Some of the most thorough reporting comes from The Advocate’s website, where writers Kerry Eleveld and Andrew Harmon survey Mehlman’s past before examining his potential as a game-changing political force in the gay marriage debate.
“I have spent no time thinking about where Ken was four-to-five-to-six years ago. I’m just thankful that he’s with us today,” said Chad Griffin, co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the organization that’s solely funding the legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 in federal court brought by former Bush solicitor general Ted Oslon and progressive legal eagle David Boies.
“He is one of the most brilliant political strategists from the Republican side of the aisle,” said Griffin, “and he is also a master fundraiser and brings contacts and relationships to bear that are comparable to almost no one.”
…As Steve Elmendorf, a Washington Democratic political operative, observed, “Ted Olson brought incredible credibility to the legal case, Ken can bring incredible credibility to our political case and send the message that being on the right side of this issue is not going to cost you politically.”
Not all in the LGBT community are welcoming Mehlman and his strategist credentials into the fold. His mea culpa with Ambinder has not been enough for fiery blogger Joe My God, for example, who pointed to Mehlman’s “crimes against his own people” and called the former RNC chair a “Repulsive Anti-Gay Quisling Homophobic Scumbag.” Mike Rogers at BlogActive writes:
Ken Mehlman is horridly homophobic and no matter how orchestrated his coming out is, our community should hold him accountable for his past.
I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for being the architect of the 2004 Bush reelection campaign. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for his role in developing strategy that resulted in George W. Bush threatening to veto ENDA or any bill containing hate crimes laws. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for the pressing of two Federal Marriage Amendments as political tools. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for developing the 72-hour strategy, using homophobic churches to become political arms of the GOP before Election Day.
The language is intemperate and charged, and the laying of blame too singly focused. But the bloggers are hitting a legitimate point. Here is a man who’s operated at the center of a machine that has taken stands against the person he now realizes he is, and everyone else like him. And while he claims to have struggled with his sexuality for a long time—he tells Ambinder, for forty-three years—and wishes he had have realized sooner so that he might have worked against the Federal Marriage Amendment while in power, Mehlman’s sexuality is said by some to be one of the “worst kept secrets in Washington.” It’s surfaced nationally before, as well. Bill Maher outed him on Larry King in 2006 and Mehlman was fingered in the partisan documentary, “Outrage,” which argued closeted lawmakers worked against gay rights to conceal their own sexuality.
If Mehlman came to terms with his sexuality sooner than his discussions with Ambinder or Politico’s Mike Allen suggest, then he did have the opportunity to reach out to the gay community while in power. And his timing now—unshackled by a (slightly) more tolerant GOP, spurred by the Prop 8 debate and his new work for gay rights—is as political as was his decision to stay mum while at the top of the GOP. His apology is dishonest.
Of course, that’s a lot of ifs. And one can’t blame some mainstream outlets for playing up the impact of a prominent gay GOP-er on the gay marriage debate. It’s a very interesting shift. And Mehlman has as much right to privacy to as Clay Aitken or anyone else who chooses their own time to come out. But we have a right to ask questions that arise in his story when he chooses to make it public. A responsibility to do so in this case, which is about the future of more than pop music or tennis.
“Exactly when did you realize this about yourself?” is a legitimate question here. The whole premise of Mehlman’s public regret hinges on it. As does the LGBT community’s new embrace of him. “Fairly recently” might not cut it as an answer. He should have been pushed. Before Mehlman is emblemized as an agent of tolerance today, we should hold him fully accountable for yesterday.