Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Missing Link

Charles Kaiser might be a well-known and award-winning historian, but as a journalist, he's strictly an amateur -- and that's being kind.

Kaiser is the "author" of a feature article in Out Magazine that purports to be about gay Republicans in Washington. The 2,831-word article, as others have already noted, analyzes the presence of gay Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the Executive Branch without a single new quotation from an actual gay Republican.

The best one can say about Kaiser's article is that it is a clip-job nearly worthy of a high-school social-studies term paper. Kaiser does quote previously-published articles by journalists who think enough of their subject to seek them out and ask them what they think. (Oddly, Kaiser seems to have a great deal of respect for Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who has done his homework and pursues shoe-leather journalism the old-fashioned way. But why bother doing that when Google is available?)

While Kaiser relies entirely on secondary sources for his quotations from Republicans, Kaiser does take the time to get soundbites from Democratic sources, such as Representative Barney Frank. He quotes Frank as saying:

“Locke says that one of the major arguments for, in effect, representative government is, if the people who make the laws are not subject to the laws, they will make bad laws with impunity,” Frank says. “That was a very important principle in the document that was the single most important influence on our Constitution. A basic principle of free government is that rulers must be subject to the laws they make.”
But then, without citation, Kaiser goes on to say about this:
Practically all Republicans -- and quite a few Democrats -- disagree with Frank about this...
Certainly there are quite a few politicians, from every party except the Libertarians, who would disagree that lawmakers should be subject to the laws they make -- even though this has been a major feature of Anglo-Saxon constitutional theory since Magna Carta. (John Locke merely explicated the point; he didn't come up with it on his own.)

Yet to assert (without a bit of proof, even a quotation from a hostile source) that "practically all Republicans" disagree with the notion ignores the centerpiece of the "Contract with America" that was partially responsible for the election of a Republican majority in Congress in 1994, after 40 years of Democratic impunity that culminated in the House post office/banking scandal. Here's what that Contract said, in part:

This year's election offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works. That historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money. It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.

Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right." To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.

On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

  • FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;...
The Contract with America was signed by all but a few of the Republican candidates for the House of Representatives in 1994. (I recall that there were two or three incumbents who refused to sign on.) That "first principle" was therefore given the assent of the vast majority of GOP congressional candidates that year; that the Contract still remains on web site of the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that it continues to carry some weight with the minority party.

There are legitimate areas of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. (There are even legitimate areas of disagreement among factions within those two parties.) Clear and civil discussion of the issues is necessary to the maintenance of a free and democratic republic. Kaiser's article in Out fails to point toward those areas of disagreement that separate gay Democrats from gay Republicans. He makes no effort to understand why some gay men and lesbians may choose to be conservative or Republican activists. To him, it's a greater mystery than transubstantiation and therefore he need not explore it.

If, like Kaiser and others cited in his article, you are still mystified as to why there might be gay Republicans in Washington or any other part of the country, take a look at the principles of the Contract with America and other published Republican documents. Read Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative. Listen to Ronald Reagan's speech, "A Time for Choosing."

That not all Republicans today live up to the ideals of Reagan or Goldwater is no reason to abandon the party, any more than the fact that not every one of today's Democrats live up to the ideals of Thomas Jefferson or the record of Grover Cleveland.

Charles Kaiser's effort at "journalism," meanwhile, fails to live up to any standards at all. He, and Out Magazine, should be embarrassed that this jumble of notecards ever connected ink to paper.

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