The Republican “Sister Souljah” Moment of 2013

— By Matthew Bechstein

It wasn’t long ago that Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman, Dave Agema roused national headlines for anti-gay comments he made on his personal Facebook page. Now nearly a year later, when most Americans have forgotten about the blunder, Agema again demonstrate an affinity for the taste of his own foot.

While speaking at a recent GOP event in Michigan, Mr. Agema suggested that members of the gay community want free healthcare because they are dying earlier in life than most Americans. To substantiate his bizarre claims, Agema referenced an incident at American Airlines when a gay coworker allegedly lied in order to receive benefits for a friend suffering from AIDS. Fortunately to most sensible Americans, the only thing this story proved was Agema’s rare talent for crafting ignorant over-generalizations based on his unique personal experiences. It seems clear that the only chord Agema struck with voters were the uninvited undertones reminiscent of Eighties-era homophobia.  (see Stephen’s post for a bit more on the actual facts of this).

As an organization that represents a portion of the gay community, GOProud must take this opportunity to set the record straight for anyone unfortunate enough to be as poorly-informed as Dave Agema: There are thousands of gay men and women out there who oppose socialized medicine. And were it not for people like Dave Agema, many of them would be voting Republican.

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton famously denounced African American entertainer Sister Souljah, who in the wake of the Los Angeles race riots earlier that year, called on black people to kill more white people. Clinton repudiated the comments in a speech to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, winning praise from people who recognized the courage it took to go against the partisan grain. Since then, the press routinely looks for “Sister Souljah” moments in nearly every campaign; a moment when someone steps up and calls out those in their party who do more harm than good.

As a new generation of conservatives, we have a unique opportunity to grasp the “Sister Souljah” moment of 2013. We need to show new voters that voting Republican does not align you with extremists like Dave Agema, much like being a democrat didn’t align Clinton with Sister Souljah.

Real leaders can validate conservative principles without perpetuating baseless ignorance and fear. Yes, there are varying opinions on gay marriage within our Party, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. When even a single instance of inexcusable behavior goes un-admonished by our national party leaders, it can poison our brand and condemn us all. Perhaps publicly rebuffing comments like Dave Agama’s would be far less painful for the RNC than the stigmata of his association?

If there was any lesson to be learned from the outcome of the 2012 elections, it is the importance of building coalitions and broadening our base. At GOProud we’ve learned a thing or two about the value of respectful language. When our points are solid and our principles are sound, we can win without persecuting, oppressing or defiling others.

Matthew Bechstein is a Purple Elephant contributor and co-director of GOProud.