(Usual schtick: The column is delayed for a week here here due to the deal with the newspaper syndicator)
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MITT HIT MAN SHOT DOWN
BY BOB FRANKEN
Let's face it: There is no shortage of people who think Richard Grenell is a jerk. Don't know who he is? He is now the former Romney for President national-security and foreign-policy spokesman after lasting less than a couple of weeks in the job. His infamous public comments about prominent women in politics and his ugly relations with the media have nothing to do with his hasty exit. It is simply because he's openly gay.
Never mind his trail of demeaning Twitter messages, and never mind the coercive tactics he used as an official press secretary against journalists who had the audacity to cover stories unfavorable to his various clients. He had a reputation for chewing out reporters who didn't get with the program. Sometimes he would go over their heads and occasionally threaten their bosses. But he was done in by even bigger bullies.
Grenell chose to bail out because he felt the new gig wasn't worth the hassle. He had become the target of the homophobic bigots who dominate the Republican Party. They were applying heavy pressure on the Romney campaign, harping about the employment of someone with a “gay agenda,” who was “an ardent activist for gay marriage.”
Mitt Romney is still on shaky ground with these extremists, so the parting statement from his team that “We wanted him (Grenell) to stay” might seem insincere to those of us more jaundiced observers. It also causes one to wonder why he was brought on board in the first place, given all his pros and cons.
Pro: He is a pro, albeit a sometimes confrontational one. Ric Grenell played his intimidator role with journalists as a U.S. United Nations flack throughout the Bush administration. Most notably he was communications director for the hardest of the hard-liners: Ambassador John Bolton, who's his strong supporter. With reservations, put his experience -- “superior qualifications,” as Romney's people put it -- on the plus side.
On the negative side, we have all those super-snarky tweets. He hastily tried to take them down, but of course, what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet. They are still easy to find in all their juvenile splendor. At least he was both left and right heavy-handed. His targets were male (he was cruel about Newt Gingrich's weight) and female (particularly venomous about the appearance of Hillary Clinton, and Callista Gingrich's hair, snarking that it “snaps on”).
Obviously, his contempt for women is not what did him in with the fanatics. It was his preference for men. The misogyny wasn't the issue. Not even at a time when Mitt Romney is so desperately trying to win over female voters.
For the ultraconservatives, though, sexism is OK as long as it isn't same-sexism. And Mitt is doing whatever he can to mollify them. It probably didn't help that cause when Grenell told The Washington Post that he was grateful for Romney's “clear message to me that being openly gay was a nonissue for him and his team.”
Whether that's true or whether he was trying to make a graceful exit so he can find another job, the Post also reported that some Republican operatives had contacted Grenell to suggest that he might want to become a “nonissue” by exiting stage right.
With all the focus on economic differences, which is entirely valid, and the international debate, which is Grenell's strong suit, we should not lose sight of the social issues. Mitt Romney is groveling for the support of those who hold harshly regressive views, and they will demand that he champion their intolerance if he's elected.
So it's equally valid to question whether we want to live in a nation in which our personal conduct is regulated by a government beholden to this country's version of the ayatollahs. Even being on their side and brutally ruthless about it isn't enough. Just ask Ric Grenell.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.