Confidential NOM strategy memo: “Provoke the gay marriage base… fan the hostility.”

03.27.2012, 10:15 PM

From the Associated Press:

The leading national organization opposing same-sex marriage has sought to split the Democratic Party base by pitting African-Americans and Hispanics against gay-rights groups, according to confidential strategy memos made public by court officials in Maine. [...]

The documents, dating from 2009, were written by the National Organization for Marriage and had been kept from the public until Monday, when they were unsealed by court officials in Maine.

The Human Rights Campaign has posted the released NOM documents. One passage from NOM’s strategy document:

The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue.

NOM’s representatives often talk about the value of civil discourse, and in particular complain about the use of the word “bigot” and the hostility of Proposition 8 opponents.

In light of these documents, I think we have to seriously doubt NOM’s sincerity. In fact, it’s impossible to believe that NOM has ever for a moment desired civil disagreement. NOM deliberately provokes lgbt people into anger, in order to denounce those who they succeed in provoking. I cannot imagine a clearer example of hypocrisy.

If you genuinely want civil disagreement, then you don’t deliberately “[fan] the hostility” in your opponents. If you genuinely want pro-SSM folks to stop using the word “bigot,” then you don’t “provoke the gay marriage base into” calling others “bigots.”

Maggie, if you’re reading, could you please address this? How could you call for civil disagreement, while secretly plotting to fan hostility? Am I mistaken to see that as cynical and hypocritical?

* * *

Although there’s nothing wrong with NOM seeking Black allies and supporters, there’s something ugly about the way NOM wants to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.”

I’ve complained in the past that marriage equality opponents consider lgbt people instrumentally, rather than as people. Thus, opponents of marriage equality say that they oppose SSM in order to “send a message” about mothers and fathers, or to incrementally support a “marriage culture,” but they very rarely have concern for the well-being of the lgbt people whose families are being treated as post-it notes.

NOM’s attitude towards African-Americans seems similar. Black people are desired as fronts, not as partners. For example, despite the centrality of African-Americans to their strategy, NOM’s strategy doesn’t include recruiting Black people to decision-making positions within NOM. (Check out the faces here and here, to see what I mean.) Why not?

Did NOM ask, is a bunch of white folks provoking a fight between lgbt people (some of who are Black) and the Black community (some of whom are gay) really what’s best for the Black community? Did they worry about their “wedge” being “driven” right through the families of Black lgbt people? It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

* * *

Speaking of trying to drive a wedge into families, the strategy document also proposed paying $50,000 for a staff member to work full-time trying to “identify children of gay parents willing to speak on camera” on NOM’s behalf. Politics doesn’t get any uglier than that.

As Miranda at Right Wing Watch points out, if NOM really did this, “it seems that a year’s worth of full-time work didn’t turn up a single child of gay parents who was willing to be portrayed as a ‘victim’ of marriage equality.”

* * *

If you want to follow this issue in more detail, the blog “Good As You” has been all over it. NOM’s response has so far been limited to a single “some of our best friends are non-white” post.


20 Responses to “Confidential NOM strategy memo: “Provoke the gay marriage base… fan the hostility.””

  1. Stephen says:

    Thank you for this. As one who has been provoked I’ve been shamed to see how easily I’ve risen to NOM’s bait. Part of the frustration of gay Americans who have seen themselves vilified and our lives held up to ridicule by Maggie Gallagher and NOM is that we knew they were lying both about their intent and methods. Just how big was the deception is only slowly being uncovered. We still don’t know who pays them. They have, it is thought, between 5 and 10 large donors who pay for almost everything. Who are they? Why is NOM in contempt of several state courts for refusing, after having been ordered, to release their donor lists? Will they obey the ruling of Maine’s supreme court when they are ordered for the second time to release the list?

    As a man who has lived with his spouse for 43 years without doing harm to anyone but instead providing employment and, one hopes, some enjoyment to others, the public hysteria whipped up by Maggie Gallagher and NOM is particularly distressing. We were married in Canada 8 years ago. Our marriage is still not recognized on the federal level – which is where marriage law resides. This person has treated my life and the lives of many of our fellow American men and women as mere political stunts. It goes beyond shameful. We’ve had marriage equality in some of the states long enough to know for certain that NONE of the dire predictions put about by NOM have come true.

    I hope we can all learn from this shocking revelation and begin to consider one another’s humanity.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    Anyone who has paid much attention to NOM probably isn’t surprised by this, although it is interesting to see laid out in such a manipulative and corporate way. Remember, this is the dossier they handed to donors to raise money and something Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher are unapologetic about.

    The far right’s attempts to manipulate racism as a tool with African Americans and Latinos who are not part of their coalition is not new. The pro-life movement has been targeting African Americans with a similar approach,.

  3. nobody.really says:

    Anyone who has paid much attention to NOM probably isn’t surprised by this….

    What Jeffrey said.

    I feel real ambivalence to this news. It’s kind of like the news that the New Orleans Saints paid a bounty to players that would inflict debilitating injuries on the players of rival teams: it’s appalling to see it stated explicitly — but I’d always assumed that players were trying to hurt each other, so having my suspicions confirmed isn’t really that big a deal.

    I often find myself opposed to actions supported by the Republican Party. I revel in the problems that that party faces with its own internal divisions – especially between the religious fundamentalists and the libertarians. And when I comment on web sites, I’m not above couching my arguments in a manner to place maximum stress on those divisions.

    When I do this, am I failing to consider the humanity of the people that I am intentionally placing in conflict? Perhaps so. Yet I find it intellectually honest to draw attention to where viewpoints collide, to strip away veneers of agreement. And I sincerely believe in certain progressive agendas, and believe that state recognition of same-sex marriage will ultimately prove beneficial to all kinds of people – including religious fundamentalists. After all, fundamentalists have kids, too; in fact, they have MORE kids…. Thus, I’m not persuaded that I commit any kindness when I pull my punches. The sooner we can get Pennsylvania to recognize same-sex marriage, the sooner we can extend legal protections to Santorum’s closeted kids or grandkids. The benefit Santorum derives from seeing same-sex marriage laws defeated will pale when compared to the pain he experiences by seeing his own kin discriminated against. Ultimately, if the band aid must come off, the compassionate person is the one who pulls it off quickly.

    I’d be astonished that the NOM people felt any differently about their own perspectives. They regard state-recognition of same-sex marriage as a threat to the preservation of society, a society that well all — GLTB people included – depend upon. Thus, to promote everyone’s mutual benefit, they want to draw attention to fissures in the coalition supporting same-sex marriage.

    I did not read the NOM statement to advocate paying someone to pretend to be the disaffected kid of gay parents. I did not read NOM’s statement to advocate buying off the leadership of black groups. I read the statement to advocate drawing attention to a real, honest disagreement within the Democratic Party camp.

    Ok, NOM went a little further than that and actually discussed provoking hostilities. That seems bad. Yet is also seems like a pretty small step beyond what I expect all political strategists do. While I can’t think of anything I’ve done to promote hostilities among Republican factions, I can’t say that I’m dismayed when I see them.

    So do we condemn NOM for the sin of advocating hostilities, or for the sin of advocating hostilities? In the midst of a political campaign, is NOM primarily guilty of the sin of candor?

    Or do we condemn NOM for hypocrisy because they publically advocate “civil” debate while privately advocating provocation of hostilities? I’m not sold. NOM advocates that the opposite sides of same-sex marriage debate speak civilly towards each other. I would find it hypocritical if NOM then proceeded to speak with incivility toward SSM advocates. But I’m less troubled by the idea that NOM would contrive to draw attention to fissures in the Democratic ranks that might provoke Democrats to speak with incivility toward each other. Absent some extraordinary Milgram-like control of circumstances, I still hold each speaker accountable for the civility of her own words.

    So, having given the matter this much thought, I shrug. As Churchill remarked, democracy is the worst form of government ever devised – except for all the others. I don’t know that advocates of SSM are engaged in similar strategizing. But I sure hope they are.

  4. Phil says:

    I would be very curious to hear the thoughts of some of the more famous anti-SSM family scholars on this. David Blankenhorn, Elizabeth Marquardt, and certainly Maggie Gallagher. I realize that you guys are often asked to reply to posts where the situation is likely to be uncomfortable for you, and I’m sorry if I’m contributing to your public or personal unease.

    But I’m someone who unapologetically supportive of SSM, and happy to discuss it, as well as the campaign to fully legalize it. I am honestly baffled that an otherwise reasonable, intelligent person could oppose legal SSM, and I think that I, along with others, am very curious about your thought processes when a new wrinkle develops. While it may be unfair to do so, I’m sure we all read into your silences as well.

    Does anyone expect that Brian Brown or Maggie Gallagher will offer a genuine, heartfelt apology for any of this? I’d like to think that they are capable of that, but the cynic in me predicts that they will go the opposite route, and continue to attack the people who are pointing out their misdeeds.

  5. Nobody.Really, as I said, I don’t see anything wrong with NOM wanting to recruit Black partners and allies.

    In your example, I would find it pretty offputting if a group of all-male Democrats took it on themselves to try and split off Republican women. In fact, the Democrats are a group with significant women in leadership and decision-making positions (most famously, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton), but certainly if an all-male liberal think tank were to do as you describe, I’d find that disturbing. There’s a difference between wanting to include women’s issues in your portfolio, and thinking that it’s useful to have women to speak for your all-male group.

    But where I REALLY disagree with you is on civility. Real commitment to civility includes trying to foster civil discourse; otherwise, all you’re trying to do is maintain an appearance. There’s a difference between appearance and substantive commitment, which your analysis ignores. Just speaking politely in public, while actively plotting to make discourse less civil, is not a genuine commitment to civility; it’s just using face-to-face politeness as a weapon.

    IOW, if you’re trying to foster hostility, then you’re not working for civility, no matter how polite you are when the cameras are rolling.

  6. BTW, this very forum is a good example of what I mean by “trying to foster civil discourse,” and I give Elizabeth and David a lot of credit for that.

  7. David Blankenhorn says:

    I just saw this post, and just learned of the NOM memo, and I want to think a bit before responding to Phil’s invitation.

    One initial reaction is that I am impressed by the points made above by nobody.really.

  8. [...] between blacks and gays; that has drawn rebuke from almost every quarter, including Barry Deutsch of FamilyScholars.org. And Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin wonders whether when NOM laid plans to fan hostility in [...]

  9. nobody.really says:

    In your example, I would find it pretty offputting if a group of all-male Democrats took it on themselves to try and split off Republican women…. [I]f an all-male liberal think tank were to do as you describe, I’d find that disturbing. There’s a difference between wanting to include women’s issues in your portfolio, and thinking that it’s useful to have women to speak for your all-male group.

    I don’t share this view. I think any individual can decide for herself what groups to speak for. I find nothing wrong with the idea that a nun would speak out in favor of the authority of the Vatican. (Ok, nothing more wrong with a nun saying this than with anyone else saying this.)

    I don’t mean to be obtuse. Of course political actors will seek the endorsement of potential spokesmen that are in a position to influence others – including others that share the spokesman’s race/gender/nationality/religion/etc. Political actors will note group affiliations. But I find nothing inappropriate in this. I try to judge people based on their choices. I judge a spokesman based on his choice of topics to espouse. And I judge the spokesman’s followers based on their choice to follow. But (absent incitement to violence) I don’t judge the spokesperson for the followers’ choices.

    If Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice sincerely believes W. would be the best choice for president, I see nothing wrong with either saying so. If W. suspects that he could attract more black votes by retaining Powell and Rice in prominent positions in his administration, I see little wrong with him doing so. And if some black people in fact vote for Bush on the basis of Powell and Rice – or on pretty much any basis that doesn’t involve fraud, bribery, coercion, etc. – that’s their business.

    If I find fault with the idea that black people would vote for a president that is manifestly contrary to their interests, I conclude the failure occurred at the level of the voters — and perhaps at the level of the campaigns opposing W’s candidacy – not at the level of W., Powell, or Rice. Those three have enough to answer for; I don’t feel the need to pile on.

    To some extent, I may merely be quibbling about wording. Sometimes I speak in terms of groups and membership, and sometimes I speak in terms of beliefs and actions. Maybe you’re offended at the idea of having “women to speak for your all-male group.” But if an all-male group adopts the view that 2+2=4, I kinda doubt you’d be offended at the idea that member of that group might persuade women of the same conclusion, or persuade them to say so publicly. Phrasing things in this manner removes the suggestion that our sense of identity or group solidarity requires us to close our minds to new ideas.

  10. nobody.really says:

    But where I REALLY disagree with you is on civility. Real commitment to civility includes trying to foster civil discourse; otherwise, all you’re trying to do is maintain an appearance. There’s a difference between appearance and substantive commitment, which your analysis ignores. Just speaking politely in public, while actively plotting to make discourse less civil, is not a genuine commitment to civility; it’s just using face-to-face politeness as a weapon.

    I suspect we have different understandings of “civil discourse.” I don’t mean to inject emotions into a policy discussion gratuitously; they can impede consideration of issues. But sometimes a rigorous consideration of issues will inevitably lead to emotional conflict; sometimes people’s desire to avoid conflict will impede consideration of issues by causing people to avoid confronting issues. While I want to employ tact in navigating these dynamics – consider time, place, manner, the relative need for maintaining relationships vs. confronting issues, etc. – I’m not persuaded that civility requires me to be an accomplice to conflict avoidance.

    Imagine you’re publicly debating the issue of same-sex marriage with Joe. Imagine you know that Joe’s kids are gay (and publicly so). If you know that your arguments would provoke discord in Joe’s family, do you refrain from offering them?

    Perhaps so. Barry and I share a colleague with whom we have political disagreement, and who is undergoing some tough personal circumstances. If I thought my political arguments would exacerbate his stress, I’d save them for another day.

    But perhaps not. I suspect many people oppose same-sex marriage in part because they don’t identify with homosexuals; that is, they don’t realize how many gay friends and family members they know. Thus I find it important to draw attention to the idea that we all have gay friends and family – whether we know it or not. If I could illustrate this point by noting the conflict Joe’s views provoke in his own family – pointedly asking whether the generalizations Joe makes about homosexuals also apply to his own kids — I might well do so.

    The point is not to be uncivil to Joe, to create tension; the point is to lay bare the tensions that already exist, that are a natural consequence of a public policy, and that Joe is trying to conceal from the audience. And yes, the point would be made even more forcefully if Joe and his son exchanged some heated words in the middle of the debate.

    Similarly: Black people tend to vote Democratic, and the Democratic Party is relatively receptive to state recognition of same-sex marriage. But some black religious leaders espouse rather conservative social views (a fascinating social dynamic in its own right), and in particular oppose state recognition of same-sex marriage. Advocates of same-sex marriage have an incentive to gloss over this rift; opponents have an incentive to draw attention to it.

    Ultimately socially-conservative black people must confront the conflict between 1) the compassion for an oppressed minority in a quest for equal dignity and 2) certain moral views. Again, opponents of same-sex marriage are not creating this conflict; they are exposing conflict that already exists. And if members of the Democratic coalition cannot refrain from falling into a pissing match over this, I don’t blame NOM.

  11. nobody.really says:

    Finally —

    If you genuinely want pro-SSM folks to stop using the word “bigot,” then you don’t “provoke the gay marriage base into” calling others “bigots.”

    I’m sorry; I was busy tasting my own medicine in a sauce that’s good for the goose hoisted on its own petard. What did you say again?

    While I find some of NOM’s proposal at the edge of civil discourse, this aspect strikes me as rather elegant. If you find the word “bigot” useful for describing people opposed to same-sex marriage, I don’t see why you would object to black people opposed to same-sex marriage being called “bigots.” Alternatively, if this term is beyond the pale of civil discourse, the key to defeating NOM’s plan lies entirely in the hands of advocates of same-sex marriage: Stop calling people bigots, and logically you won’t call potential allies bigots.

    There is a choice to be made – and that choice is in the hands of same-sex marriage’s advocates, not its opponents. There may be costs and benefits of either choice. But I don’t intend to blame NOM for the consequences of our own choices.

  12. N.R., you’re bending over backwards to warp what NOM said into something considerably more reasonable than the reality.

    Inevitably bringing up tensions because that happens when you advocate your views is NOT the same thing as intending and plotting to bring up those tensions. The former is compatable with a good-faith attempt to have a civil discourse; the latter is not.

    While I find some of NOM’s proposal at the edge of civil discourse, this aspect strikes me as rather elegant. If you find the word “bigot” useful for describing people opposed to same-sex marriage, I don’t see why you would object to black people opposed to same-sex marriage being called “bigots.”

    Nothing angers me more than people dishonestly putting words into my mouth. Please stop doing that.

    I don’t object to the word bigot, and never have. NOM does (or so they say). If NOM sincerely wants a discourse without the word “bigot,” they they would not be plotting to provoke people into saying the word “bigot.”

  13. N.R., have you seen the classic Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup?

    There’s a scene in Duck Soup in which Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho), who for bewildering reasons is the ruler of the small country of Freedonia, is determined to get into a war with a neighboring country. But Firefly doesn’t want to be the one to declare war, so — even though Firefly claims to the public (in the form of Mrs. Teasdale) that he wants only peace, he sets about trying to provoke Ambassador Trentino into declaring war on Freedonia. Eventually, Firefly succeeds.

    Now, what you seem to be saying is that Ambassador Trentino is responsible for declaring war; if he didn’t want to declare war, he shouldn’t have declared war. And that’s true. Trentino made his own decisions, and he should have known better than to let Firefly provoke him.

    But none of that is what we’re discussing here.

    You seem to be saying that, BECAUSE Trentino made his own decisions, it would therefore be wrong or unfair to criticize Firefly or to say that Firefly acted in bad faith.

    And that’s where you’re mistaken. Trentino was responsible for his own decisions; AND Firefly was insincere and acted in bad faith. These two claims are not contrary in any way.

  14. nobody.really says:

    Nothing angers me more than people dishonestly putting words into my mouth. Please stop doing that.

    I don’t object to the word bigot, and never have.

    I apologize for suggesting otherwise; I had intended the word “you” in the sense of “one,” but that was not clear in context.

    That said, my views remain. NOM argues that “denouncing [people] as bigots” is a practice that fans hostility – as NOM might know, having been called a bunch of bigots from time to time. While NOM is not calling anyone a bigot, NOM is conspiring for their opponents to call each other bigots so that they might bear some of the burdens of their own conduct – and yes, to also achieve political objectives. I find little hypocrisy here.

    For what it’s worth, I won’t be surprised if we later unearth a memo showing that NOM is conspiring to have people pray that SSM proposals be defeated; after all, many religious people embrace the idea that prayer can influence worldly matters. I reject this premise, ergo I wouldn’t be too concerned about the plot. The strategy would be undemocratic – but also ineffective.

    Here, NOM is conspiring to induce people to call each other bigots, on the theory that calling people a bigot is uncivil and therefore prone to fan hostilities. Barry rejects the premise that calling someone a bigot is uncivil – yet he still expresses concerns about the plot. I’m not entirely sure why.

    Then again, all I remember from Duck Soup is the song, “Hail, Hail Freedonia….” It kind of blurs in my mind with The Mouse That Roared.

    Maybe it’s just a matter of taste and temperament. When I first read about the NOM conspiracy, I had a visceral negative reaction: a secret plot targeting homosexuals and blacks?!? But upon reflection, it just looks like politics to me — and not especially bad politics at that. Perhaps Barry has a closer relationship to the NOM gang, and therefore had developed some reason to expect different behavior. I have no relationship with NOM other than this website, and the memo does not conflict with any of my expectations.

  15. Apology accepted, and I’m sorry I misunderstood you.

    It bothers me because I take civility really seriously. I think it matters, and I work hard to try and be civil in a substantive, not just surface, way (although I sometimes mess up, of course).

    So I’m a bugged by people who claim to want civil discussion in public, but whose actual intention is to discourage civil discussion. It makes me feel like the one thing I had in common with NOM, was a deception.

    Anyway, I think we’ve discussed this in circles.

  16. Christopher says:

    NR – “fanning hostility” toward groups of Americans (black people and gay people among them) has often led to, however intended or unintended, to violence against those group . NOM is cynically trying to fan a fire that they cannot ultimately control. And they do they this for political and very probably monetary gain. That is the core of what is truly hideous here.

    Ginning up homophobia and racism may now be regarded as merely politics but it cannot be regarded as decent or acceptable from ant side on any issue.

    We certainly see shades of it in the Tea Party and GOP treatment of President Obama. It is indecent there too.

  17. JeffreyRO5 says:

    NOM relies on the homophobic and straight supremacy feelings that so many straight people have. They know that’s their only ace: insist that people vote on the marriage rights of gay people, and then run ads before the vote that either dog-whistle to voters or even overtly feed into voter homophobia and straight supremacy feelings. NOM also expertly provides cover to these homophobics and straight supremacists, by providing reasonable-sounding arguments that are not overly homophobic and straight supremacist sounding. For example, “it’s about what’s best for children” is a popular cover. This line is especially insidious: not only does it falsely make voters think the decision is between what’s best for children or what’s best for gay people (the needs of children of same-sex couples are conveniently ignored), it implies that gay people are harming children. Bravo, NOM!

    I don’t know if Maggie Gallagher or Brian Brown personally care if gay people are allowed to marry. I know they are making substantial incomes providing publicly-palatable propaganda and talking point tips (per Maggie: “don’t say you are against same-sex marriage, say you are for traditional marriage…”) for those those oppose equal marriage rights. The KKK might have tried to hire an expert to claim that blacks are inferior beings. Whoever funds NOM found these two clowns, and gave them their marching orders and their paychecks. Too bad they couldn’t get the character played by Aaron Eckhardt in “Thank you for smoking!” He was so much more interesting and convincing!

  18. JeffreyRO5 says:

    Nick Naylor! That’s the “Thank you for smoking” guy!