Ah, the imploding candidate.
My fascination with cliff-diving candidates is not so much schadenfreude as it is relief when a disreputable or unqualified politician falls to pieces on the campaign trail. The information age is especially unforgiving in this regard as the slightest personality quirks take on gargantuan proportions and are instantly fed to us in slow motion YouTube clips and Daily Show parodies.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which gaffe will be the undoing of a candidate. The incidents can range from the ridiculous (Dukakis’ Army helmet) to the reprehensible (having a baby with your campaign videographer while your wife battles cancer). Some SNAFU’s are a matter of timing (Andrew Cuomo criticizing then-Gov. George Pataki for holding Rudy Giuliani’s coat during the 9/11 crisis), and some are sound bites etched in our collective memory (Howard Dean’s “yaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhh!!!”).
Yesterday I received an e-mail from Carl Paladino that warmed the cockles of my heart. Yes, I realize it was a mass e-mail, but it was special to me nonetheless. This was Carl’s attempt to assuage his spectacularly homophobic remarks made during an address to an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn this past Sunday. In his e-mail message, Carl begins by speaking earnestly of his mistakes and describes himself as “a simple man who works hard, trusts others, and loves his family.” Then in Nixon-esque fashion he sneers at the media, saying “that the press misinterpreted and misstated” other things he said.
I wonder what we misinterpreted. Perhaps it was the part when he derided Andrew Cuomo for marching in the Gay Pride Parade, saying “that’s not the example we should be showing our children.” Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assumed that Carl meant that he hates parades, but then he marched in the Columbus Day parade. So we’ll leave that one open to misinterpretation.
Maybe it was the part when he said, “I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option—it isn’t.” (“Them” being our children.) Wow. That one is loaded. Let’s break it down. First of all who is doing the brainwashing? Cuomo? Obama? Judy Garland? As for homosexuality being equally valid and successful, he may have a point. Urban legend has it that gay couples are even more successful, financially speaking, than heterosexual couples. Perhaps that’s what Carl meant. Maybe he was encouraging financial equality for all. Maybe Carl is a closet socialist! Holy shit, did we get it wrong!
In his defense, Carl claims to have “redacted” the more repugnant aspects of the prepared speech such as: “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.” Whew. Glad he caught that one. But it begs the question: who is his speechwriter? Eminem? Thankfully his kiss-and-make-up e-mail appears to be written by someone different, albeit a fourth grader. (His e-mail is far more amusing, and makes even more sense, if you read it aloud as Rocky Balboa.)
Lampooning a myopic, hate-mongering candidate as he’s imploding is like fishing in a hatchery. While this will all be over soon, there is a broader issue that requires examination. The third point in his massive six-point e-mail to his gay brothers and sisters in New York states, “I am 100 percent against hate crimes in any form.” What Carl—soon-to-be-a-distant-memory—Paladino doesn’t understand is that the absence of violence doesn’t necessarily mean a hate crime wasn’t committed.
In January of this year the Press editorial staff produced a video feature and cover story about the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County. The Center recently completed an expansive renovation and now houses one of the most inspired, and important exhibits in the nation. The exhibit presents the Holocaust as parable. The docents carefully detail the events leading up to and following the period now known as the Holocaust. The galleries simply break down your defenses. The connection here is that what leaders say—and what they believe—matters. Right or wrong, humans are always looking to scapegoat someone else and hang their own misery around the neck of those they do not understand; during poor economic periods people are even more susceptible to lashing out at others and blaming them for their woes.
Intolerance in any form is a hate crime because it fosters a culture of misguided fear and anger. Recent gay-bashing incidents in the Bronx and the tragic death of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who was outed over the Internet, can and should be directly correlated to our pervasive dread of homosexuality.
I wish every person in a position of influence would visit the Tolerance Center and see firsthand where harsh words and intolerance lead. As far as we have come, we still have a great distance to travel, and the journey never ends.