We Can Talk About Bruce's Politics Without Ruining the Moment

04/26/2015 02:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Consider this the backlash to the backlash to the backlash.

Bruce Jenner dropped a bombshell Friday night when he came out -- as a conservative Republican. Social media treated that revelation as the real news of the evening, though many argued Jenner's politics were irrelevant and shouldn't pull focus from a transgender rights milestone.

I get (and share) the impulse to focus on what was wonderful and historic about the interview -- and not ruin the moment by picking it apart. But Jenner himself invited the brouhaha by gratuitously injecting his politics. Grudgingly acknowledging Diane Sawyer's observation that President Obama was the first president to publicly utter the word "transgender," Jenner chose to add that he doesn't think much of the President and is a "conservative" Republican who "believe[s] in the Constitution."

This provoked a wave of social media comments variously shocked and snide about the irony of a closeted trans woman supporting her own oppressors. A returning tide of testy responses (at least in my feeds) bemoaned tone-deaf political correctness at a joyous moment, and celebrated Jenner's right to defy liberal expectations and be himself.

I found myself on both sides of the question Friday night, and that's where I remain. Jenner deserves love, compassion and respect for putting himself on the line, regardless of his politics. History will rightfully remember him for creating visibility for a community still fighting scorn, fear and abuse.

But, hey, that does not preclude engagement on subjects where Jenner himself opened the door -- including his presumably narrow view of individual rights and liberties, which is what "conservative" Republicans generally mean when they say they "believe in the Constitution." Can we assume Jenner thinks same-sex couples have no constitutional right to marry? That women have no right to reproductive choice? Does he embrace Republican orthodoxy on matters of race and poverty -- and support candidates working to impose those views on the country?

We can't be sure, but that's the unsettling message he chose to send. How sad if someone who endured decades in hiding couldn't appreciate the worse oppression visited on those without his compensating privileges. Or if someone who benefitted from the more welcoming environment created by generations of progressive activism continued to support those who would turn the clock back.

So, I don't see the contradiction in embracing the good Jenner has done, while respectfully asking "What the heck?" on his apparently discordant politics -- not to enforce liberal orthodoxy, but to encourage self-reflection in someone who has a unique public platform. If Jenner's views are evolving, he could do a lot of good within his party. His comments in the interview highlighting violence against trans women of color were an encouraging sign of concern for the vulnerable and marginalized.

Bruce Jenner will always be a hero for what he did Friday night. It takes nothing away from that to observe that he, and eventually she, has the potential to do so much more by embracing political as well as personal evolution.