Commentary: Snyder needs to take a stand

Apr 10, 2013

Two weeks ago, as the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema posted a shocking and scurrilous article on Facebook titled “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals.”

The piece was a collection of hate-filled, untrue smears, such as that gays commit half the murders in large cities, are riddled with diseases, die young and have a secret agenda to recruit children.

This prompted a sudden outcry. Some young and moderate Republicans called for Agema’s resignation. But he refused, and instead asked people to sign an online petition supporting him.

The petition got hundreds of signatures, which Agema boasted about till a reporter scrutinized them. Among the signers were the names, Osama bin Laden, Adolf Hitler, Goat Killer and “I spit upon thee.” Plus someone claiming to be North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who wrote “From one dictator to another.”

But while there was a considerable outcry, Governor Rick Snyder has remained noticeably silent. Finally, he was cornered by a reporter Monday and asked his opinion. He refused. “I‘m not going to get in the middle of all that,” he said.

Most of the state‘s other top GOP leadership also are saying nothing. Well, I‘m sorry, but that is unacceptable.

Dave Agema is not merely a crank; He is Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman. That makes him one of the state GOP‘s two top representatives to the national party. Unless top state Republican officials denounce him, they are, at least by implication, endorsing what he said.

This became even more serious after a little digging by former House Republican legislative aide Ken Braun showed that the anti-gay rant Agema posted was based partly on the writings of an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier who has a history with the Ku Klux Klan.

Last weekend, I asked a senior Republican activist and a former state party chair what he made of all of this, and why the governor is silent. “For the same reason the libertarians haven’t said anything.” the man said. “They don’t want to make this a bigger internal issue.”

The reason, he said, was that it could “open up a feud that the hard right is trying to avoid while they purge the establishment … and that’s the fundamental division percolating between the far right factions -- the religious right versus the libertarian right.”

Trying to sweep this under the rug is something the former chair thinks is a disgrace. “This issue could and should create an intelligent battle, fight and debate for the heart and soul of the party,” he said.

Back in the 1960s, people used to say not to decide is to decide. In this case, for a Republican official not to take a stand against Dave Agema’s post is to imply acceptance of it.

He was, after all, elected to his post by a Republican state convention. It is worth noting that Agema has also said that President Obama is a Muslim.

Sixty years ago, President Eisenhower reluctantly found that he had to take a stand against Senator Joe McCarthy when his wild anti-communist smears were threatening democracy.

Now, like it or not, it is Governor Snyder’s time to decide.   

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.