He continued, "Look, I’m a tolerant person. I don’t care about your private life, Lindsey. But as our U.S. senator, I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen, I need to make sure you being gay isn’t it." (Video is at bottom.)Salon is right to go after this attack -- it's utterly stupid to conflate sexuality with politics. But they've got the wrong theory. This has nothing to do with the Birther right, a movement that doesn't hold much, if any, sway in Tea Party circles (indeed, they aren't connected at all, I'd argue, except insofar as the Limbaugh-Beck axis bridges the two camps) from what I've seen.
What's interesting here is the thought obviously running through the speaker's head: that something about the personal features of a politician like Barney Frank or Lindsey Graham explains their otherwise disagreeable behavior. The argument isn't that Frank and, supposedly, Graham, are horrible liberal traitors, and gay to boot. It’s that they are, or might be, horrible liberal traitors because they're gay.
And once you notice this type of argument here, you realize that it's everywhere. This is the basic case against President Obama as well. It's not just that his policies are bad. It's that he is somehow not one of us, doesn't understand our country and its traditions, and so is in fact working for the other side. The "he's a foreigner" line of attack also featured at the rally, when former GOP presidential candidate Tom Tancredo asked, "If his wife says Kenya is his homeland, why don't we just send him back?"
Instead, this attack is hearkening back to an older, and I'd argue more insidious, argument -- that used by, for example, the FBI in the 1950s: gays, because they have some awful, shameful secret which they can never ever reveal or face the derision of the entire right-thinking world, can easily be blackmailed into working for sinister interests. Our Tea Party speaker, here, is pushing a not-uncommon Tea Party line: that our government is essentially hostage to corrupt forces that are taking us down a wrong path; and that Graham is being blackmailed into following along. I's an odious, obnoxious argument to make, but it does not conflate the Tea Partiers with the Birthers, and Salon should be ashamed of itself for making the connection.