There was an intense, conspiratorial, crazily sincere man on Glenn Beck’s show Tuesday, and it wasn’t Glenn Beck. Recently resigned Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York took up the entire GB episode, which concluded with Beck apologizing for “wasting” his viewers’ time. But I have to say, it was the best hour of Glenn Beck I’ve ever seen–not so much for what it revealed about poor Eric Massa, but because it exposed how the GOP’s nationwide loss on the issue of gay rights has profoundly gummed up the Republican noise machine.
But first, Massa: If this guy is in the closet, it’s not just a closet. It’s not even a walk-in closet. He’s a whole haberdashery of strangeness, best explained, perhaps, by a video mash-up of the interview’s bizarre double entendres (the big catchphrase will probably be “tickle fights,” but my fave is Beck saying, “You’re a fireman coming out…. but they won’t say, ‘Over here, bring a hose over here.'”
Of course, it was Massa’s verbal tics that got him on the show in the first place, in particular his description of an argument he had “naked as a jaybird” with Rahm Emanuel in the Congressional gym showers over the budget, one that moved Massa to suggest on a radio show that Emanuel was corrupt. Fox News has several irons in the fire in its ongoing attempt to Waterloo Obama and health care reform, among them the idea that Democrats are now as sexually and financially scandal-plagued as the Foley/Craig/Ensign/Sanford GOP. At the same time, Fox is pushing the “Chicago thugs” line, which insists that Obama’s inner circle would, as Massa says, “tie…children to the railroad tracks” in order to get what they want. The story about Emanuel in the shower, “pok[ing] his finger in my chest” and twisting arms “17 times to Sunday,” seemed tantalizingly close at first glance to melding both storylines into one neat, knickerless package.
Except, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Beck is a monologist, not an interviewer, and he completely lost control of his show to Massa, allowing the former Republican who spent 24 years in the U.S. Navy to basically bitch about traditional politics and moan about his bad media rep without once establishing anything sinister or even manipulative in White House politicking. Beck has since said, “I almost threw him out of the studio three times.” But he didn’t, because he couldn’t control his lust for dirt (Beck: “Tell me something about the unions and how the unions are working or any–I don’t care. Any kind of corruption. Tell me about–what is the White House doing?” Massa kept deflecting from the specific to the general: “Glenn, it’s not just unions. It’s every special interest.”)
Curiously, Beck failed to hit Massa’s own admitted misbehavior, and veered away from accusing him of being a closeted homosexual (it was left to Larry King later that night to ask whether the congressman was gay so directly that it provoked a nondenial denial). The result was almost a mirror-image parody of Beck’s own shtick: the hint that “they” are trying to get him, that it’s all part of a larger puzzle that only he understands, and, most important, that by revising the past, he could sound plausible enough to get away with saying anything. Maybe Beck sniffed out the Secret Sharer aspect of Massa, or maybe he was crushed for having praised Massa as a “ray of sunshine” the night before. But by the next day Beck was declaring he was through with the whole story and would be moving on.
But not so the GOP. Ever since the first rumors surfaced, the Republicans have been coming up with as many collaterally damaging explanations of Massa’s behavior as Massa himself has exculpatory ones for why he quit (cancer, saltiness, the Dem leadership was trying to destroy him for voting against health care reform). At first conservatives quite naturally saw Massa’s disgrace as an opportunity to divide the Dems with a Larry Craig-like scandal. But Massa had only been in Washington for 14 months and had spoken out against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as well as an amendment to ban gay marriage–which is quite different from Craig’s more than quarter of a century living a double life.
More generally, the Republican Party that won the White House in 2004 by vowing to protect us from homosexual terrorists has simply lost on the entire issue. Craig himself had something to do with that: The spectacle of a long-sitting senator lying to himself and his wife in front of the nation pretty well shattered the hardline pro-family scam the GOP had been running on since Reagan left office. Today, polls show a much broader acceptance of gays and lesbians. Consider Virginia, where the recently elected “moderate” Republican governor touched off a firestorm of campus demonstrations against his effort to remove antidiscrimination rules from state government and universities. Under pressure, Gov. Bob McDonnell has now tried to reverse himself, but the GOP may have lost the youth vote there for years to come.
And without joining anti-gay hysteria to racism and the communist/terrorist threat, the Republicans’ three-legged stool totters. Look at Beck, who was reduced to trolling for vague “corruption” charges while the man in front of him self-destructed in a scrum of naked salty firemen with hoses. No matter what they try to do with this story, it will always come back to a gay-hatred, although the GOP dare no longer speak its name.
The latest stab at using Massa is House Minority Leader John Boehner’s resolution today for the House Ethics Committee to investigate what Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders knew about Massa and when did they know it; they’re implying, of course, a cover-up. While the resolution passed nearly unanimously, Pelosi appears unconcerned about an investigation, because, as it’s looking now, there’s no there there.
Anything more that Republicans might turn up on Massa will probably play out as piling on, with the added spin of smearing gays–again. And piling on, clumsily overreaching, has become the dominant trope of the rightwing media operation. Sen. Jim Bunning’s shut-out of unemployment extensions turned into a real black eye; so did Liz Cheney’s Web ad against justice department lawyers defending GITMO detainees. Trying to align the GOP with the Tea Party has produced embarrassing flubs, like the recent RNC fundraising pitch depicting Obama in Joker whiteface.
The right may be full of conviction and prejudice, but they can’t express it openly. Without the fear of gays to drive large numbers of religious and socially conservative Americans into their ranks, the Republican Party is but a fragment of the juggernaut that has dominated politics for the last 30 years. The party is getting small enough to fit into a closet, and not a walk-in.