Log Cabin blasts GOP; Gay group wants rejection of religious right

Lou Chibbaro Jr., The Washington Blade
February 19, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

A national gay Republican group added its voice this week to a growing number of prominent GOP moderates who are urging the party to distance itself from its religious right faction, especially the anti-gay, social conservatives.

In a televised press conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Feb. 16, Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said the Republican-led impeachment trial of President Clinton, combined with the anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant positions taken by many of the GOP's far-right leaders, has created for the Republicans the image of a mean-spirited and intolerant party.

Tafel said party leaders have been "sold" on the idea that the party must embrace the positions of the religious right and social conservatives in order to win elections.

"The Teletubbies and Tinky Winkey, meteor showers on Disneyland, a Jewish anti-Christ, keeping 'In God we trust' on the coins -- these are very comical issues, and it's sad to say that these are the issues that are being put forth by the far right in the Republican Party," said Tafel, in opening the press conference. "As we celebrate Lincoln's birthday and look to the party of Lincoln," he said, "we have to ask the question, 'Has the party of Lincoln been hijacked by people with an agenda that's extreme and far from the mainstream of Americans?'"

Tafel delivered his remarks at a press conference at the National Press Club, which was televised live by C-SPAN and rebroadcast during prime-time viewing hours. Joining Tafel at the press conference were Faye M. Anderson, president of the Douglas Policy Institute, a moderate GOP group with a largely African American membership; and Ann Stone, chair of Republicans for Choice, another moderate GOP group that has called on the party to drop its platform plank seeking to make abortions illegal.

The Log Cabin sponsored press conference came two days after many of the Republican Party's most prominent moderates, including New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland, convened in Miami to discuss how to repair what they said was the party's tarnished image following the Clinton impeachment trial.

"The fact is that many Americans right now have an impression of the Republican Party that's mean-spirited, vindictive, and was not attending to the public's business," Rowland told the New York Times. "We have done incredible damage because, in my opinion, we've developed a laundry list of people that we're against," Rowland told the Times.

Conservative Republican strategist Mary Matalin, who served as campaign manager for President George Bush's 1992 campaign, told the NBC News program Meet the Press the next day that she will "demonize Republicans that gay bash" in the 2000 election campaign.

"I'm not going to be officially working for anybody," Matalin said. "But if we don't get off of that, we don't deserve to be a majority party, that's for sure."

In a proposal likely to draw the wrath of religious right leaders, Tafel called on GOP presidential candidates to imitate President Clinton's 1992 campaign decision to denounce controversial rap singer Sister Souljah. The denouncement by Clinton was seen as a symbolic gesture to distance himself from the Democratic Party's far-left wing. Clinton criticized Sister Souljah shortly after she told the Washington Post, in an interview, that black people who kill other black people every day in inner city crimes should "have a week and kill white people."

"To create a new word, I believe the GOP needs to Sister Souljah-ize the far right," Tafel said. He said Republican presidential candidates and Republican leaders in Congress should each take a dramatic step by forcefully criticizing one or more far right figures.

He also called on the party to embrace the nation's minorities, including gay people, saying party leaders should reach out to minorities and invite them to open, televised town meetings.

The Republican National Committee – possibly because of its alarm over the recent criticism by moderate Republicans – dispatched its director of coalitions, Robert George, to attend the Log Cabin press conference. During a question and answer period for reporters, George disputed the assertions by Tafel and the other speakers, saying the party stands for key principles such as lowering taxes and improving education rather than intolerance.

George's remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Anderson, who said she and other African American members of the GOP – along with such groups as Log Cabin Republicans – want to help the party by making it more welcoming to minorities. She accused George of failing to recognize "what you're doing wrong."

Political analyst Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said the calls by Log Cabin Republicans and other GOP moderates for the party to repudiate gay bashing tactics in the upcoming presidential race could resonate among party leaders.

"There's a lot of turmoil in the post-impeachment GOP," Sabato told the Blade in a telephone interview. "The moderates are speaking out. The Christian Coalition is itself in turmoil."

"But all this is secondary to the selection of the Republican presidential nominee," Sabato said. "If they pick [Texas Governor] George W. Bush, the party will be seen as more compassionate. If they go to a Gary Bauer [the anti-gay, religious right leader], their message will be very different."

In a related development, the Family Research Council, an anti-gay group, attacked Log Cabin Republicans in a recent newsletter. FRC said Log Cabin's recently announced plans to lobby GOP leaders to ban anti-gay speeches and signs at the 2000 Republican Convention is an attempt to "short-circuit free speech."

"According to the homosexual newspaper The Washington Blade, the Log Cabin Republicans – 'a nation gay group' – plans to spend 'more than $1 million' to silence opponents of the homosexual special rights agenda," the FRC warned in a Feb. 10 newsletter article.

Log Cabin's Tafel called the FRC report "bizarre," saying the Log Cabin proposal seeks to help the Republicans win back the presidency in 2000 by persuading the party to be "inclusive to minorities."

Tafel cited a poll that Log Cabin commissioned in November, following the Congressional elections, which he said supports the contention that the religious right has alienated the public and is hurting the Republican Party. One of the questions the poll asked was, "Would you be more likely or less likely to support a Republican candidate for president who confronted the religious right, rather than pandering to them?" Fifty-three percent of Republican respondents said they were more likely, compared to 28 percent of GOP respondents who said they were less likely.