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Huckabee doesn't heart Gays
Huckabee doesn't heart Gays
by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

Mike Huckabee's surge to the top of GOP polls in Iowa and nationwide has brought the expected scrutiny of his record and it is on those same issues that endear him to social conservatives that the Southern Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor is withering a bit in the spotlight.

First came Huckabee's outrageous statement from his 1992 campaign for U.S. Senate in support of quarantining people with AIDS, in which he urged the federal government to "take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague."

Advocating "plague" quarantine would have been outlandish enough in 1982, when HIV first emerged, but Huckabee was in flat-earth territory to do so a full decade later - six years after Surgeon General C. Everett Koop confirmed the already-accepted view that casual contact could not spread the virus.

Offered the opportunity now to renounce those views, Huckabee instead made clear that he's more concerned with being perceived as a flip-flopper like Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani than he is with accepting responsibility for gross misjudgment.

"The one thing I feel like is important to note is that you stick by what you said," Huckabee said at a press conference. "I'm not going to go around changing my opinion on everything."

When reporters pointed out it was "common knowledge" in 1992 that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact, Huckabee responded that the nation was still in "real panic" after the case of a patient contracted the disease from a dentist.

His attempt to hide behind the Kimberly Bergalis case is a red herring; even if health care workers with HIV posed a risk - and they do not if they follow simple protocol - his support for "isolating plague carriers" was not limited to those in medicine.

Even more striking is that Huckabee actually hides behind the public's "panic" as some sort of justification for advocating quarantine rather acknowledge in retrospect that public policy should be guided by science, not mythology.

There's no question that Huckabee's thinking on AIDS was actually motivated by his animus toward homosexuality. Asked about Gays in the military in that same 1992 candidate questionnaire, he defended the ban by warning homosexuality "can pose a dangerous public health risk."

"I believe to try to legitimize that which is inherently illegitimate would be a disgraceful act of government," he added. "I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle." So along with public hysteria, Huckabee cites his own theological beliefs as the other fundamental justification for prohibiting some Americans to serve their country in the military.

He has since ratcheted down the rhetoric, but still calls homosexuality "sinful," along the lines of "lying" or "stealing."

As off-the-wall as Huckabee's views may sound, they were and are in sync with conservatives from his neck of the woods. I should know. I come from a family of conservative Arkansas Republicans, and I remember debating in the late '80s whether AIDS could be spread by mosquitoes and whether it was, as Billy Graham had said, God's retribution against homosexuals. I was deeply closeted and no bleeding heart, but I was nonetheless seconded by no one.

Even in a red state like Arkansas, however, hardcore conservatives win primaries more easily than general elections. Huckabee lost that 1992 Senate race and moderated his tone in later successful runs for lieutenant governor and governor.

Now that those '92 views on AIDS have resurfaced, Huckabee is repeating his mistake, cementing his reputation as the "true" social conservative in the race, even if it means alienating moderates as well as Republicans who want to nominate someone who is electable.

Worse yet, in avoiding at all costs appearing like Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, who have flip-flopped the other direction on social issues, Huckabee invites an even more damaging comparison: to the current occupant of the White House.

Whatever currency he gains with conservatives by rewriting the science of AIDS and sticking by his inflammatory anti-Gay rhetoric, he undermines his credibility with Americans - including many Republicans - who want a president who will unite the country and won't stick stubbornly to views when all evidence is to the contrary.

We've already seen the disastrous results when a president buys into public panic - in George Bush's case about terrorism and "weapons of mass destruction" - ignoring the data and the qualifiers put on the most dire warnings from experts. The last thing Americans want - or need - is another president like that.

Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade and five other Gay publications and now edits GayNewsWatch.com. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com

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