On Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama and Frank Rich’s Decision to Sell Us, His Largest and Heretofore Most Devoted Constituency, Down the River

09Dec07

Of all the political columnists at The New York Times, Frank Rich has always seemed the most comfortable — or perhaps we should say the least oblivious — writing about political and social issues from what could be called a gay perspective. After all Rich, who was perhaps the most feared theater critic in the history of the newspaper, certainly knows how to access his inner queen, which makes his prose so much more interesting than say, Bob Herbert, who now and again will write something supportive, but whose tepid, predictable prose makes him a sitting duck for the right. As for the rest of them — Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Gail Collins, Nick Kristoff, Paul Krugman, and Thomas Friedman — although we occasionally agree with or (in Dowd’s case) are amused by one of their columns, we never truly identify with them because to read their writing is to get the sense (like so much of the post-war American political and cultural landscape) that gays simply do not exist. (We should take a moment here to note our longstanding dismay that The Times — the newspaper of record for the largest and gayest city in the world — does not have a single openly gay political columnist among its ranks; even a “homocon” like Andrew Sullivan would be a huge improvement over the current editorial wasteland at The Times). So we have had to make do with Frank Rich, and to his credit, he has generally risen to the occasion, writing with force and clarity in his adopted gay voice (though for the record he is legally married — and not in Massachusetts — with children, which is to say that whatever he is, he’s not openly gay) about the usual range of inequalities and indignities heaped upon queens, dykes and related outsiders in the longstanding effort to disenfranchise us from the power structure of the country.

Thus, imagine how we felt today reading Rich’s column, in which he lauds presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama for their “uplifting” campaigns but completely fails to mention the extreme prejudice (or at least in Obama’s case, insensitivity) each candidate has displayed on the gay front. To quote Rich, he writes that, as with Obama’s recent surge in the polls, “[t]he real reason for Mr. Huckabee’s ascendance may be that his message is simply more uplifting — and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian — than that of rivals whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o’clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia favored by the entire G.O.P. field with the sometime exception of John McCain.” Rich concludes by predicting that “Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Obama… are both betting that this is another crossroads, like 1960, when Americans are hungry for a leader who will refocus the nation on the path ahead.”

Rich’s failure to discuss Obama’s missteps through a gay lens is problematic, given the candidate’s decision this fall to do a gospel tour with Donnie McClurkin, a self-hating queen who has sex with men but who “crusades against ‘the curse of homosexuality’,” but far more disturbing is Rich’s failure to mention Huckabee’s position of record with regard to AIDS . Incredibly, Huckabee has written that Hollywood celebrities should fund AIDS research from their own pockets, rather than federal health agencies, that (and this in his own words) “[i]f the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague,” and that “[i]t is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.”

Granted, Huckabee made these statements 15 years ago while running for a different office, but it’s not as if he has apologized or at least tried (like Obama) to explain what is essentially a fascist position (that these statements did not permanently end Huckabee’s political career shows the extent to which homophobia is still tacitly or explicitly accepted in the United States). Maybe Huckabee will distance himself from these positions (as Andrew Sullivan predicts) or maybe he won’t (given Huckabee’s political base, we are not optimistic), but the true offense here belongs to Rich, who (of all people) should not have given Huckabee a pass on this.

We can only imagine how many men Rich knew from his theater-critic days who died of AIDS, and how they would respond to his appraisal of Huckabee’s campaign as “Christian” and “uplifting.” After today, we suspect they are all rolling in their graves; or, as the saying goes: with friends like Rich, who needs enemies?

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