Saturday, May 14, 2005

Does The Economist know something we don't? 

By this time, you've all heard of the downfall of Spokane's anti-gay crusader, Jim West:

As toug-talking conservatives go, they didn't come much tougher than Jim West. The state legislator and mayor of Spokane—a city of 200,000 in Washington state's north-eastern corner—opposed gay rights and abortion and once wrote a bill banning sex between teenagers, gay or straight. Yet Mr West, 54, led a double life. In recent months he apparently conducted an internet conversation with, as he supposed, a 17-year-old boy who went by the alias of “motobrock34”. The conversations were flirty and sometimes overtly sexual, and in their final chats the two arranged to meet.

But motobrock34 was not a teenage boy. He was an investigator hired by a Spokane daily newspaper, the Spokesman-Review. In the past week the newspaper has printed its online chats with Mr West, who at one point offered to make motobrock34 his intern. It also claimed that Mr West molested two boys more than 25 years ago, when he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader, and that since becoming mayor in early 2004 he has offered city jobs to two young men he met in internet gay chat rooms. Mr West admits to the online conversations, and that he has had “relations” with young men. He denies the molestation charges, and that he lured young men by using the trappings of his office.

With recall petitions afoot and the FBI now on the case, Mr West looks doomed. His downfall will send ripples across much of Washington state. He is one of the most powerful politicians in the state's eastern half, and has talked of running for governor. The revelations about him may also boost a “gay civil rights” measure that was narrowly defeated in the state legislature this past April but will probably come up for a vote again next year.

There may be wider ripples, too. Gay conservatives are mumbling of undisclosed homosexuals in the Republican hierarchy. An equivalent sting in Washington, DC (remember Mayor Marion Barry smoking crack?) might find some unexpectedly famous names in Mr West's virtual hunting grounds.
(via The Economist)

Hmmm... Famous names, eh? Perhaps one of "Jeff Gannon"'s clients?

Frank Rich seems to be thinking the same way:

Even as it has ceased to be a crime or necessarily a political career-breaker to be gay, unprincipled gay-baiting has mushroomed into a full-fledged political movement. It's a virulent animosity toward gay people that really unites the leaders of the anti-"activist" judiciary crusade, not any intellectually coherent legal theory (they're for judicial activism when it might benefit them in Florida). Their campaign menaces the country on a grander scale than Drury and Preminger ever could have imagined: it uses gay people as cannon fodder on the way to its greater goal of taking down a branch of government that is crucial to constitutional checks and balances...

These people have been attacking gay people since well before Massachusetts judges took up the issue of marriage, Vermont legalized civil unions or Gavin Newsom was in grade school. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, characterizes the religious right's anti-gay campaign as a 30-year war, dating back to the late 1970's, when the Miss America runner-up Anita Bryant championed the overturning of an anti-discrimination law protecting gay men and lesbians in Dade County, Fla., and the Rev. Jerry Falwell's newly formed Moral Majority issued a "Declaration of War" against homosexuality.

What adds a peculiar dynamic to this anti-gay juggernaut is the continued emergence of gay people within its ranks. [T]his has been a consistent pattern throughout the 30-year war. Terry Dolan, a closeted gay man, ran the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which as far back as 1980 was putting out fund-raising letters that said, "Our nation's moral fiber is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement and the fanatical E.R.A. pushers (many of whom publicly brag they are lesbians)." (Dolan recanted and endorsed gay rights before he died of AIDS in 1986.) The latest boldface name to marry his same-sex partner in Massachusetts is Arthur Finkelstein, the political operative behind the electoral success of Jesse Helms, a senator so homophobic he voted in the minority of the 97-to-3 reauthorization of the Ryan White act for AIDS funding and treatment in 1995.

But surely the most arresting recent case is James E. West, the powerful Republican mayor of Spokane, Wash. ... Not unlike the Roy Cohn of "Angels in America" - who describes himself as "a heterosexual man" who has sex "with guys" - Mr. West has said he had "relations with adult men" but doesn't "characterize" himself as gay. This is more than hypocrisy - it's pathology.

[The 1950s] were the dark ages, but it isn't entirely progress that we now have a wider war on gay people, thinly disguised as a debate over the filibuster, cloaked in religion, and counting among its shock troops politicians as utterly bereft of moral bearings as James West.
(via the at-last-one-other-reason-to-read-it-besides-Krugman New York Times)


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