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The Republican Closet That Won't Stay Closed

A Commentary By Joe Conason

Friday, December 16, 2011

If these are the last weeks of Rick Perry's ridiculous presidential campaign, his desperation is turning him into a nasty clown indeed. By publicly attacking the gays and lesbians who have chosen to serve their country in uniform, the Texas governor seems to have gained ground in Iowa. But at what cost did he win a few points that still leave him well below the top tier? His pollster and consultant Tony Fabrizio has been "outed," rightly or wrongly -- and worse still, the swinging closet door of the Republican Party has been flung open again. Who else will be found inside?

From the days of the Cold War, when reigning mischief-maker Roy Cohn was bedding boys and denouncing gays as "sissies," through the hidden homosexual history that leads from Marvin Liebman, co-founder of the National Review to Arthur Finkelstein, the ad man behind the '80s conservative revival, to the defection of former "hit man" David Brock, to Ken Mehlman, the Bush-era party chairman who didn't dare (until recently) to speak of his own true nature, and even Karl Rove, who ran gay-baiting campaigns despite his own father's orientation, Republicans have repeatedly watched their own intellectual and political leaders embarrassed by what emerges from that capacious closet.

In Fabrizio's case, he was pushed out by GOProud, an organization of right-leaning gays, when its leader, Jimmy DeSalvia, complained on a message board about the latest Perry ad, which says there's "something wrong" in America when gays can serve "openly" in the military but children cannot pray in public schools.

"I've just about had it with faggots who line their pockets with checks from anti-gay homophobes while throwing the rest of us under the bus," wrote DeSalvia on a public message board, specifying as follows: "I'm talking about Rick Perry's pollster/strategist." Although DeSalvia was quickly denounced for "outing" by his own board of directors, the damage had been done. A longtime friend of Fabrizio, speaking on background to The National Memo, said he was unaware of the consultant's alleged proclivities: "Tony has been a friend of mine for 30-plus years. I know he worked for the pro-marriage equality side in Florida when a constitutional amendment was on the ballot," said the friend. "I find it surprising, but as a libertarian, I don't care what he does in his free time."

Fair enough, although the straight supporters of GOProud, including Ann Coulter, never seem to have much to say when a politician like Perry openly attacks gays and lesbians to court evangelical voters. That is the reason that the Republican closet door keeps swinging open, with ugly and sometimes chaotic consequences. The "secrets" aren't really secret -- and every time a Republican politician attempts to use bigotry for political gain, the risk of outing is always there.

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