Open Thread: Progress, If We Can Keep It

Tom Foley, Democratic House Speaker between 1989 and 1994, died last week. The New Republic took to its wayback machine to pull up what’s probably the best-remembered story about Rep. Foley — Lee Atwater sending out an official RNC memo comparing Foley to Barney Frank (“Tom Foley, Out of the Liberal Closet”):

Atwater said, “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” Lesser functionaries insisted that no sexual innuendo was intended. The closet metaphor, they maintained, was purely political: Foley is a liberal who pretends to be a moderate…

To accept these explanations one would have to begin by accepting the dubious theory that Frank is uniquely qualified to represent House liberals, even though he is known for the heterodoxy of his opinions (he recently advised liberals to forget about gun control, for example)… More to the point, one would have to believe that the memo’s authors were unaware (a) that the primary meaning of the phrase “out of the closet” is to denote the public disclosure of previously concealed homosexuality; (b) that Frank is a gay person who became nationally famous when he came out of the closet two years ago; or (c) that for weeks prior to the release of the memo Foley had been the target of a campaign of scurrilous but unpublished rumors suggesting that he too is gay, and perforce closeted. (“We hear it’s little boys,” an aide to Newt Gingrich, the House Republican whip, had been going around saying.)…

Barney Frank, by the way, knows about deterrence. At a conference of political operatives and reporters at Harvard last weekend, I found surprising unanimity that the decisive factor in squelching the anti-Foley smear campaign had been Frank’s threat to name five gay Republicans on Capitol Hill. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have actually done it. But then, isn’t the purpose of possessing nuclear weapons to ensure that they never have to be used?

Frank, like many others, is unhappy about the underlying premise of the closet memo flap: That calling someone gay ipso facto a smear. “But the reality is that we still have a prejudiced society,” he says. “When FDR was being called ‘Rosenfeld’ and ‘Rosenstein,’ it wasn’t inconsistent with opposition to anti-Semitism for people to point out that he was not in fact Jewish.” In any case, Frank has done wonders for the “image” of gay people by facing down the bigots….

Lee Atwater, incidentally, died horribly just a few years after that, amid rumors his brain cancer was AIDS-related.

There’s all kinds of conclusions could be drawn from this twisted little epic, but I’ll go with these:

(1) Yes, American politics have always been pretty ugly;

(2) Barney Frank is a OG gunslinger; and

(3) Sometimes we do make progress. Twenty-four years ago, just suggesting a politician might be gay was considered a political death threat; being gay still isn’t a net positive in all parts of the country, but it’s been significantly defanged as a threat, largely due to the hard work of gay activists and politicians (like Mr. Frank).

38 replies
  1. 1
    Litlebritdiftrnt says:

    As Cory Booker said the other day when someone suggested that he was gay “so what if I am” My Godfather back in the 60s was gay, he was an actor, and it seriously affected his ability to get a job. In this day and age, thank the FSM being gay does not stop you from being able to get a job in some instances it is a required addition to your resume (see Glee).

  2. 2
    Foregone Conclusion says:

    Also a reminder that a liberal President with an unusual name could be smeared by being associated with an unpopular and ‘foreign’ religion.

  3. 3
    trollhattan says:

    Tom Foley and William O Douglas both hailed from eastern Washington, but I suspect came from a time not to be repeated anytime soon. (Although, the influx of Hispanic migrants must be tilting the demographics.)

    From the “Oh f%$#,not again!” file.

    By “investigation is ongoing” they surely mean “are busy deciding how long before declaring no crime occurred and ‘hasn’t the family suffered enough?'”

    To which I respond: no.

  4. 4
    Mike G says:

    Lee Atwater, incidentally, died horribly just a few years after that, amid rumors his brain cancer was AIDS-related.

    If this had happened to Barney Frank, the Religious Wrong would say it was a “punishment from God”. But when it happens to one their own scumbag political weasels, there’s no insinuation of a divine message that Atwater was leading an evil life.

  5. 5
    Elmo says:

    Barney Frank is a BAMF from way back.

  6. 6
    WereBear says:

    With issues like this, I’m always reminded of the Gore Vidal play/movie, where the wise old pol says, “When I was campaigning, everyone poured Jesus all over everything, like ketchup.”

    That’s another one we can dispense with.

  7. 7
    Yatsuno says:

    @WereBear: I wish. The Jeebus freaks were given their taste of power and decided they liked it. Unless the IRS starts stamping down on the politicking happening on the pulpits, this won’t change any time soon.

  8. 8
    Linnaeus says:

    Not to try to take over the thread, but I have a question here for folks: if you have a mental health issue that you think is interfering with your job performance (or it did in the past), do you tell your supervisors? I know that’s a really fuzzy question, but the context for me is that I’m pretty sure that a problem I’ve had pretty much all of my life is a big part of why I’ve been really, really struggling at work over the past several months and I am thinking it might help if I tell my boss what’s up. Not to make excuses or evade responsibility, but to provide some additional information. He has told me that I can come to him with any difficulties I’m having, but people can say that in all sincerity and then react negatively when you actually take them up on the offer. So I’m wondering what folks here think.

  9. 9
    NotMax says:

    A big change not often commented on is that denial of promotion or security clearance because someone is “potentially subject to blackmail” for being gay is made obsolete when he/she is openly out.

  10. 10
    Schlemizel says:

    Interesting, I had never heard the rumor that Atwater had AIDS, it certainly fits the Roy Cohen image of his party.

    Barney is a mench. At the risk of repeating a story too well known: Back in the day the fouls mouthed Dick, Armey made a habit of calling him”Barney Fag” and then pretending it was a slip of the tongue. Barney had asked him repeatedly to stop. The last time he did it Barney took to the floor of the House & announced that should Army have that slip again he would stand on the floor and read a list of every gay Republican Representative he knew of. The fouls mouthed Dick never slipped again!

  11. 11
    maximiliano furtive, formerly known as dr. bloor says:

    Twenty-four years ago, just suggesting a politician might be gay was considered a political death threat

    On the downside, suggesting a politician is “liberal” has taken being “teh ghey” on the list of political death threats.

  12. 12
    Schlemizel says:


    A lot would depend on the company & the issue. Do they have an employee support program? I’d start there depending on your issue. Is it something you can be treated for?

    I guess I would make talking to the boss my last choice as even if they didn’t mean to they could hold it against you. But, again, that depends on a lot of other things

  13. 13
    Mike E says:

    @Schlemizel: Never heard that, thought it was karma that got him.

  14. 14
    WereBear says:

    @Yatsuno: My point is that the percentage of people who are not following a formal religion has never been higher.

    Though this might be what makes the fanatics even more fanatical.

  15. 15
    WereBear says:

    @Linnaeus: A lot of it has to do with what it is, how well it can be treated, and what the person you are speaking to knows about it.

    I’ve heard of people getting trapped by the “I certainly want to know what problems you have” when it’s just a way of the boss using that against you. So you are right to not take it at face value.

    Bottom line, even if it is a mental issue, I’d try to frame it as a physical one… people understand those a lot better. If possible, of course, and see what you can work out with your medical folks on that.

  16. 16
    NotMax says:


    Purely a layman’s short list of opinions; feel entirely free to ignore.

    1) If seeing a medical professional regarding the condition, consult with him/her first.

    2) As empathetic as the boss may or may not be, there is no presumption of confidentiality. Depending on the company, he/she may be required to report the matter.

    3) There is no guarantee that the person in the boss position will remain in that position. A replacement might not be so accommodating.

    4) Dependent on the size and/or priorities of the outfit, there may be in-house counseling offered through Human Resources or other departments.

  17. 17
    Linnaeus says:


    A lot would depend on the company & the issue. Do they have an employee support program? I’d start there depending on your issue. Is it something you can be treated for?

    It’s a small company (maybe 10 employees max), so there’s no support program or anything like that. It is something I can be treated for and for which I’ve been professionally evaluated. I haven’t had access to treatment in the past two years (no insurance), but I found a resource recently and have started the process of getting treatment.


    I’ve heard of people getting trapped by the “I certainly want to know what problems you have” when it’s just a way of the boss using that against you. So you are right to not take it at face value.

    The boss seems to be a pretty compassionate fellow, but there’s still a stigma in our culture that equates mental health problems with being just a shitty worker/person/etc.

  18. 18
    WereBear says:

    @Linnaeus: I found a resource recently and have started the process of getting treatment.

    I’m so happy for you; that puts a positive spin on things that should help if you are going to discuss this with your boss.

    The smallness of the place, and the fact that they would know you well, can help a lot.

    Whatever you decide, good luck! If you feel it can explain some things that have been going on, and that you can assure them will be better going forward, it could be a positive move.

  19. 19
    PurpleGirl says:

    American politics has always been nasty.

    Speak to the ghost of Andrew Jackson about what was said about the relationship between Rachel and himself. And consider Jackson’s own beliefs and actions.

  20. 20
    Mark B. says:

    @Linnaeus: well the first thing is for you to get help, and you’re doing that. I personally don’t think it’s something you have to share except in non-specific ways, and only if you need to. If your treatment requires you to miss work, it would be fine to say you’re out for medical treatment, but not necessary to tell anyone you don’t want to tell the specific nature of the treatment. It’s really up to you how much to share and you don’t owe them a detailed explanation.

  21. 21
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Foregone Conclusion: Well, it wasn’t an unusual name in the Hudson Valley, just an fine old-line Dutch name of a centuries old family. IIRC, The Roosevelts were Episcopalian. I always make the effort to pronounce it correctly, with the double long “oo”.

  22. 22
    👾 Martin says:


    if you have a mental health issue that you think is interfering with your job performance (or it did in the past), do you tell your supervisors?

    Depends entirely on what state you are in. On first pass, if you’re in a right-to-work state, then ‘no’. If you’re in a not-right-to-work state, then maybe. States like California are usually a ‘yes’. Here if the employer has at least 5 employees, they fall under the state discrimination laws, and the laws here say that you must be accommodated. Other states vary in terms of the size of the business and what’s covered.

    But it really comes down to the question of ‘does this knowledge make it easier or harder for my employer to get rid of me?’. If it’s ‘harder’, then it’s usually worth disclosing. Depends on the people a bit as well. You can easily find yourself in a hostile workplace environment once that knowledge gets out there, and even though the law is on your side in that case, it’s the last thing you want to deal with. But if you have a good boss, then it can go pretty well.

    We deal with these situations a LOT where I work, and they almost always go well. But we’re huge, and having to accommodate an employee is no big deal. It’s a bit harder when it’s 10% of the staff.

  23. 23
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    This is one of those “well, duh” sort of things that elude the duh-inclined.

    As for Atwater, it’s a serious shame that his death was not more painful and more prolonged in order to adequately punish him for the evil he did. I can only hope that Rove, Cheney, and the deserting coward suffer as Atwater did, if not much more.

  24. 24
    WereBear says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I had a discussion with a hospice volunteer once, that I have never forgotten.

    There was a locally powerful person who was dying alone, and was incredibly tormented by the knowledge of the wrongs he had done, and how it was too late to do anything about it.

    I think this is independent of whatever strutured beliefs anyone might have; this was not presented to me as a religious issue.

    This was something everyone seems to wrestle with, and people like Atwater and Cheney will probably do anything to not think about it.

    But that only works for so long.

  25. 25
    trollhattan says:


    Is there any way to obtain health coverage, pronto, through ACA or other avenues? You would surely benefit from a support network with deep resources and as to approaching your boss, it would be a huge plus to be able to say, “I have some issues going on and this is how I’m dealing with them. I just want you to know what is going on and to open a dialogue in case you think my performance might be affected. That way, we can work as a team to ensure they’re resolved.”

    Good luck!

  26. 26
    Ruckus says:

    This is so position dependent. Your position in the company, your bosses position towards you and the company. What your job is, what the condition is.
    I think you have to be there to know and even then it may be a crap shoot. If it’s something that has affected you your whole life then they may not know but they may at least understand, if you have been working there a long time and doing OK.
    But the big thing for me would be my gut feeling. If you are questioning it here you are probably trying to justify it in your mind and are thinking that involving your boss is not a good idea.
    But first if you have a problem you need to get help for that, which is what you are asking for so that is good. Personally I’d be leery of involving the boss. I didn’t when I needed help which I got and I think that was the right decision for me at that time.

  27. 27
    JR says:

    @Linnaeus: my wife was advised to talk to her boss by her shrink, and the boss made her work life impossible. I don’t know what the answer is, but right now there is no good answer.

    Best of luck!

  28. 28
    Linnaeus says:


    Is there any way to obtain health coverage, pronto, through ACA or other avenues?

    I can get insurance through my ACA state exchange now, but the coverage doesn’t actually begin until January 1, if I understand the law correctly. I found a clinic at my old university here that provides therapy, referrals (for meds and such) for a pretty reasonable fee, so that’s where I’m going to go, at least for now. Though I can’t actually start for another three weeks or so, due to their backlog.

    Right now, based on what folks are saying so far and my own inclinations, I’m tempted to not reveal very much. I might simply say that I am taking steps to deal with a problem and leave it at that.

  29. 29
    Linnaeus says:

    Thanks for all of the feedback, folks. It does help a lot.

  30. 30
    trollhattan says:

    Having been both a minion and a boss, I believe this is the right approach. #1 is to get well, whatever it takes. And of course, part of being well is having a life, including a worklife. Hopefully your workplace values integrity, because you certainly have that.

    My best to you.

  31. 31
    Origuy says:

    HIPAA has relevance here, I think. If you disclose medical information to your employer, they can ask you for a doctor’s note. They can’t ask your medical provider directly without your approval.

  32. 32
  33. 33
    Drexciya says:

    Today in articles about things this blog’s front page doesn’t talk about Part III

    Complete with a reference to Dreamers and immigration protests that didn’t start and stop with how good those things are for the Democratic party, no less. It’s very nice when brown people are allowed to be discussed as more than political stepping stones that your opponent doesn’t have.

  34. 34


    It may depend on what it is. I had many performance problems at work that I eventually figured out were probably due to undiagnosed ADHD. I explained to my 2 (co-equal) bosses what was going on, that I was seeking a diagnosis and would pursue treatment. They were really open to it and were relieved that there was a possibility that I would improve (which, fortunately, I did with the help of medication and ongoing therapy).

    So I would say that if you have an actual diagnosis and an action plan, you may be able to approach your boss if s/he seems like s/he might be open to hearing your explanation of the cause if your performance problems and (more importantly) the immediate steps you are taking to fix them.

    IOW, walking in and saying, “I think I might be depressed, so I can’t take on any new projects” won’t go over well. Saying, “I was recently diagnosed with depression, I’m taking medication and seeing a doctor for it, but I wanted to let you know that’s what was going on with me” might be better received.

    I should also say that I work in entertainment where people are generally more open about mental health issues (my coworker/supervisor is pretty straightforward about being a recovering alcoholic) so it may vary based on your field. A creative or academic field may be more open to such revelations than, say, banking.

    Don’t forget, you can always be vague about what your “medical issue” is — you don’t have to say it’s a mental health issue (and in most states your employer is not allowed to ask). You can just say that you have a medical condition that you now realize was affecting your performance, but you’re being treated for it and your doctor assures you that you’ll be back up to speed soon. QED. You don’t have to discuss the specifics any more that you would have to explain exactly which cancer you’re being treated for.

  35. 35
    Linnaeus says:

    @Mnemosyne (iPhone):

    Thank you for the insight. I do have an actual diagnosis (from several years ago, actually), though to be honest, I didn’t pursue treatment as much as I could or should have. For the past two years, I’ve had no insurance, but I’ve found a way to get treatment and I’m going to be more serious about following through on it.

  36. 36
    A Humble Lurker says:

    Of course, the idea of suggesting this story that might not have even been known about by the front pagers…never occurred to you?

    I’m sympathetic, and I know this site can sometimes be a little color blind, but come on.

  37. 37
    Short Bus Bully says:

    I’d like to reinforce point #2 by reminding everyone that Barney Frank DON’T GIVE A FUCK.

    That man is an inspiration.

  38. 38
    Older says:

    @Linnaeus: Does the state you live in have a vocational rehabilitation program? If the answer is yes, you might benefit by asking questions there. Some of their activities might be applicable to your situation. These programs are usually connected with the state employment office.

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