Now, let me be the last person in Arkansas to weigh in on this…..
Doyle Webb, the chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, was busted for going around complaining about Rep. Kathy Webb (no relation), a Democratic member of the Arkansas House of Representatives who is openly gay. In speaking to GOP groups around the state, D. Webb warned Republicans to be vigilant, because if the gay Rep. Webb were to ascend to a committee chairmanship, she might start to messing with state policy and turn everyone gay. Or something like that.
Since this came out (“came out”! Get it? Huh? Who’s with me?!) on the Arkansas Times blog last week, Webb has been raked over the coals (for example, here’s an editorial from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a fiery column from John Brummett, both published today).
So we’ve already had the ritual pronunciations of outrage, to which I will not add, because what’s the point? Let’s look at it in the crassest, most cynical terms of political utility: Does this kind of rhetoric even work?
That is to say, Webb’s deployment of this formula before GOP audiences is clearly intended to have a political effect—presumably, to inspire the party faithful to take action or to recruit more voters to the Republican side.
But the thing is, it isn’t having that effect.
Now, I’m one of those horrendous libertarian-leaners who really could not care less about your beloved moral issues, social conservatives, so I don’t get too fired up by all the gay marriage stuff and such. There are plenty of people like me who call themselves Republicans. Clearly, Webb wasn’t speaking to us, and this rhetorical act was not intended for people like me.
The thing is, I doubt that the language is even useful in reaching the people it’s ostensibly intended to reach. And while Arkansas voters have shown themselves to be unenthusiastic about “the gay agenda,” such as it is, based upon the 2004 gay marriage amendment vote and the 2008 vote on Act 1, it’s worth noting that those votes do not appear to have translated to any groundswell of support for Republicans in the state. So what political benefit can there be in continuing to beat that drum?
Moreover, it’s not as if the state’s Democrats are out there proudly pushing their support for gay marriage or anything, so it’s not even particularly useful as a point of partisan differentiation. Furthermore, Webb’s never really been known as a social conservative flame-thrower, has he? So add to the mix the fact that this probably isn’t even an authentic position for him, and what you have on your hands is just a rhetorical mess.
Jason Tolbert at the The Tolbert Report offers up a qualified defense of Webb today, and argues that Webb’s gaffe shouldn’t be compared to that of GOP Sen. Kim Hendren, who took it on the chin last week after it was reported (by Tolbert) that Hendren had referred to New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer as “that Jew.” I agree. The two gaffes don’t compare, because Webb’s is actually much worse—because in addition to completely overshadowing whatever message he was trying to communicate, it turns out to have been completely rhetorically ineffectual and politically useless. And it wasn’t just a clumsy misstep, but a consciously deployed argument.
The point being, if it had been rhetorically effective of politically useful, that would at least be SOMETHING. As it is, it’s nothing. Less than nothing.
Doesn’t it kind of seem that, if you’ve been harping on something for some time in a political context, and it’s not actually delivering you any electoral results, maybe, just maybe, you might try something new?
Hey, Tea Party Guys, you all seem to know how to at least turn out a few thousand people for a demonstration about fiscal responsibility and government accountability, of all things—you got anything?