Texas Governor Rick Perry seems to have a bit of a Charlie Crist problem, at least according to this week’s Politico article drumming up old rumors that the potential 2012 Republican candidate may be gay. The article is already on the lips of several political commentators, notably liberal talk radio host Stephanie Miller, who wondered whether Rush Limbaugh‘s support would dwindle if rumors were true. The comment landed her in hot water with conservatives, naturally, who turned the spotlight on her own sexuality and her choice to bring up Perry’s.
The story begins with Monday’s Politico piece, which argues that Rick Perry gay rumors could be the new Barack Obama Muslim rumors, and that Perry’s team, should he decide to run for President, is bracing for impact. Miller enters the story as she evaluates a clip of Limbaugh discussing Perry today, complaining that liberals have claimed Perry “looks like an alien” and comparing his looks to Supreme Court nominees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Miller jokes that “if [Perry] turns out to be gay, Rush wont be friends with him,” to which a co-host responds, in faux-news anchor voice, “noted homosexual Rick Perry.” Miller then tells him to simmer down: “we don’t know that for sure, Politico.”
Conservative watchdog Newsbusters immediately accused Miller of “spreading the rumor” that Perry is gay, though while being the one to bring up the Politico article, Miller very clearly states she sees no evidence to believe that. They go on to speculate as to whether Miller would have been comfortable with that joke before coming out of the closet herself last August.
There are several nodes of debate around which to argue. The first, of course, is the initial rumor that Perry is gay– the sort of rumor that, for a social conservative, can be seriously damning. The obvious point that such rumors have no place in the political discourse has time and again been proven one of the most adept at being completely ignored by anyone affecting the political discourse– a sad but nonetheless concrete reality perpetuated by the insatiable thirst the news cycle seems to have for sex– real or virtual, gay or straight, proven or rumored. Politico may be reporting on a story about a rumor, and not that rumor itself, but throwing a shiny little trinket like a gay rumor out there is more than enough to distract the media for at least a few hours– and that Politico ran the story makes the rumor fair game for someone like Miller in some contexts.
Miller used the story only to highlight what she perceives as Limbaugh’s homophobia– an entirely different argument altogether– but never suggested she believed the rumors. Nor did her co-host, whose fake newscaster voice may have even been a Limbaugh impression of how he would talk about Perry if he were gay (but was more likely just a throwaway comment), definitively “out” Perry. Newsbuster‘s Jack Coleman‘s issue with the clip from Miller’s show appears to be that, because she was permitted to stay in the closet until she was ready to come out, she should give the same respect to those who may or may not be ready yet: Miller apparently wants Republican politicians she suspects of being gay to come out of the closet as well, regardless of whether they are so inclined,” he writes.
First of all, by defending Perry from Miller’s “outing,” it is Coleman who is assuming that the governor is in the closet. Secondly, Miller did not opine on whether she wants people to come out of the closet or not. Miller only accused Limbaugh of homophobia– a claim that, given Elton John‘s appearance at Limbaugh’s latest wedding, is more than up for debate– but did not comment on Perry. In fact, Miller goes out of her way to tell Politico to hold their horses on this one. To raise the specter of hypocrisy at Miller because she happens to be gay doesn’t exactly tackle the key problem the arises in even bothering to address these rumors as if they had any impact on Rick Perry as a political figure that has the power to influence millions of American lives. Sure, Miller is as guilty as Politico and Newsbusters for polluting the national discussion with the topic (even if Rick Perry does end up being gay, wasting time on this and not his actual policies hurts American voters)– in fact, the only innocent party here on this front is Rush Limbaugh. But using her personal life as a weapon against her to defend Rush Limbaugh from completely unrelated claims that Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor “look like aliens”– an entire post’s worth of outrage trapped in that phrase alone– does nothing but perpetuate the desire for such personal talk in the national discourse and diminish the possibility of worthwhile political debate.
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