October 18, 2006

Requiring a Moral Excuse for Due Diligence

Justin Katz

The comments to my most recent post on same-sex marriage rapidly branched off into discussion of a Westerly Republican politician who is, apparently, homosexual. Having not researched the man for myself, I won't presume to offer analysis; I'll merely explain that the initial question posed by a commenter, Bryan, was: "How can a man who lives with his male lover properly represent all of the values that I feel so strongly about." Thus inspired to investigate, Bryan (and others) have discovered multiple questionable items in the politician's past, such as frequent party switching, audience-specific dishonesty about his sexual orientation, and even a possible lie about having been in the World Trade Center on September 11.

Again, until I've had a chance to do the research, I'm not going to comment further on the specifics. A more broadly applicable question has emerged within the discussion, however, and it's certainly one worth consideration. From commenter Rhody:

If somebody hadn't raised a red flag over his being gay, would any of this other stuff (the party registrations, 9-11, etc.) have ever come out? Just curious.

If conservatives like Bryan start giving hetero candidates the same level of scrutiny (and raising red flags on legitimate issues), something positive will emerge from this debate.

Perhaps it's my recidivistic naiveté, but I find it to be a curious notion that, while it would be unnotably legitimate for, say, a Republican to plumb the background of any given Democrat, it is somehow dubious of a citizen to do the same on the basis of significant moral and social disagreement. In the latter case, he who makes the inquiry opens himself to accusations of bigotry and intolerance; in the former case, he is merely pursuing political interests. Funny that raw political interests should be considered less suspect than an honest difference of opinion.

The reason, it seems to me, is that those who would make sexual orientation a protected class even when it comes to political disagreement do not wish to permit that opinions can differ. (And, of course, any number of current issues could be substituted for homosexuality.) But perhaps that's yet another advantage of our political system: We can do political battle within the system without bringing irreconcilables into every debate and every vote.

Furthermore, perhaps that's yet another indication of why our political system — particularly in Rhode Island — is currently so corroded and viciously polarized. In a healthier system, political (rather than ideological) opponents would ensure that every candidate's background is plumbed, both in primaries and in general elections, thus allowing "innocent" investigation by those on both sides of the ideological divide.