In light of Christine O’Donnell’s gay baiting of Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Slate’s Margaret Wheeler Johnson put together this handy guide to how politicians have insinuated that their opponent are gay while avoiding direct confrontation. For the accuser, baiting is full of benefit and almost no risk, Johnson writes. The baiter can always plead ignorance or suggest that opponents needs to develop a sense of humor. The practice “has been around since before the Revolutionary War” and is still alive and well, despite growing public support for LGBT rights. Here is a sampling:
- The Euphemisms: “Relies on certain preexisting association in the public’s mind. Terms like “San Francisco,” “wine drinker,” and even “renter” rather than homeowner.”
- Weak and Whiny: “One way to suggest a man is gay is to play to the notion that a man with a soft voice, touch, or walk is weak, and that weak men are gay. i.e. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) described “a little too light in the loafers” to fill the shoes of his predecessor”
- Like a Woman: Another way to suggest that a male politician is sexually attracted to other men is to liken him to a woman. i.e. John McCain McConce called Obama “fussy” and “hysterical,” and in an ad compared him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
- Lifestyle: “The goal of this bait isn’t necessarily to make voters believe the target is gay, only to make them think he possesses negative, stereotypically gay male qualities.” Ex: “When he’s not in San Francisco … Perry’s … flipping through the pages of his Food and Wine magazine … in his fancy … rental mansion.” This bait sticks not just because it is blatantly coded—”San Francisco,” “Food and Wine,” “fancy,”—or because it could also be cross-listed under “weak” and “effeminate” (the ad concludes, “Tell Rick Perry to stop cowering and face Texans like a man”)—but because it refreshes public memory of the already existing, unsubstantiated rumors that Perry is gay.
- All the Single Ladies: “Also known as the sporty/brainy-ladies-with-short-haircuts-and-no-kiddos bait.” The Wall Street Journal decided to announce Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation proceedings alongside a photo of Kagan in her softball-playing days on its front page,
- Unruly Wife: ” This rumor insinuates that a political wife who refuses to allow her ambitions to be overwhelmed by her husband’s—who in this sense acts like a single lady—must be a lesbian. ” i.e. Hillary Clinton
O’Donnell’s gay baiting was, in some ways, even more direct. One group, working on O’Donnell’s behalf, suggested that Castle was “gay” and she herself called Castle ‘unmanly.’ “You know, these are the kind of cheap, underhanded, un-manly tactics that we’ve come to expect from Obama’s favorite Republican, Mike Castle,” said O’Donnell. “You know, I released a statement today, saying Mike this is not a bake-off, get your man-pants on.” For more on O’Donnell’s record of anti-gay rhetoric, click here.