They wanna party like it’s 1959

    As they say in the U.S. Senate, I wish to revise and extend my remarks. I wrote here on Friday that the Republican party’s “traditional anti-gay rhetoric is far more muted this year.” Actually, that statement is both correct and misleading. The party establishment is indeed behaving more tolerantly toward gays than in the recent past. The hitch, however, is that some of the tea-partiers seeking to crash the party still seem to think we’re living in 1959.

    By now it’s conventional wisdom that conservative social issues are off the table in 2010, that the tea-partiers care only about taxes and related fiscal issues. Yet it’s worth noting that some of our tea-party Republican candidates are notoriously unenlightened about the gay citizenry, to the point where it’s embarrassingly clear that these candidates dwell in the realm of the ignorant.

    Lest we forget, last week we witnessed New York gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino’s attempt to lump gays in the same category with “perverts” and “pornographers,” and recently we learned that Christine O’Donnell aspires to bring this wisdom to the Senate chamber: “Homosexuality is an identity adopted from societal factors. It’s an identity disorder.” But now comes a fresh example from another tea-partier, courtesy of an exchange yesterday on Meet The Press. I was still groggy from the Saturday night Phillies game, but when Colorado senatorial candidate Ken Buck spoke up, I woke up.

    Host David Gregory: “Do you believe that being gay is a choice?”

    Buck: “I do.”

    Gregory: “Based on what?”

    Buck: “Based on what?”

    Gregory: “Yeah, do you believe that?”

    Buck: “Well, I guess you can choose who your partner is.”

    Gregory: “You don’t think it’s something that’s determined at birth?”

    Buck: “I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice.”

    Basically, you have a choice…There it is, the reactionary mantra that persists despite the well-documented conclusions long reached by every prominent psychological and mental health organization in the United States.

    And Buck didn’t just “misspeak,” either. He basically said the same thing during a recent debate, when he argued that gay military people should stay in the closet and thus minimize any “distractions that are caused by allowing lifestyle choices to become part of the discussion.”

    Lifestyle choices…Yeah, I guess that millions of Americans are anxious to voluntarily sign up to be treated as second-class citizens, as political punching bags. By Buck’s reasoning, lots of people willfully choose to be targeted by gay-bashing bigots; they choose to have no federal protection from job discrimination. Given the “lifestyle choices” freely available to all, who could resist such a bargain?

    Anyway, here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics says about the choice canard: “One’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.” Here’s what the American Psychological Association says about that: “(M)ost people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” The APA also says that sexual orientation is not “a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.”

    I assume somebody would argue that Paladino, O’Donnell, and Buck are outliers in the tea-party world, that their ignorance of behavioral science is not widely shared, that their decrees about gays are rare in a movement that focuses on the fiscal. But one need not dig very deeply to find virulently anti-gay screeds on tea-party websites.

    For instance, one major group, Tea Party Patriots, has posted acres of sludge for the edification of its acolytes. If you are loathe to wade in, here are my two favorite lines about gays: “Biblical scripture is very clear and very harsh about the sin of their lifestyle ‘choice.'” And this: “The Gay Agenda must make quick work of the complete and utter annihilation of conservatism in order to survive as a permissible lifestyle choice.”

    Ken Buck, meeting with reporters after his Meet The Press appearance, was asked to cite evidence for his lifestyle-choice remarks. His reply: “I haven’t studied the issue, but that’s my feeling on the issue.”

    What better way to sum up the 2010 political zeitgeist, than to admit that no basic research has been allowed to penetrate his mind; that, in essence, he has no idea what he’s talking about?

    Don’t Think, Just Feel…that would make a swell tea-party placard.

    ——-

    Just for fun, in a Sunday newspaper column I took the minority position that Democratic candidates should be touting the health care reform law – specifically, the consumer protections that kicked in last month. I mentioned that only three House Democrats are taking that route, but now there is actually a fourth, Pennsylvania’s Allyson Schwartz. She has this ad.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.