Editors' Note: Guest blogger Chris Worden is a family-law attorney and political commentator. Chris has managed two successful statewide races in Indiana, including the campaign to elect Pam Carter, the nation's first African-American woman attorney general.
Outrage, Kirby Dick's new exposé pic, will live up to its name, but it's unclear against whom the "rage" should flow. The film's philosophical core is that any elected but closeted gay who would vote against gay-friendly legislation is a hypocrite who Dick must out. He obligingly does so.
I would agree that closeted gay officials who stridently bash their own for sport are worthy of censure, but not those who simply vote down "gay friendly" legislation. In fact, those officials are arguably showing the greatest fealty to their mandates as elected officers.
Irish philosopher Edmund Burke (1727-1797) posited two philosophies for representative government - the delegate model and the trustee model.
In the delegate model, representatives serve as "the mouthpiece" for constituents' wishes, regardless of their own opinions. The delegate model does not afford the luxury of acting from conscience. Under this theory, a congressman in a district against gay marriage votes against it. End of story.
In contrast, in the trustee model, the public sanctions an elected official's exercise of deliberative and voting autonomy when the common good demands, even if it means going against the short-term interest of the constituency. Governing is complicated, and decisions are often time-sensitive. The delegate model provides a solution to the problem of uninformed constituents who lack the necessary knowledge on issues to take an educated position.
One might assert, then, that a gay congressman could use the trustee model to say he knows better than his constituents who oppose gay marriage. But gay marriage is not the type of issue where an elected official gets to freelance. It's not bond rates, bailout plans, or national security. In fact, it is something about which everyone has an opinion, whether we conceive it as ill-informed or thoughtful and well-articulated. Even under the trustee model, to simply "go rogue" and vote for gay marriage in a district that opposes it is a breach of electoral trust. (Oh, the person could do it, and we might even call it courageous, but we certainly should not expect the voters to send the person back two years later.)
Show polling data in any congressional district or state where gay marriage is favored and a gay Republican voted against it anyway, and I will get on board fully with exposing self-loathing hypocrisy. (Let me save you the time, though. You can't.)
As a white, male, heterosexual (the most privileged American alive!), I am intrigued that minority politics demands so much counter-productive sacrifice of its members' individual identities. Outrage's violators have not breached electoral duties, after all; they've breached Dick's rules of identity politics.
Put bluntly, gay people who put their sexual identity front and center demand that everyone do the same. This conceit is replicated in all minority groups, which is why you hear some African-Americans groan whenever one of their own says during a national TV interview, "I'm not a black singer; I'm a singer who happens to be black."
Were I a black man, I would groan, too, if we were talking about music. I wouldn't groan if it were about politics though.
Electoral success is based on the notion that no matter the official's race, color, gender, creed, religion, or orientation, he or she will sacrifice self-interest to do the constituents' will. There is value in being able to say that identity might shape beliefs, but it will not determine the outcome.
President Kennedy faced this challenge. Millions of Americans believed Kennedy would subjugate his electoral duties to his Catholic faith. In response, Kennedy went way overboard to reassure Americans, and when the time came, he favored the death penalty. Was Kennedy a self-loathing hypocrite, or just a president who "happened to be Catholic?"
One of my favorite West Wing scenes involves Judge Mendoza, a Latino (played with gravitas by Edward James Olmos) who is the President's nominee for the Supreme Court. Mendoza is humiliated in front of his son when he is stopped and arrested for being dark-skinned. When the White House's communications director, Toby Zeigler, comes to get Mendoza out of jail, he initially refuses:
"You pull all the strings you want, Toby, but not for me. Come Monday, I'm gonna avail myself of the criminal justice system for which I have worked my entire adult life."
Mendoza says this, knowing that he will doom his chance to serve on the Supreme Court. His point is clearly that it is better to stand on principle than to sell out to gain office.
Zeigler rebuts: "There is nothing about this that doesn't stink. And nothing about it that wouldn't be better if you were a Supreme Court Justice."
This is the pragmatic, long-range view through which every minority group in American history has expanded its power. People like Dick might do well to allow for the possibility that it's not always hypocrisy at work when elected officials vote with their constituents on core "value issues."
If the GLBTG community permitted all elected officials to do that for which they were elected - to serve their constituents before their identities - Congress might have more than three openly-gay members.