Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Can Still be Mayor of My Heart

Once upon a time, a gay man named Sam Adams became the gay mayor of Portland, and it was a milestone because he was gay.

Then, he admitted that he'd had a sexual relationship with his intern, who was seventeen at the start of their affair. The gay mayor was not sitting pretty with the townsfolk, who called on him to resign and said he'd broken their trust. The gay mayor was penitent, but decided to remain mayor. The New York Times wrote a nice summary of the sordid episode yesterday in its delightfully named Outposts section.

Now this whole thing recalls the arguments of Lewinskygate: should a politician be judged by his private, sexual life? And does lying about his personal life prove that a politician is unfit for the job? Those are questions I will not attempt to answer, because each argument has its merits. But Thomas Egan, who penned the Times piece, would like to remind you that this isn't a Gay issue, it's a Politics issue:

The story of Sam Adams is not about gay predators or gay anything, because Portland has seen this civic morality tale once before, with a heterosexual mayor.

Sorry, Tom. You should be right, but you're not. This is a gay issue, because when a visible leader of a minority movement does something bad, the transgression comes to represent the community that leader represented. Like, what if a Jewish politican had done something really bad--wouldn't that all but torpedo Jewish political hopes for the next generation or two? Why yes, yes it would:

Some years ago I watched Neil Goldschmidt completely dominate a room of fellow politicians. He was the Great Jewish Hope — Portland mayor at age 32, transportation secretary for President Jimmy Carter at age 39, and then governor of Oregon.

People who saw Goldschmidt in his prime wondered when this guy would make history and become the first Jewish president. He could talk a dog off a meat wagon. He was smarter than anyone in the room. The great mystery around him was why he stepped off the political ladder.

The answer came years later, when the Willamette Week revealed that Goldschmidt had sexually abused his babysitter, starting when she was 14 and he was the married mayor of Portland. Mystery solved. The newspaper, which won a deserved Pulitzer for the story, also broke the lies of Sam Adams.

For you see, Tom, America has always been a Christian nation. It is a tolerant Christian nation--not always tolerant at first, but it gets there eventually--where the norm is still the White, Christian, Straight Male. When a politician who doesn't fit into that mold tries to win an important seat, it becomes a Minority thing, which is why Barack Obama's electoral victory is such a big deal. It's also why any future female candidate for president will inevitably be compared, on a microscopic level, to Hillary Clinton. And it's the reason why the next time a gay guy runs for mayor of a major city, you can bet voters are going to remember Sam Adams, and said politigeigh will have to explain both Adams and the gay community at large.

-Josh

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