OFF THE GRID

Will the White House Defend Its Gay School Czar? Probably Not

Oct 16, 09 | 8:37 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Here’s the setup: There’s a gay guy named Kevin Jennings who’s made a career dealing with the issues of gay kids in American schools. In what must have seemed like a kinder-gentler-bureaucracy good idea, the Obama administration gave him a job promoting school safety, which seems to be about dealing with bullies instead of recruiting more crossing guards. Of course, we can reasonably assume this is a lot more well-meaning than it is effective, and a lot more bureaucratic than it is enlightened, but that’s not the point.

The point is the Republicans can conflate a gay person with school kids, and promoting safety with promoting homosexuality (in Republican and Fox News parlance, he’s the “safe schools czar”). Helpfully, for the Republicans, Mr. Jennings contributed to a book titled, “Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue About Sexualities and Schooling.”

We have here Democrats and Republicans in their typecast roles. The Democrats are tortuously, and to minor (if any) effect, trying to use a bureaucratic backdoor to promote some basic social progress. The Republicans, with rhetorical élan, are turning this into a major outrage. Fifty-three Republicans in the House have signed a petition calling for Jennings' ouster. Fox News, of course, is on the story.

The set-up is a gift for the Republicans. Jennings, at one point in his career, actually suggested to a gay high school student who told him of a bus station men’s room encounter that he wear a condom. The set-up goes directly to the weaknesses of the Democrats. They would like to protect gay kids from bullies, but they don’t want to risk their reputations for this issue—not least of all because they understand that Kevin Jennings, with his little back-door bureaucratic job, isn’t going to save too many gay kids from being bullied.

“These are not mainstream people,” pronounced Steve King, a Republican congressman from Iowa, who’s leading the get-rid-of-Jennings campaign. “These are people on the fringe. And I think it is likely that there are others out there that are part of his administration.”

It is a Republican rhetorical gambit (to be shocked, shocked by a terrible specter which all good Americans clearly recognize), come face to face with a Democrat bureaucratic gambit (let’s hope that no one notices that we’ve allocated some minor resources against an intractable problem).

The Democrats, using a little rhetorical ammunition of their own, might say that Rep. King’s mainstream doesn’t exist anymore, that his idea of a fringe group, which seems to include blacks, immigrants, and liberals, as well as gays, is now a considerable majority. But they won’t.

More likely, they’ll be grateful to accept Jennings’ resignation.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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