It would only figure that being gay would also make you bipartisan. Or so says a trough of bilge named William Gheen, who is the head of the South Carolina branch of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC). This "up is down" method of reverse labeling used to be called Orwellian, until the Michael Jordan of bizarro sloganeering, Frank Luntz, emerged to advise the GOP. So, ALIPAC is merely Luntzian for "Round 'em up, load 'em up, and move 'em out."
Even professional xenophobe Lou Dobbs was offended by Gheen's jaw-dropping speech to a Greenville, South Carolina, Tea Party rally, in which he demanded that Senator Lindsey Graham "come out of that log cabin closet" and "tell people about your alternative lifestyle and your homosexuality."
If that weren't sufficient nastiness for one speech, the Gheen slime creature continued: "I need to figure out why you're trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to be sure you being gay isn't it." In a state famous for political luminaries like Strom "Jungle Fever" Thurmond and Governor Mark "The Gaucho" Sanford, Gheen has publicly accused the senator of being manipulated by blackmail to maintain his "secret." The days of blackmailing public officials over their sexuality have pretty much ended in this country — all except for one place: the Republican Party.
There's a documentary film worth seeing, readily available on cable, called Outrage, which proves it's hard out there for a closeted, gay Republican. Gay activists, weary of legislators living one way and voting another, gathered witnesses to provide anecdotal evidence that some of the GOP's fiercest opponents of same-sex marriage and gay rights are themselves closeted gays. Rumors about Graham's sexuality are common D.C. gossip fodder, but this unprovoked public attack occurred because ALIPAC is really more concerned about Graham's conduct in the Senate chamber, rather than the bed chamber.
Not that I savor defending a red-state conservative who called the health-care reform bill "a Ponzi scheme." But Graham is one of the few remaining Republicans who, on occasion, will work with members of the opposite party for the benefit of the country. This dying breed was known in a previous century as a "moderate." Gheen must think "reaching across the aisle" means something else.
The right's outrage over Graham results from his co-sponsorship of an immigration-reform bill with New York liberal Democrat Chuck Schumer. Queer-baiting is merely the surest and fastest way to rile up the rubes into indignant opposition, and the insinuation that Graham is somehow being coerced into working with the Democrats sounds like a bad plot from a cold-war espionage movie. Judging from the roaring response from the Tea Party crowd, however, it seems gays are among the last groups that it is still safe to publicly demonize.
Openly gay congressman Barney Frank has endured slings and arrows from his critics yet remains an effective Democratic advocate, while Republican governor Charlie Crist of Florida, outed as a closeted gay in the aforementioned documentary, is about to be hounded from the party. The Tea Party has declared jihad on those Republicans they determine to be insufficiently conservative and there's an ethnic-cleansing taking place to purge the ranks of the weakhearted. But screaming "homo" at Lindsey Graham wasn't really about sexuality. It was about immigration. I guess if you can get mud on several groups at once with just one swipe of the brush, all the better. Nothing gets the Tea Partiers' blood up faster than a hot-tempered tub-thumper railing against illegal immigrants or homosexuals, and if you're a gay Mexican, God help you.
The true outrage is that confessed whoremongers like David Vitter and John Ensign remain in Congress, unscathed by the censure of their colleagues, while Graham, who served six years in the Air Force and in the JAG Corps during the Gulf War, is smeared by the "new right."
This sort of ugliness is part of the reason why sane people question the Tea Party's motives. They call for less intrusive federal government but demand an unconditional ban on abortion; they want a smaller government while we fight two wars with an economy on life support but don't want to touch Social Security, Medicare, or the military budget. They believe in the principle of state's rights yet favor a national constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. And when a state — as Arizona just did — grants powers to the police to detain and demand identification from anyone at any time and for any reason, that is called "fascism." It's what the "Greatest Generation" sacrificed nearly 300,000 men to fight against in WWII. But then again, Arizona produced Barry Goldwater and was the last state to acknowledge a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. And it's a state where war hero John McCain has to re-animate his Frankenstein monster, Sarah Palin, to help him win a Republican primary.
There is an angry, anti-incumbent mood in the air, and the Democrats will undoubtedly lose seats in 2010. But should the Tea Party confuse that for a personal victory and continue polluting the air with their public vitriol, they will share the same destiny as the Dixiecrats in 1948. Or as their candidate, old Strom Thurmond, used to call them between visits to his sweet thang: "real Americans."
Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this article first appeared.