THE PLANK NOVEMBER 5, 2008
This may seem a little old given last night's historic election, but fairness requires me to post a follow-up to my item Sunday on an AFSCME radio advertisement asking Mitch McConnell to be "straight" about his over four decades-old military records. On Monday, AFSCME spokesman Gregory King sent me the following statement:
AFSCME has nothing to do with the badly photoshopped flyer posted on the Internet, and our radio advertisement in Kentucky says absolutely nothing about Senator McConnell's sexual orientation. At no point in the ad do we "clearly raise" an allegation that Senator McConnell was "discharged from the military for homosexual conduct." We are as interested in McConnell's undisclosed service records as we were in those of George W. Bush. Mr. Kirchick argues that by urging Senator McConnell to be "straight" with the voters of Kentucky, AFSCME is somehow gay-baiting. That is an outrageous and false charge. It is as ridiculous as suggesting that Senator John McCain named his bus the Straight Talk Express in order to appeal to anti-gay voters. AFSCME is being unfairly smeared with an unfounded charge of gay-baiting. We have done no such thing.
First, I ought to disclose that King is a friend. That said, I find his response unconvincing. I never wrote that the flyer was circulated by AFSCME. (Indeed, as tends to be the case when ugly campaign smears of this sort get circulated late in a campaign, the flyer's origins appear unknown.) The reason the flyer is significant when discussing the AFSCME radio ad is because of the context it provides to the debate revolving around McConnell's four-decades-old military records. Once you know that the discussion surrounding these records in Kentucky has drifted into unfounded and irrelevant questions about McConnell's sexuality, and once you listen to the AFSCME ad, (which attacks the senator for refusing to disclose why he left the military, in spite of the fact that he already has shown it was due to an eye condition), and once you see that the flyers being circulated in Kentucky use a pun on the word "straight" that is quite similar to the language in the AFSCME ad, it is entirely fair to at least raise the question: Why, exactly, did AFSCME's narrator choose to emphasize the word "straight" at the end of the ad in the way he did? Given the context, I think it's pretty clear that most listeners will hear the ad as a homophobic slur.
I don't particularly care for Mitch McConnell as a Senator or for all of his policy positions. However, a positive spin on his victory last night was that it, in its own small way, represents a repudiation of these low tactics.