Shadow Government - By John Jackson (c)1992 Easy Reader Newspaper
by John A. Jackson
Dear Mr. Perot:
I know that you did not tell 20/20 that you would bar homosexuals from
your cabinet, or that you favored excluding them from the armed forces.
What you said, what I heard you say, was that you did not think a gay
nominee for secretary of state could be confirmed by the Senate and that
you did not want any nominee's private life to distract from the job he or
she would have to do.
You also told Walters that you did not think having acknowledged
homosexuals in the military "would work."
You added, presumably in both cases, that what people do in their
private lives is private and none of the government's business--a
qualification that went almost unnoticed in the ensuing uproar.
As you'll agree, there is quite a difference between your fairly limited
and practical statements, offered only in response to Barbara Walters'
prodding, and the homophobic way they have been portrayed.
The fact of that difference is why I'm writing you. It tells me three
things, which I believe you will find interesting.
The first is that your style in addressing issues is a handicap for a
You look at issues of fact in remarkably nonideological and pragmatic
ways. When someone asks you, "What should be done about this or that?" you
look hard at this or that, look into yourself and answer honestly and
briefly and as practically as possible.
And a lot of people love you for that.
But in national politics, such questions seldom mean what they seem to.
An example: your frequent responses to questions about abortion. Your
invariable answer is that abortion should be the woman's choice, but you
generally add that abortion is not nothing, and that the decision to bring
a life into the world, even a fetal life, bears a real responsibility that
is shirked if abortion is minimized or treated as being without moral
(I am paraphrasing, of course. Your answers are always briefer and more
eloquent than that.)
I have no quarrel with either of your comments about abortion. In fact,
they are what I think exactly.
But they are not, I suggest, what either your questioners or the public
wants to hear. "Abortion," for most Americans, is so emotionally loaded a
topic because so many imponderables--the status of women, guilt over the
way we raise children, new sexual standards we live uncomfortably with, the
fact of our own birth and death, what if anything God wants us to do--are
bound up in it.
The question does not explicitly include those imponderables, but they
are there nonetheless.
So it is with the issue of homosexuality, race, and the other "values"
questions that clutter up our political landscape.
Telling your own truth may not be enough in such cases. To be president,
as I am beginning to hope you will be, you must speak as well to our
doubts, our hopes and our fears. That, too, will be your job.
My second point is that the news media are after you. The distortions of
your comments about homosexuality went well beyond casual synopsis and well
into misrepresentation. You are experiencing not sloppiness but malice.
That will come as no surprise, I gather, but as a lifelong journalist I can
The publishers and media barons want you disposed of so they can
continue to enrich themselves. For me, that impression, as you probably
also noted, was confirmed by the results of a recent survey: among CEO's of
"Fortune 500" companies, George Bush leads with 77 percent, followed by
you, with 11 percent, and Bill Clinton, 6 percent. 77 percent for Bush?
The reporters' bosses, as always, want an establishment Republican at
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, no matter how much of a dunce he is.
What's driving the reporters themselves to seek your scalp is something
else, of course, than courting their bosses' favor.
Partly, it's "Woodward & Bernstein syndrome," the fact that instant
stardom comes to reporters who fell a giant target.
This year, you are that target. Heaven help you.
(For myself, scalphunting palled early. As a cub city hall reporter, I
netted a big one: a four-term councilman who I found with his hand in the
till. Unfortunately, he also was someone I liked and respected; what I did
to him made me sick.)
But there's something deeper, too. Odd as their lifestyles may be, most
working reporters are tremendously conventional people. They invest great
parts of themselves in learning and understanding the beats they cover;
that is their expertise.
It's not just that they come to identify themselves with their subjects,
although that does happens, or that they mimic the values of subjects whom
they see as successful.
Intellectually, reporters are very seldom asked or volunteer to question
the assumptions that underlie the surface of the news they report.
"Why?" is not, in fact, a question that reporters usually ask.
"Why not?" they ask almost never.
But your campaign is based on a tremendous assault on the very
assumptions that lurk unexamined beneath the political reporters' craft.
In part, the reporters hate and fear you because your success is forcing
them to think. That's a pretty sad commentary, but I assure you it's true.
Reporters hate and fear the unusual.
I don't know, however, what you can do about it, except to go on as you
have. You do not need the media's assent to win, as I believe you know. And
if you do win, you'll be surprised how quickly they come around.
My third point is more personal.
I know you are not a bigot. I know you love your wife and family, and
want no one near you who is driven by hate. You are, I believe, a patriot
and a rational man.
That's why your practical comments about homosexual officeholders
Certainly, the Senate would give you fits if you nominated an openly gay
person to high office, just as the Senate torpedoed Jimmy Carter over his
attempted appointment of conscientious objector Ted Sorenson to head the
You don't need that kind of grief. No president does.
But I want you to think hard, as I suspect you have not had to before,
about the kind of grief experienced by gay people in American society.
Do you hold your wife's hand in public sometimes? I do mine.
Occasionally, in abandoned moments, I may even kiss her.
But if my friend Jerry ever yields to that feeling, or my friend Sara,
with the people they love, they invite a beating, if not much worse.
Every day in hundreds of ways, big and little, trivial and sometimes
lethal, society's intolerance inflicts pain on decent people who are
homosexual because nature made them that way.
That is wrong. It is also un-American. As president, you may not be able
to correct it, but you can do something. We all can.
As I said, I know you are not a bigot. I hope your future statements on
this subject will make that abundantly clear.
Very truly yours. ER