody else. Maybe they'll have to change their tune now.

    Remember people, Ken Mehlman is not the enemy ... it is the uninformed bigots out there who any anybody different from them.

    August 26, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  2. Tombboy2

    Cooper of Cabin Log Republicans is quoted as saying... "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." Exactly what core values is Cooper referrint to? Seriously, how can you be gay and a republican? Oh, I almost forgot – let's hate homos, join birthers loonies, spread hatred against muslims, drive pro-life messages down everyone's throat, and above all, let's do it for votes. Mr. Mehlman, it is not bad to be gay, but the hottest part of hell is reserved for hypocrites like you, Palin, Newt, Beck and all the other haters. Men, try and look up in the mirror ...your piece of ............

    August 26, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. bfranklin

    I'm sure if he was a dem eeryone woul dbe talking about how courageous he is. MANY gay people do not out themselves to protect their jobs. MANY gay people also do not agree with Gay Marriage. Why is this a story. The vary fact that CNN has had 2 stories in this platorm about it shows that they are meerly trying to stoke the fire and create a larger gap between gays and straights in America. Now that is hypocritical.

    August 26, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  4. Mike S. - Dayton, OH

    There is nothing wrong with congratulating him and wishing him well in his new liberated life.

    Beyond that, he deserves no heroic praise, because thousands across the country take this step all the time and very few of them have done the kind of damage to fellow brothers and sisters that this man and his party has perpetrated. So, is he a shameful hypocrite? Absolutely and much worse. Whoever said quisling, was spot on. He didn't just do damage to gays and lesbians intentionally pushing a nationwide anti-homosexual campaign, he literally damaged the fabric of this country by driving our society further apart. He and his party vilified (and continue to) a group of people for political gain.

    August 26, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  5. Shakes Head

    I will never understand why some poeple support a party that thinks it is O.K. to treat them, or anyone for that matter, as second class citizens. WE vare all human beings and all pay taxes according to the same tax table.

    August 26, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  6. Will South Dakota

    He lied simply put....he lied, he lied, he denied, did nothing to advance equal protections...he lied to promote divisions in America.

    August 26, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  7. Waterflaws - Denver

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

    He's definitely a shameful hypocrite; not sure about being a top. As a gay man, I loathe him and the bad thing's he's done to my friends, family, and MY rights and all the other terrible things the Republican Party has done with his blessing.

    Too Late, Mehlman! You did it all for personal gain/profit. Go back in the closet with the others from your Right-Wing, Hypocritical, Corrupt and Corporate Republican Party.

    Now we need to know who Jeff Gannon-Guckert was visiting so often in the White House, during BUSH II.

    August 26, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  8. Jess

    I'm amazed at all the uninformed posters around here. 1. Republicans are not "required to hate" gay people. I know a lot of Republicans who don't hate gays. Also, President Obama, a Democrat, is against gay marriage, too. Does that mean he hates gays? 2. "I wonder what Cheney thinks of this"? Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian, and he said way back in 2004 that he supported gay marriage. I bet he has no problem with Ken Mehlman. Besides, Mehlman's sexuality was not exactly a secret when he worked for the GOP, and it wasn't a major issue.

    Seriously, folks, educate yourselves a bit before you post.

    August 26, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  9. patrick

    He has probably fallen in love, and now needs to get married, hence his coming out. Unfortunate that it had to happen this way.

    August 26, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  10. Ellid

    I think he's a bit of both. It's quite possible that he struggled for years with admitting that he was gay, but he'll have to do a LOT of work on behalf of gay causes to make up for the enormous damage his work has done to the LGBT community.

    August 26, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  11. Larry

    Repubs politician are all alike, McCain, Palin, etc. Whatever it takes to win, they are such hypocrites...Less government in people lives, yet in the Terri Schiavo case they tried to use government to dictate what is a family decision (just to make a political statement); Right to life, but to man they believe in the death penalty and again trying to get government to dictate a family/personal decision; Agree on every Bush budget spending/tax cut during two wars and running up over a Trillion dollar deficit, now the deficit is the root of all evil to them; The Repubs are "pro-war, anti-environment, anti-equality, and yet call themselves "pro-life"". Really that explains why idiots like Palin/Beck/Bachmann can be the voice of this party...the party has no moral centers. Just look at your leaders!!!!

    August 26, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  12. bonger

    time to start THE GAY TEA PARTY!!

    August 26, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  13. Michael

    what a hypocrite like all in the Bush adminstration.
    Bush was surrounded by gays or lesbians.
    Rove, yep he is too.
    They are wanna-be men like Bush himself. Thats why they started 2 wars to prove their manhood.
    What a joke.
    Rush's new best friend is Elton John.
    Glenn Beck hmmmmm?
    Guess the Republican party is the party of gays against gays.

    August 26, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  14. Mark, Phoenix

    Well, blow me down.

    August 26, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  15. Ryan

    Even when GW Bush shows he was very understanding and not a Gay basher, the left still talks trash. You people make me sick and are a major reason why the republicans will regain the house and possible the senate this fall. GW was and is a Patriot of this country more then you can say about the loser who occopies it today!

    August 26, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  16. Ben in Texas

    In a strange way, Mehlman fits with the Repugnant Party, which is full of people who are working diligently against their own self interest. Any working person who votes Repugnant is in that class, as the last thing the Repugnant leadership cares about is working people. People who claim to be Christians are likewise self-defeating if they vote Repugnant, as they are voting for the party of bigotry, torture, and religious intolerance. Constitutionalists who favor the Repugnants are supporting the very folks who have done the most to subvert and mangle the Constitution. And Gay Republican sounds oxymoronic, but it's more common than logic would lead us to believe.

    However, there are those in "Repugnant World" who do support their own self interest. They are the ones in the top 1% income bracket. The rest are delusional.

    August 26, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  17. thomas

    Who's next to come out of the closet ?
    Maybe the Governor of Texas , Rush Limbo , Glam Beck ?

    Honesty and Truth Vs Denial and ignorance .

    Christian right Vs Christian Wrong

    August 26, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  18. Walter

    I'm not ready to conclude that he is a hypocrite. But he needs to provide an honest and straightforward accounting of his role in the Bush administration's gay-bashing campaign. He needs to accept responsibility.

    August 26, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
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