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Bob Franken: The right fielders strike out

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I think it was a dream: There I was at the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day as they started the season that naturally will end in a World Series victory. As we all know, that isn’t a dream. In the fantasy, though, since it was a home game, which of course means it was in Washington, the normal preliminary lineup and ground rules meeting at home plate had ended in gridlock. The problem was that one of the managers was Republican, and didn’t want to allow any Latinos to play.

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Obviously, that will never happen because far too many of the best players in baseball are Hispanic, but it’s not hard to explain having a nightmare like that. Blame the GOP. No matter how hard the party tries to work on its anti-immigrant image, we constantly are reminded that its team is riddled with haters.

Veteran Don Young was just the latest in foul territory when he used the term “wetbacks” in an interview. The man has been in the big leagues, part of the GOP congressional team, since 1973. He should know better. The managers, who are working so hard to convince the voters that they’re really warm, fuzzy and broad-minded were horrified. House Speaker John Boehner called the remarks “beneath the dignity of the office he holds.” The question is, what dignity? Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before Young was groveling and releasing the pro forma hollow apology for his “poor choice of words.”

And then there was a political rookie to remind us that bigotry permeates the party. Benjamin Carson is the latest star newbie. He’s an ultraconservative Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who has been wowing those on the right as he tap-dances his way from medicine into politics. Carson’s already dropping hints about a presidential run. That, predictably, meant an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, where he was asked about gay marriage. “Marriage is between a man and a woman,” he began, which is just standard boilerplate intolerance. But then he went on to say, “No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter who they are, it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”

If Carson was trying to raise his profile, he certainly managed to do it by likening gay-rights supporters to pedophiles (NAMBLA is the North American Man/Boy Love Association) and those who believe in sex with animals. It didn’t take long for the booing to startle the good doctor into realizing the error of his ways. So he fell back on that same vapid mea culpa, telling The Washington Post that it was “not the best choice of words.” He also insisted, “I certainly believe gay people should have all the rights that anyone else has.” Excuse me, Doc: Wouldn’t that include the right to wed the one you love and live happily ever after with all the legal and financial benefits?

And by the way, the all-star lineup of slurs also included another from a Republican National Committee member from Michigan, Dave Agema, who posted an article that called homosexuality “filthy.” His chairman, Reince Priebus, who is knee-deep in the effort to change the negative perceptions of the GOP, quickly weighed in with “All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” Obviously, a large number of his teammates think otherwise.

In fairness, there is a definite generational divide among Republicans on same-sex marriage. Overall, 56 percent oppose it, according to the latest CBS News poll. But when broken down by age, 49 percent of those under 50 support legalizing it while 46 percent disapprove.

On that and other issues of tolerance, the GOP is clearly “evolving,” to use the present cliche. It needs to do so quickly if it wants to stay in the political ballgame.

Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at bob@bobfranken.tv.

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