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The Closets of Karl and Ken

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In July of 2004, Karl Rove was concluding a trip to Palm Springs, California and heading off to manage the reelection campaign of George W. Bush. The president's senior political advisor had settled on a strategy that he was convinced would increase turnout of the conservative Republican base as well as appeal to fundamentalist Christians in the African-American community. Rove and his lieutenant Ken Mehlman, who ran the Republican National Committee, had targeted eleven swing states as locales to play out the wedge issue of gay marriage. Although they would work closely with the GOP state operations, Rove and Mehlman denied any coordination or involvement. They were, as they often are, lying.

Rove had left a secret behind in the Southern California desert that made bizarrely cynical his decision to use gay issues to motivate GOP voters. His father, who had just died, was gay. Louis Rove had been a prolific smoker and died of lung diseases but he had loved his son and was very proud of his achievements. Although he was not Karl's biological father, Louis was the only father he had ever known because Karl's mother Reba had divorced very early in her son's life. In an interview with Wayne Slater and myself after he had guided the first Bush victory, Rove emphasized that he did not consider Louis his stepfather. "I don't call him Louis," he explained. "He's my father, my adopted father."

Nonetheless, Rove was decidedly circumspect when we asked him questions about his family. Louis and Reba Rove's marriage fell apart in 1969 during Karl's senior year of high school in Utah. Rove told us it was somewhat of a mystery but his father came home Christmas Eve and then returned to Los Angeles where he had taken a job as a geologist with Getty Oil. The family was supposed to move to LA with Louis at the end of the year. "But for whatever reason, that didn't happen," Rove told us. "My mother, who was very good at explaining things without explaining them, said it was not going to happen."

Karl seems to have inherited this particular talent from his mother. What he told us was fundamentally true; what he didn't tell us was the most important part of the story. Louis Rove had informed his wife that he was gay and that he was coming out of the closet and wanted a divorce. After he retired from his job in LA, Louis Rove moved to Palm Springs and befriended other retired gay men. He drank and socialized at the Rainbow Cactus and the Martini Burger and became part of a group of gay men who referred to themselves as "The Old Farts Club." According to his close friend of many years, retired insurance executive Joseph Koons, Louis Rove was one of the best people he knew and that both Louis and his son Karl were comfortable with the father's sexual orientation. Although Karl lovingly accepted his father as a gay man and treated Louis' gay associates with respect, Louis Rove's death was a private matter. His friends knew nothing of a memorial service and no death notice was published in the Palm Springs newspaper.

Rove may have felt his father had a right to a private life but he clearly thinks differently about other homosexuals. This fall Rove and the GOP will once more push the idea of a federal amendment to the constitution to outlaw gay marriage, repeating their silly message that it is a threat to the institution of heterosexual marriage. As nonsensical as these assertions are, there appears to be a legion of Republican voters who believe physically mature adults wake up one morning and decide to stop being heterosexual. Their goal is to marry other individuals of the same sex and destroy the fabric of American culture. The idea that sexual orientation is a biological determination is a notion fundamentalist conservatives cannot countenance. Their God would not make such a mistake.

The zealousness with which Rove and Mehlman pursue an anti-gay agenda for political utility suggests more than just an ambition to win elections. Students of Freud might be able to artfully deconstruct their behavior but even lay analysts can see a bit of repression and self-loathing at work. Maybe Rove has a desire to get back at his father for leaving his mother when he "chose" to be gay. Or perhaps he is fighting his own homo-erotic impulses. His description of George Bush the first time they met goes a bit beyond a geek's admiration of the cool guy quarterback:

"I can literally remember what he was wearing: an Air National Guard flight jacket, cowboy boots, complete with the - in Texas you see it a lot - one of the back pockets will have a circle worn in the pocket from where you carry your tin of snuff, your tin of tobacco. He was exuding more charisma than any one individual should be allowed to have."

Karl has always had an eye for detail and that could explain how Bush's early image has moved through Rove's memory for decades.

But what about RNC chairman Ken Mehlman? His sexual orientation has been the subject of speculation by gay rights advocates for several years and has been discussed on progressive radio talk shows. Mainstream reporters have never asked Mehlman if he is gay but Eric Resnick, a journalist for a gay publication in Cleveland, chased Mehlman down at a GOP fund-raising dinner in Akron. Resnick told Mehlman that he had been outed on blogs and talk radio and he wondered how he justified being gay and pushing an anti-gay agenda. Mehlman was non-responsive. Resnick persisted and finally asked Mehlman if he was gay.

"You have asked a question no one should have to answer," Mehlman responded.

The delicately chosen words annoyed Resnick and John Aravosis of Americablog. According to Aravosis, Mehlman, who is in his early 40s and unmarried, gave a "non-answer, answer."

"He's at the top of his profession in a conservative political party," Aravosis told me last year. "If he's not gay, why wouldn't he react the same way every straight guy does when someone asks them if they are gay? They sort of energetically tell you hell no they're not gay. Mehlman says nothing. Seems like he would want everyone in his party to know he's not gay. Maybe he's a closeted heterosexual."

Mehlman subjected himself to such speculation after deploying a voter profiling mechanism for the 2004 election. The RNC used background data on voters such as what type of car they drive, how much they earn, marital status, the color of their skin, the neighborhood where they live, and other factors to arrive at various political conclusions about individuals and determine if they were likely GOP voters. His political critics have decided it is now fair to talk about what type of profile best fits Mehlman.

Whatever he is, Mehlman and his political consort Rove are driving an issues agenda that is making life even more difficult for millions of Americans dealing with their sexuality. They are being discriminated against for the way they were born in the same manner as were African-Americans when their rights were also disputed by conservatives. And that's what turns the personal lives of Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman into public affairs. They promulgate policies that invade the privacy of gay and lesbian Americans while covering up their own backgrounds.

And it is time for their hypocrisy to come out of the closet.

(This information is taken from our new book, "The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power.")