I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ken Blackwell and Sean Hannity demonstrate the GOP's commitment to privacy

(updated below - updated again)

We learned this week that the one thing Republicans find absolutely despicable is using someone's private homosexuality for political gain. Politics might be a contact sport, but they simply cannot tolerate the disclosure of a politician's private sexual behavior. For instance, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Thursday that Ohio Republican Ken Blackwell is now attempting to win his election for Governor by working with Fox News' Sean Hannity and another right-wing radio talk show host to publicize innuendo that Blackwell's Democratic opponent, the married Ted Strickland, is gay:

Ken Blackwell’s gubernatorial campaign today distributed harsh comments by radio talk show host Bill Cunningham related to Ted Strickland’s sexuality and about a former campaign aide arrested in 1994 for public indecency.

In a news statement emailed to Statehouse reporters, the campaign reprinted a transcript from Wednesday night’s Fox News’ Hannity and Colmes television show. The show’s co-host, Sean Hannity, is a Blackwell supporter, who will be in Blue Ash for a Blackwell rally today. They also sent out a digital video version.

Cunningham, who hosts a talk radio show on WLW radio, was a guest on the program. During the TV broadcast, Cunningham questioned the Democratic congressman’s sexuality -- even after Strickland declared Wednesday: “No, I am not gay, although it is none of their business in the first place.”

At one point in the Fox News interview, Cunningham said: “After the (1998) election Ted Strickland flies off to the shores of Naples, Italy in order to enjoy a little fun with this 26-year-old boy toy" . . . .

“Sean Hannity is campaigning today with Ken Blackwell in Cincinnati. So propping up a Blackwell supporter on a television that is hosted by a Blackwell supporter does not make for legitimate news,’’ [Strickland campaign spokesman Keith] Dailey said. “These guys are desperate. They’re losing horribly in the polls. People are turning away from this kind of negative politicking. It seems to just draw the nastiness out of them more. ”

On Wednesday night, Sean Hannity put Cunningham on Fox's Hannity & Colmes in order to disseminate the innuendo that Strickland is gay, the "proof" being that he took a trip to Italy with his 26-year-old "boy toy" Congressional aide. And now, the Blackwell campaign itself is sending these "reports" of Strickland's alleged homosexuality to reporters throughout Ohio.

Right-wing pundits this week spent several days expressing such intense outrage over the outing by Mike Rogers, claiming that the conduct of this single, obscure blogger somehow shows how depraved and evil The Democratic Party itself is. Many of them literally claimed that Democrats deserve to lose the election because of the actions of Rogers. A certain loyal gay Republican rather sadly claimed that the Mike Rogers outing incident shows that Republicans have now become the pro-gay party ("it is conservatives sticking up for gay people and their privacy").

Glenn Reynolds actually said yesterday that he voted for Republican Bob Corker over Democrat Harold Ford in the Tennessee Senate race in large part because of the Mike Rogers outing incident: "ultimately the combination of Ford's "F" rating on gun rights and the sleazy 'outing' behavior of the Democrats was such that I just felt I had to vote Republican in this race" and "not long ago I was thinking that a Democratic majority in Congress wouldn't be so bad; but the sexual McCarthyism from the pro-outing crowd, coupled with the Dems' steadfast refusal to offer anything useful on national security, has convinced me that they just don't deserve a victory with those tactics."

Ken Blackwell was chosen to be the nominee of the Republican Party for Governor in Ohio. He has the support of the entire GOP national political establishment, is an elected Republican official, played a crucial role in George Bush's 2004 victory in Ohio, and has been widely considered a rising Republican star. After Rush Limbaugh (who has long spread insinuations that Hillary Clinton is gay), Sean Hannity (who this week also promoted and defended a new book claiming that Cindy Sheehan had an affair with Lew Rockwell and is an online porn addict) is the most popular GOP pundit in the country.

Exploiting politicians' private sexual behavior generally, and the practice of "outing" specifically, is a tactic used by some of the most important Republican and conservative political figures. By contrast, Mike Rogers is an obscure Internet blogger and I'm not aware of a single prominent Democrat who supports him or has any connections to him. Yet we are told that hatred for outing is a reason to vote against Democrats, because Republicans would never engage in such lowly behavior and have nothing to do with it (Ramesh Ponnuru, to his credit, has condemned Blackwell, though not Republicans generally or "the Right," as a result of this incident).

The lesson we learned this week can be summarized this way:

* Mike Rogers (along with, as Scott Lemieux put it, "a poster at Daily Kos . . . Ward Churchill and the immortal Some Guy With A Sign Somewhere") = Leader and Symbol of the Democratic Party, whose outing activities reflect on all Democrats generally and the Party itself.

* Ken Blackwell, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh = obscure nobodies who have nothing at all to do with Republicans generally and whose use of people's private sexual behavior for political gain says nothing at all about the Republican Party.

I realize that, especially as an election approaches, one can't expect logical consistency, but depicting the GOP as the party which values privacy and considers sexual behavior -- especially gay sexual behavior -- off limits politically ought to be beyond anyone's capacity to delude themselves and others. But as was demonstrated rather conclusively this week, it isn't. Really, nothing is.

UPDATE: As Tim Grieve notes, the Strickland outing rumors are being disseminated in a coordinated fashion by the Blackwell campaign itself: "Blackwell's campaign YouTubed a clip of Cunningham's appearance with Hannity, then posted it to its Web site and e-mailed it to supporters and reporters. And then the campaign invited Cunningham and Hannity to speak at a campaign event."

UPDATE II: An actual, real libertarian, Radley Balko, has a great post with some similar arguments on this topic, along with some excellent additional observations.

UPDATE III: Credit where it's due: Kirsten Powers recognizes that the rationale on which criticism of the Craig outing is based compels criticism of the Blackwell/Hannity conduct regarding Strickland.

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