DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of Richard Tafel’s Party Crasher; Marvin Liebman’s Coming Out Conservative, Bruce Bawer’s A Place at the Table, Beyond Queer

Author (or Editor): Tafel, Richard

Title: Party Crasher: A Gay Republican Challenges Politics as Usual

Fiction? Anthology?  

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

Date: 1999


Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 253 pages 

Relevance to doaskdotell: Decades of history through the eyes of a gay activist; gays and conservatism 


            Richard Tafel is reasonably well known for his leadership of Log Cabin Republicans, and at first glance this offering might sound like an "obvious" book about the oxymoron of a "gay republican."

            But it is much more. Tafel, in fact, comes across as a kind of moderate libertarian (the "classical liberal" element emphasized) and espouses views very similar to mine in Do Ask, Do Tell. In fact, besides Bruce Bawer's assimilationist A Place at the Table and anthology Beyond Queer and my own DADT, this seems to be the only other major book (largely on gay issues) so far by a "gay conservative."

            His manner of expressing his moral philosophy is simpler than mine. He does not use footnotes and his use of personal narrative is carefully circumscribed to a few key incidents, such as the Log Cabin donation to the Dole campaign in 1996 and, particularly, a riveting account of his own ordination as a Baptist minister (after his 1987 graduation from Harvard Divinity school) in which his own honest and faithfulness to hss own beliefs is put to the test. Believe it, that climactic account ought to show up in the movies. He presents short accounts of a lot of other conservative gay activists, although these accounts are not always particularly engaging.

            Like DADT, the book is organizaed "functionally" like the movements of a symphony. He uses three big chapters (I used six): Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, partly to emphasize the necessary separation and simultaneous connection between personal psychology, politics, and moral thought. He lucidly delineates "morals" from "mores" as well as from the law itself. The three chapters are broken into sections with descriptive names, but these sections are not numbered, so the reader sometimes has some sense of standing still in the debate (I'll sound like a literary agent here).

            Tafel, of course, has much more public standing to get a major publisher to promote his book than do I. My activities (AIDS, gays in the military, gay libertarianism) have always been "behind the scenes" ; I have never made a living through them, and I personally, unlike most other activists, never sought prominence outside of (largely self-published) writing.

            Tafel's analysis of the political spectrum is fairly similar to Andrew Sullivan's (Virtually Normal). He divides his world up into liberationists, assimilationists, and libertarians. Quite properly, Tafel criticizes both liberationists and assimilationists for wanting a government that they cannot trust to enforce social justice. Stonewall (1969) was very much an explosion from liberationists (a fact which I don't present in DADT).

            Tafel, like me, appreciates the role of the Cold War and past calamities in shaping the anti-gay attitudes of the past. His approach to discrimination law is pragmatic if not completely principled. Anti-discrimination law like ENDA, in our society, may be the only way to ensure that gay people are viewed according to their merits as individuals. I take this dichotomy up further in Our Fundamental Rights.

            In fact, Tafel's own argument can be discerned from a few quotes (this is like answering a literature exam question by supporting a proposition with quotes) from his text:

            "So while gay people have been around since the dawn of time, only in the post-agrarian society could a culture tolerate nonprocreative membersto any great extent." (p. 28)

            " (The libertarian) believes he is personally responsible for his own successes and failures, and rejects the victimization claims of the other two groups." (p. 49). Now, this really is DADT philosophy. Personal responsibility can be a harsh master, requiring withdrawal sometimes so that the success of others stands out.

            "In one of (President) Carter's first speeches to the federal workforce in Washington, he admonished those in the audience to get married if they weren't already." P 66

            "In 1994, I was attacked by ACT UP Washington (D.C.) in its newsletter for saying that personal responsibility could stem the spread of AIDS." P 71

            Subordinate to all of this is the political question about the Republican Party. Why do we not have a major political party that is "socially liberal" yet "fiscally conservative"? Why do both major parties go down authoritarian streaks? Tafel presents convincing evidence that Clinton courted gay voters then just shot them down the river like logs for a paper mill. Believers in the principles of individual liberty are left with the Libertarian Party or, perhaps, the Reform Party, Jesse Ventura style. If the Republicans could come to their senses, maybe the Democrats ("progressives" and "assimilationsits" and all) would go to their deserved demise.

Marvin Liebman: Coming Out Conservative: A Founder of the Modern Conservative Movement Speaks Out on Personal Freedom, Homophobia and Hate Politics. Chronicle Books, 1992. ISBN 0811800833, 322 pages, hardbound. This epistle also conveys the idea that equal rights for gays is consistent with modern conservatism. Liebman’s most interesting personal story indeed involves his own military service, when (in World War II) a letter to a gay friend was intercepted and opened, and he was hospitalized and discharged, and would live in a rooming house for a while when he returned to the US in some disgrace. Yet, the Army was often looking the other way then, as often gay soldiers served rather openly with few problems in actual combat theaters.

Bruce Bawer: A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society (1993, rep 2004, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0671894390, was a famous book that came out early in the Clinton years to place gays in mainstream capitalist society and challenge left-wing stereotypes. Of course, you ask, what does your place at the table mean? Paying your dues? This title has been used for other books.

Bruce Bawer, editor. Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy (1996, The Free Press, ISBN 0-684-82766-2) is an anthology with contributions by Bruce himself, Paul Varnell, Stephen H. Miller, John Weir, Carolyn Lochhead, Andrew Sullivan, Mel Dahl, Jonathan Rauch, David Link, David Mendelssohn, David Boaz, Noah Vincent, James P. Pinkerton, Thomas H. Stahel. It is in six sections: “Rage” “Gays and the Right” “Beyond Oppression” “Gay Culture, Gay Identity,” “Gayness and God,” “Family Values.” This last section is probably the most interesting, as Rauch suggests that an unattached singleton is “an accident waiting to happen,” and predicts that gays might get marriage and then not use it. Of course, this book predates the Massachusetts opinion by eight years, and was written during the Hawaii and Vermont debates.  Many of the writers would go on to set up and contribute to the Independent Gay Forum.


Related: Film: Gay Republicans    Coming Out Under Fire  book    Andrew Sullivan's Conservative Soul   Robinson: Queer Wars    Bauman: A Gentleman from Maryland; Tammy Bruce: Right and Wrong; The New Thought Police

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