Artwork by Kristen Hotham Carroll
It was the summer of 2010. I was sitting at an outdoor table at the Element Lounge, a gay bar in Manchester, N.H., when an energetic presidential hopeful, in khakis and a white oxford, skipped over to my table and invited me and my wife to attend his open-bar event at the Element the following night. He introduced himself as Fred Karger, an openly gay Republican presidential candidate. I nearly spit my Miller Lite onto my jeans.
I remember so vividly the inauguration of President Obama. I was moved to tears as I witnessed history changing. I felt such a deep sense of hope, and even one of pride, as the United States had actually elected a black president. But a gay, Jewish Republican president? Oy Gevalt!
Nearly two years later, I've been following Fred's virtual campaign trail, and I have developed a great respect for the battles he has waged, in an arena where he is not even remotely wanted or accepted.
I caught up with Fred March 8:
You are an openly gay Republican. Is that like being a gay Iranian executioner?
[Laughs.] Well, you know, there are many Republicans who are far ahead of President Obama and other Democrats in equality issues. I think it's important to have two parties representing LGBT issues so that the Democrats do not take our issues for granted. I think it's important that the Republican Party is once again the leader for civil rights.
In an interview with BigThink.com, you said you are trying to bring the Republican Party back to its roots of Lincoln and Roosevelt. Lincoln fought for equal rights of all people, and Roosevelt was an environmentalist, responsible for tightening the reins on capitalism. Those sound like values that are more aligned with today's Democratic Party, wouldn't you say?
The political winds shift. There are still many in the party who are not thrilled with this far-right shift, and we are trying to bring back the center to the Republican Party, which is really where America is.
You've said that you think the Republican Party has a lot of good people. Which Republican leaders can the gay community count on for support of full equal rights?
Well, we've got the Cheneys, which is an interesting situation. When people are directly impacted, we see the dramatic shifts on position. Cindy McCain is a strong advocate for every LGBT issue. Laura Bush, we find out now, has always been a supporter. We are seeing others in the Republican Party coming around. It's a little easier when you are out of office or the spouse of someone in office because of the tremendous pressure from the National Organization for Marriage, who bully and blackmail, targeting only Republicans.
You and I are actually friends on Facebook, and it seems every other day I see a new photo of you with celebrities from Jake Gyllenhaal to Candice Bergen. Do these people know you are a Republican?
You've got to read my book. It's called Fred Who?, and it tells a lot of those stories.
You mention polls that indicate that over 50 percent of Americans are ready for a gay president. The problem for you is that those people are Democrats. Was that a factor addressed by your exploratory committee? If not, should someone be fired?
[Laughs.] That would have to be me: I'm the campaign manager! Times are changing, but you have to look at this current Republican Party. It's very different from the Republican Party when Reagan was elected. So many Republicans have left the party since then, so what is left is what is designed by the very far right. I knew that going in, of course, and I knew that the headline "gay Republican" would be an oxymoron within the Republican Party.
GOProud criticized you as running around the country with a pride flag and not really running as a valid contender. How would you respond? Do you see yourself as a valid contender?
Well, you know, that's a pretty old quote... and we are working together now. They aren't on the Karger train yet, but I talk to them regularly and seek their advice. As we sit here today, [a Karger nomination is] still a long shot, but if I can get in the debate, then I can certainly emerge.
During the initial AIDS crisis, Ronald Reagan's impotent non-response has been largely held as one of the greatest factors in the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in the U.S., and in fact, thousands and thousands of Americans had died of AIDS-related causes before he even uttered the word "AIDS" for the first time in 1985. Any regrets from working on his 1984 reelection campaign?
Ronald Reagan was president in a very different time. The New York Times refused to ever print the word "AIDS." I'm not defending Reagan. His conduct on that issue was shameful.
On your website, you say you are appealing to Obama supporters. Why not run as an independent?
The way the system is, it's not feasible to run as an independent unless you are Michael Bloomberg or Ross Perot. Part of the reason I'm [running] is to shake up the Republican Party. I have gotten as much, if not more, opposition from the LGBT community as I have from the Republicans. I have had a lot of doors slammed in my face. I am thick-skinned, but it still hurts.
With Super Tuesday behind us, it is now clear that even the Republicans do not like any of the Republican candidates. What is next for this party?
There is this desperation for another candidate. Mitt Romney is just not catching on fire, and it's a problem.
Tell the truth. Do you secretly hope President Obama is reelected?
No. I wish there were better Republican alternatives, but I'm trying to bring the Republican Party back and also to be their conscience. No more Mr. Nice Gay.