WASHINGTON -- I guess the tent wasn't big enough after all.
Meaning the "big tent" strategy dreamy-eyed Republicans have been touting since the '90s. Theirs was, they said, a party big enough to encompass people from all walks of life. Now we learn they meant all walks except the gay walk.
If this wasn't clear before (and it was), it sure is now, in the wake of revelations that Mark Foley, former congressman from Florida, was not-so-secretly gay and not-so-secretly sending explicit e-mails to teenage pages. For at least some in the GOP, the former seems the greater sin. Indeed, the party has responded to news of homosexuality in its midst with an uncoordinated clunkiness fascinating to those of us who've grown used to a GOP machine that hums along like a new car.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed that if the party had responded aggressively to Mr. Foley's e-mails, it would have been "accused of gay bashing." And we all know how much the party hates gay bashing. Some conservative pundits have claimed the party was - ahem - too tolerant of gays in its midst and wound up betrayed from within by a so-called gay mafia that protected Mr. Foley.
Tony Perkins, president of something called the Family Research Council, circulated an e-mail asking whether gay GOP staffers sabotaged anti-gay legislation favored by groups such as his. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stirred outrage among social conservatives after a recent swearing-in ceremony for a gay official: She referred to the mother of the man's partner as his "mother-in-law." And in the midst of this babble of cross-purposes, this inability to get its story straight, a representative for the party insists that it remains open to people of all kinds.
As far as I know, this was said with a straight face. And I haven't even mentioned The List yet.
Meaning a catalog of gay Republican aides on Capitol Hill that has reportedly been circulated among evangelical Christian organizations and so-called family values groups - presumably to encourage a campaign to "de-homofy" the party. The tar is boiling, the feathers are waiting. According to news reports, such a list would include a campaign aide to George Allen, the Virginia senator who has vigorously opposed gay marriage, and a spokesman for Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania senator who has compared homosexuality to bestiality.
The List - somewhere, Joe McCarthy is laughing - suggests there is no shortage of gay people willing to work against, or at the very least defer, their own interests.
It also suggests that officials of the party that has made vilification of gays its byword have been rather - pardon my language - liberal in their hiring practices. Evidently, they wanted the best person, sexual orientation be darned. Imagine that.
The GOP philosophy seems to be that it's OK to be gay, so long as you're not, you know, "gay." Sort of in the way the party prizes those black folks - Ms. Rice, Colin L. Powell - who don't go around reminding people they're black all the time. The thinking seems to be: Sure, you can join us. All it will cost you is who you are.
I'm reminded of a conversation I had once with a conservative pundit. She was arguing the need for ideological diversity (i.e., more socially conservative voices) in the newsroom. I agreed, but wanted to know how she would resolve having more social conservatives in the newsroom with also having more gays there. It wasn't a gotcha question; I genuinely wanted to know how she would achieve workplace amity between two groups, when one is defined by abhorrence of the other. She stammered, then finally said she had no answer.
Apparently, the GOP doesn't, either. The Foley fallout makes that obvious. And this, too: The Republicans cannot be the party of both gay tolerance and the Christian right.
Tents don't come that big.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.