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Guest Blogger

Unclear against whom the "rage" should flow

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 04, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: anti-gay politicians, Chris Worden, closeted politicians, documentary film, gay rights, outing, OutRage!

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Chris Worden is a family-law attorney and political commentator. Chris has managed two successful statewide races in Indiana, including the campaign to elect Pam Carter, the nation's first African-American woman attorney general.

Chris-Worden-headshot.pngOutrage, Kirby Dick's new exposé pic, will live up to its name, but it's unclear against whom the "rage" should flow. The film's philosophical core is that any elected but closeted gay who would vote against gay-friendly legislation is a hypocrite who Dick must out. He obligingly does so.

I would agree that closeted gay officials who stridently bash their own for sport are worthy of censure, but not those who simply vote down "gay friendly" legislation. In fact, those officials are arguably showing the greatest fealty to their mandates as elected officers.

Irish philosopher Edmund Burke (1727-1797) posited two philosophies for representative government - the delegate model and the trustee model.

In the delegate model, representatives serve as "the mouthpiece" for constituents' wishes, regardless of their own opinions. The delegate model does not afford the luxury of acting from conscience. Under this theory, a congressman in a district against gay marriage votes against it. End of story.

In contrast, in the trustee model, the public sanctions an elected official's exercise of deliberative and voting autonomy when the common good demands, even if it means going against the short-term interest of the constituency. Governing is complicated, and decisions are often time-sensitive. The delegate model provides a solution to the problem of uninformed constituents who lack the necessary knowledge on issues to take an educated position.

One might assert, then, that a gay congressman could use the trustee model to say he knows better than his constituents who oppose gay marriage. But gay marriage is not the type of issue where an elected official gets to freelance. It's not bond rates, bailout plans, or national security. In fact, it is something about which everyone has an opinion, whether we conceive it as ill-informed or thoughtful and well-articulated. Even under the trustee model, to simply "go rogue" and vote for gay marriage in a district that opposes it is a breach of electoral trust. (Oh, the person could do it, and we might even call it courageous, but we certainly should not expect the voters to send the person back two years later.)

Show polling data in any congressional district or state where gay marriage is favored and a gay Republican voted against it anyway, and I will get on board fully with exposing self-loathing hypocrisy. (Let me save you the time, though. You can't.)

As a white, male, heterosexual (the most privileged American alive!), I am intrigued that minority politics demands so much counter-productive sacrifice of its members' individual identities. Outrage's violators have not breached electoral duties, after all; they've breached Dick's rules of identity politics.

Put bluntly, gay people who put their sexual identity front and center demand that everyone do the same. This conceit is replicated in all minority groups, which is why you hear some African-Americans groan whenever one of their own says during a national TV interview, "I'm not a black singer; I'm a singer who happens to be black."

Were I a black man, I would groan, too, if we were talking about music. I wouldn't groan if it were about politics though.

Electoral success is based on the notion that no matter the official's race, color, gender, creed, religion, or orientation, he or she will sacrifice self-interest to do the constituents' will. There is value in being able to say that identity might shape beliefs, but it will not determine the outcome.

President Kennedy faced this challenge. Millions of Americans believed Kennedy would subjugate his electoral duties to his Catholic faith. In response, Kennedy went way overboard to reassure Americans, and when the time came, he favored the death penalty. Was Kennedy a self-loathing hypocrite, or just a president who "happened to be Catholic?"

One of my favorite West Wing scenes involves Judge Mendoza, a Latino (played with gravitas by Edward James Olmos) who is the President's nominee for the Supreme Court. Mendoza is humiliated in front of his son when he is stopped and arrested for being dark-skinned. When the White House's communications director, Toby Zeigler, comes to get Mendoza out of jail, he initially refuses:

"You pull all the strings you want, Toby, but not for me. Come Monday, I'm gonna avail myself of the criminal justice system for which I have worked my entire adult life."

Mendoza says this, knowing that he will doom his chance to serve on the Supreme Court. His point is clearly that it is better to stand on principle than to sell out to gain office.

Zeigler rebuts: "There is nothing about this that doesn't stink. And nothing about it that wouldn't be better if you were a Supreme Court Justice."

This is the pragmatic, long-range view through which every minority group in American history has expanded its power. People like Dick might do well to allow for the possibility that it's not always hypocrisy at work when elected officials vote with their constituents on core "value issues."

If the GLBTG community permitted all elected officials to do that for which they were elected - to serve their constituents before their identities - Congress might have more than three openly-gay members.


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There is no problem being gay anymore than there is being straight. It's all the headtrips around the issue. We have to out these people by simply celebrating them even if they are incapable of doing so.


Ewe, I like the fighting spirit, and since outings will tank more Republicans than Democrats, maybe I'm foolish not to embrace the process. But it plays into the notion that gay politicians are wired in their DNA to be gay advocates first, and representatives of their constituents second and not the other way around. That notion will cost votes.

If you say, "Who cares," fair enough. But my mantra having worked for minority candidates quite a bit is "get the vote, get the boat, THEN rock it." Had the President made helping African-Americans the focal point of his election, he'd be just Senator Obama right now. But as President, can he do more for African-Americans?

Gay bashers revel in saying there is a "gay agenda." Outing people who do not conform to the impressin of what gay people should support doesn't really dispel that notion, does it? To get comfort among the voting masses, non-gays have to see that being gay does not make one a captive anymore than Kennedy's Catholicism did. If the implicit message to secretly gay officials is "vote as we say" or else?

so get your party hats and let's go storm their offices. We cannot demand equality if we do not believe it.

A closeted official that runs on a family values platform, votes anti-gay and diddles on the down low should be exposed to the cold clear light of day. The same applies to a legislator who rails on and on about prostitution and visits the Mustang Ranch on the side.

GregC:

Your point intrigues me because you are talking about personal conduct which is certainly part of selecting a representative (is (s)he honorable, honest, loyal to his/her partner), but it can be distinct from voting on an issue in a way your constituents want, can't it?

Two quick hypothetical questions:

(1) If my congressional district overwhelmingly hates gambling, but I go to the riverboats every week, am I barred from voting against casinos, talking against them, or both?

(2) If I smoke cigarettes as president of the United States, am I barred from having my FDA regulate tobacco or saying it's a good idea, even though this is what Americans want?

This might be just my lawyer coming out, but when you "represent" someone, you advocate for them and their objectives, often when they are not YOUR objectives.

This is the job, and some closeted Republicans want to keep theirs by fulfilling the job duties. We're going to blackmail them for it? It just doesn't seem right somehow.

Here's a third hypo. A closeted congressman gets elected, then comes out, then votes against gay marriage because his constituents vehemently oppose it. I bet his constituents would be more likely to re-elect that man/woman if he voted their interests instead of his personal interests. Wouldn't it make more sense tactically to have a gay rep in Congress even if he doesn't always carry the water than to NOT have one there at all (which is what would likely happen to gay Republicans who are successfully outed)?

I will set aside for a moment how offensive the comparisons to cigarette smoking and gambling are.

Last time I checked, those elected to office represent all of the voters. I expect a legislator to consider issues on an informed basis. If he or she becomes informed and votes counter to my wishes, so be it.

I also expect them to comport themselves in a manner consistent with campaign and floor speeches.

The President has to answer to his daughters about his smoking, not to me. He's never lied to me about his smoking.

On the theoretical level, another purpose of the trustee model is to protect the rights of minorities against majority factions. Should only legislators who are not part of the targeted minority group follow this model?

On the more practical level, the experience in Massachusetts does not support your assertions. Of all the legislators who voted their conscience against the various bans on same-sex marriage that were brought forward after the Goodridge decision in 2003, not a single one -- not a single one, straight or gay -- was voted out of office. Many of those legislators were from districts where a majority of their constituents were thought to support a ban on same-sex marriage. But they were also smart enough to support a principled legislator who voted his/her conscience on a matter of basic fairness and equality.

Rick Loesser | May 4, 2009 10:13 PM

Justice is every person's responsibility, whether their friends, neighbors, or constituents recognize how best to achieve it.

Brad Bailey | May 5, 2009 1:16 AM

This is a great article. You make a good point, Mr. Worden, and you make it very eloquently. You've given me pause, which few op-ed writers do. Burke is one of the founding fathers of conservative thought and I agree with a lot of his views (I can't seem to grasp his concept of "prescription and prejudice"). I also find myself agreeing with your point that an elected representative, gay or straight, should be obligated to vote the conscience of his constituency.

I question the validity of the two hypos you pose in your response to Greg C. I don't believe that smoking and gambling per se are moral issues, and as such are not accurate qualifiers of an elected representative's integrity. Neither is homosexuality, so you will understand if most gays don't regard the latter as a "core value issue." On the other hand, behaviors like cheating on one's spouse, public restroom sex, and pedophilia are behaviors which definitely reflect on a person's moral character, gay or straight.

The last paragraph of your article is hypothetical and moot, but definitely worthy of reflection.

Thanks again for a great commentary.

Show polling data in any congressional district or state where gay marriage is favored and a gay Republican voted against it anyway, and I will get on board fully with exposing self-loathing hypocrisy. (Let me save you the time, though. You can't.)

Allow me to introduce you to Minnesota's (gay) Republican Senator Koerin, Chris.

Bil:

I was about to get fired up! But then I read the article and saw...no polling data to prove his district is pro-gay marriage. Dang! He was about to bcome the first prototype for hypocritical self-loathing. The quest continues.... ha ha ha!

Chris

You do realize that finding openly gay Republicans is like hunting a unicorn, don't you? Add in the whole "who's been elected to public office" and it's now hunting a unicorn with wings. Throw in the "who's constituency supports same-sex marriage but he votes against it" and now we're hunting an invisible flying unicorn.

How many states have voted on whether or not to approve same-sex marriage? (Not amendments, that's different. You can be anti-amendment and anti-gay marriage.) Out of those, how many legislators are openly LGBT? And out of that already tiny sliver, how many are Republican? And of those, how many voted against same-sex marriage?

Bil:

Let's just restrict our search to two-headed alligators.

Let's make it any elected official OR candidate who is Gay, whether out OR closeted, who is in a pro-gay marriage district (be it congressional OR city-county council), who still votes OR campaigns against gay marriage. That's somebody I'd criticize.

But a gay rep in a predominantly anti-gay marriage district? What do you think (s)he'd do? Put personal interest first and lose the next election? What gay person would that help?

While I may disagree with the state senator's position, I kind of admire him for doing what he was elected to do when it clearly cost him. I don't know if there's a list entitled "Most Unpopular Gay men in American," but if so, he's gotta be on it.

About a week ago, Bilerico ran a guest post by Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) about why he co-sponsored the hate crimes prevention act that just passed in the house. At the end, he wrote "As a member of Congress, I strive to be a Representative in the truest sense of the word by representing all of my constituents no matter how politically marginalized they may be."

This is what I expect from my elected officials. There are times when the best way to represent one's contituents is to go with what you perceive to be the majority opinion. And there are times when representing your constituents means being sure to represent all of them, even -- especially -- those without a strong political voice.

Brad:

Thanks for the praise. I want to apologize to you and the other Bilerico readers because sometimes my Thought A merges into Thought B.

I wasn't trying to say that tobacco use and gambling are the same as orientation, which is something you can't choose. I was seeking to find a parallel to GregC's prostitution scenario. However, there are a multitude of other values-conflicting, hot button issues where I can see a representative doing something personally while voting in an opposite way because that's what the job requires.

Minority-group leaders who champion identity politics require so much more from their members than the majority ever does. That's one of its ironies and internal conflicts. A minority group will say treat us like everybody else, but then will often forces its members to carry a group agenda which will probably keep its members from being electorally viable.

Sometimes the best play is the pragmatic one, and I will take a closeted gay congressman who doesn't support gay marriage who hires gays in his office over an arch-conservative who won't do either. If outing that closeted gay congressman costs him his office, what has been achieved?

Food for thought, even if only a nibble. Thanks for reading Bilerico! I love this website because they solicit all views, even if they challenge orthodoxy.