It’s always fascinating to behold the behavior of a politician during a crisis of his own making. At first, he’ll typically deny he said or did anything wrong. He’ll defy his critics by refusing to budge an inch. But, eventually, he’ll try to wriggle free, either by shifting blame, or claiming to be misunderstood, or whatever. And in the final phase of the crisis, he’ll grudgingly mutter some form of sorry.
For instance, let’s consider the past three days in the life of Carl Paladino. As you probably know by now, he’s the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York – and, perhaps more importantly, he is yet another tea-party gift to our national political discourse.
Late yesterday afternoon, a Paladino email landed with a thud in my in-box. I will now disconstruct his message, which can best be described as a semi-apologia for the bigotry he expressed toward gay people in a Sunday speech. This weasily email is worth a close look, because it’s a classic of the genre.
But first, a quick recap. While speaking Sunday to an approving audience of Orthodox Jewish leaders, Paladino did some verbal gay-bashing. After warning that “we must stop pandering to the pornographers and the perverts who seek to target our children and destroy their lives,” he made it clear that he viewed gays as one broad category of perverts.
To wit: “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option. It isn’t.” He assailed opponent Andrew Cuomo’s decision to march last year in a gay pride parade, saying “That’s not the example we should be showing our children.” His prepared speech text also stated, “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual…That’s not how God created us,” although Paladino didn’t recite this out loud.
Naturally, Paladino quickly found himself under fire. There’s no need here to detail the reasons why. Suffice it to say that he came off as a tad medieval when he said (a) that gays should not be viewed as equal citizens of our society, and (b) that our children should not be “brainwashed” into thinking so.
His first defense strategy was to hunker down and say nothing; he declined interview requests. His second strategy was defiance. In a Monday appearance on The Today Show, he doubled down, characterizing New York’s gay pride parade as an opportunity to watch “a couple of grown men grind against each other. I don’t think it’s proper. I think it’s disgusting.”
I do want to get to his email, with all deliberate speed, but first let’s pause to recognize the hilarity of this guy seeking to define what is or what is not “disgusting” – given his documented track record of swapping, with his buddies, a range of emails that include photos of a woman having sex with a horse (entitled “Easy Steady Big Fella”), a plane landing right behind a group of black men (with the caption “Run N—-s Run!”), and Barack Obama photoshopped to look like a pimp.
Anyway, the email is Paladino’s bid to tamp down the furor over his anti-gay remarks. These tea-party candidates are supposed to be outsiders, but this one has all the traits of a typical, rationalizing politician. The email has all the standard excuses:
It’s the staff’s fault. Paladino writes, “I was handed a script. I redacted some contents that were unacceptable.” Yeah, the bigotry just somehow landed in his hands. Blaming staffers is an old dodge; it works only if we ignore the basic truth, which is that staffers by definition seek to please the boss. Paladino’s speechwriter crafted the anti-gay passages because he knew they reflected Paladino’s thinking.
It’s my tongue’s fault. Paladino writes, “I did also say some things for which I should have chosen better words…I ask you for forgiveness on my poorly chosen words.” This is another old dodge, the notion that somehow a politician’s views would sound better with a different set of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Which means, of course, that his basic views remain unchanged.
It’s the press’ fault. Well, duh. We knew that one was coming. Blaming the media is the oldest dodge of all. Paladino writes, “I said other things that the press misinterpreted and misstated.” He doesn’t give any examples, but he was apparently referring to his prepared text passage about the “dysfunctional homosexual.” Some early newspaper stories reported that he had verbally uttered the passage. He didn’t. But he has yet to explain why that passage was “unacceptable,” since it basically reflects what he said aloud.
Oh, all right, if you insist. Finally, the mea culpa: “I sincerely apologize for any comment that may have offended the gay and lesbian communitty or their family members. Any reference to branding an entire community based on a small representation of them is wrong.”
But what really matters is what he initially said on Sunday – and what he failed to say on Sunday. Two days earlier, nine men in the Bronx had been arrested for torturing a trio of people whom they suspected of being gay. Last month, a Rutgers student jumped off a bridge after two classmates outed him via a broadcast over the Internet. Paladino never referenced either incident in his Sunday speech; instead, he gave fresh license to gay-bashers by characterizing gays as marginal people.
This is what happens when extremists invade the two-party system. Even worse, let us count the number of Republican establishment leaders who have come to the fore to denounce Paladino’s remarks. I’m still on my first finger. That says it all.
Programming note: Delaware Senate candidates Christine “I’m Not a Witch” O’Donnell and Chris Coons are slated to debate tonight at 7:30; it will be broadcast live on WHYY. I’m scheduled to add my two cents during the post-debate analysis.