Every day I observe and comment on political news in the United States, but, professionally, I almost always do so by looking over my shoulder. As I like to tell my students, I studied and taught history because I'm a news freak.
Also, history is not static. Not only do we regularly analyze the facts by proposing new hypotheses, but sometimes new facts shed a different light on the state of our knowledge.
Last Friday, POLITICO Magazine leaked excerpts from a new book by James Kirchick, titled Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington. Kirchnick, journalist and conservative columnist, is regularly interested in the theme of homosexuality and the rights of the LGBTQ community.
The homosexual “crime”
The excerpts shared by POLITICO confirm rumors which, without necessarily being known to the general public, have been circulating in Washington for about forty years. In 1980, it was yesterday it seems to me, one of the worst "crimes" that a politician could commit was that of displaying his homosexuality.
The former governor of Louisiana, the sulphurous Edwin Edwards, declared in 1983: "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy." He could only bow if caught in bed with a murdered woman or a living young man. The worst option being the second.
During the 1980 Republican primaries, the Republican Party was deeply divided between its more progressive wing and its conservative wing. The star candidate of this second faction was Ronald Reagan.
Long before Reagan was chosen to take on Carter, some of his Republican opponents, as well as members of his own staff, feared the hold of a "gay ring," an infamous group whose candidate , himself bisexual, would have been only the Manchurian candidate.
How seriously was the fear of influence from a gay group taken in 1980? She would explain that Ronald Reagan selected George W. Bush as his running mate rather than former footballer and Senator Jack Kemp because of his alleged, but never demonstrated, fluidity.
The one who triumphed in 1980 also dismissed one of his trusted men from the White House. Very influential in the entourage of Reagan, Pete Hannaford, secretly gay, was sacrificed to, it was said, save the party and the country.
With hindsight, one can only imagine a presidential campaign in 1980 marked by a scandal linked to homosexuality. Admittedly, we cannot rewrite history, but we can think that the conservative Ronald Reagan would have been seriously annoyed. We sometimes forget that Carter hung on for a very long time in the polls before the eventual winner dumped him.
Forty years was yesterday. Today, Pete Buttigieg displays his homosexuality, he is married, he has adopted two children and he acts as Secretary of Transportation in the Biden administration.