Graham and Kagan: It's gay-baiting season!

Who cares about their sexual orientation? Their accusers and "defenders" are just playing politics as usual

Published April 22, 2010 3:23PM (EDT)

A wacky thing has been happening on the Internet this week. OK, maybe more than one, but let's keep it to politics: Both Elena Kagan, the supposed front-runner for the Supreme Court nomination, and Senator Lindsey Graham have been reported by multiple media outlets to be straight.


Well, before there was this charge of heterosexuality floating around about both, it turns out some folks decided to write about rumors that both were gay.

Kagan first. Basically, Ben Domenech, a guy who once blogged for the Washington Post for three days before quitting amid a plagiarism scandal, wrote a blog post about Obama's 10 most likely Supreme Court candidates. In it, he listed Kagan first and said, "Pluses: would please much of Obama’s base, follows diversity politics of Sotomayor with first openly gay justice."

As documented ably by James Joyner, the piece got picked up by CBS News for their online opinion page, and "all hell broke loose." A White House spokesperson gave a super-defensive statement, something like, "What what gay? No no no. We don't have the gay here. They have the crazy, but we do not have the gay."

This, as Julian Sanchez points out, is dumb on many levels. First: Why get so defensive? So what if Kagan is gay or straight or whatever? The classy thing to do would have been to state, very simply, "That's personal information and not part of this debate," which should be the truth. Instead, the White House actively pushed CBS to take the column down, saying it was feeding a negative rumor campaign and calling them "enablers" of a pack of lies and shoddy journalism, with such vehemence you might think Domenech had written Kagan was a serial baby dolphin killer or something. Yes, calling someone gay as a description of their sexual orientation -- and in a factual, non seventh-grader-with-crappy-vocab way -- is a bad thing at the White House. Sigh.

Second, Sanchez also points out, it's strange to see this reported as a rumor, as apparently many people have taken it for granted -- thanks to widespread experience with Kagan and a female they believed to be her girlfriend -- that Kagan is, in fact, an out lesbian. So is the White House trying to pull someone back into the closet? Is Kagan already there? What the hell is going on, and why does this matter anyway?

It matters now because of the White House "defense" of Kagan against that "charge" of, you know, possibly just being who she is. Now, whether she's gay or not, it's going to be a big story. (Sanchez says that what's really relevant is who her partner may be -- and I can't quite tell whether he's implying that he knows and it's a big deal, or just throwing out a possible reason this could be news.)

Anyway, expect this discussion to stick around, and expect it to be super, super annoying, and an enormous distraction from the things that we should be discussing during the debate on SCOTUS appointments. 

Speaking of Super Annoying, let's talk Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina Senator and BFF of John McCain has reportedly been working with Democrats on immigration reform. This has angered some outfit of crazy called ALIPAC, which is not, I'm disappointed to report, the Political Action Committee for Ali G. It is instead a group committed to an America-for-Americans type agenda that hates people a) from other countries who come here and b) who like people from other countries who come here. (Really, their argument is only slightly more sophisticated than that.)

ALIPAC's leader, William Gheen, said at a Tea Party Rally that Graham is being blackmailed into possibly supporting immigration reform because he's gay.

Gheen being such a credible source, the rumor about Graham didn't really spread, but the story of Gheen's off-the-wall idea of blackmail certainly did. It carried with it the sticky seed pods of Gheen's original statement, and those little pods dropped onto short-form media (hi, Twitter). Thus, there's now a new, shiny rumor -- @everyone OMG LINDSEY GRAHAM IS TEH GAY! -- on the Internets, brought to you by Crazy.

These rumors have surfaced before. Graham is a bachelor and has a a voice you might mistake for that of your sweet Southern aunt if you heard it only over the phone, and people in politics aren't that far evolved from those 7-year-old meanies on the playground. Probably not the worst week of Graham's political career by any means -- except that his old pal, John McCain, keeps bringing it up. There's a story from ABC News's The Note today about how McCain has gone after his current GOP Senate opponent for his "Ties to Gay Baiting ALIPAC Group"(hat-tip to Ben Smith):

Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., is jabbing GOP Senate rival J.D. Hayworth for not severing his ties to ALIPAC, a conservative anti-illegal immigration group whose president issued a press release on Tuesday alleging that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is gay and that his homosexuality is being used to blackmail him into cooperating with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform.

Graham’s office declined to respond directly to ALIPAC on Tuesday and Wednesday. Instead, a Graham spokesman is referring news organizations to a 2006 story in GQ magazine and a 2001 story in The State newspaper in which Graham, who is single, indicated that he is not gay and that he would like to one day find a wife and have children.

“It’s unfortunate that Congressman Hayworth’s fetish with the extreme fringe continues,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers in a statement provided to ABC News. “Is Congressman Hayworth really so desperate to show any support for his candidacy that he would continue to embrace the support of a group that’s been linked to white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites — even after his spokesman ‘strongly repudiated’ ALIPAC’s President?”

“From his close embrace of Mr. Gheen and ALIPAC, to peddling conspiracy theories about the President’s birth certificate and man-horse marriage, Congressman Hayworth has made clear that he feels most comfortable on the extreme fringe,” Rogers continued. “While Congressman Hayworth courts extreme elements, Senator McCain is proud to have the support of Arizona leaders on the front lines fighting to secure our border, including Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.”

Don't you wish you were the endorsing Sheriff whose name got tacked onto the Repudiation of Gay Baiters press release?

Is Lindsey Graham gay? Who the hell cares. He says no, so I go with that. Is he being blackmailed into voting for immigration reform? I sincerely doubt it. He seems to have an interest in it, perhaps one he developed by visiting John McCain's state so often. And surely, if some liberal group really wanted to blackmail Lindsey Graham, we'd have seen him voting yes for health care.

So, as you were, folks. Everyone's fine, the kids are all right and possibly all straight, but whatever. This is just politics.

By Jenn Kepka

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Elena Kagan Lgbt Lindsey Graham Obama's Supreme Court Nomination