Reaching Out to the GOP

Alex Henderson
Shortly after the U.S. midterm elections of 2006, ads from the socially moderate Republican organization Real Republican Majority (RRM) began airing in Pennsylvania.

The ads (which called for the GOP to move "back to the center") were highly critical of the strong influence the "Christian right" has had on the Republican Party in the George W. Bush era. The ads pointed to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum as examples of "extremists" who have been moving the GOP in a harmful direction.

Because Pennsylvania could be an important swing state in 2008's presidential election, RRM wanted to send out a message to Pennsylvania voters that not all Republicans identify with the far right on social issues. RRM also plans to release ads in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2007.

For the adult entertainment industry, RRM's stands on social issues raise some important questions. Should adult-oriented businesses be reaching out to the more moderate/centrist wing of the GOP? Can the adult industry and moderate Republicans have a meaningful dialogue when it comes to critical matters such as obscenity prosecutions and 2257? How well would the adult industry fare if former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Arizona Sen. John McCain were to become the next president of the U.S.; would they be less overtly hostile to erotica than the far-right Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, another possible GOP presidential candidate for 2008?

Modern GOP Effects RRM
spokesperson Sara Bartles declined to be interviewed; however, several important figures in the adult industry (including Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane C. Duke and First Amendment attorneys Lawrence G. Walters and Gregory Piccionelli) discussed the effects that moderate Republicans may have on the industry in the future and whether the GOP on the whole will move to the center on social issues, or even further to the right. All of them agreed that as long as the Christian Right has so much influence in Republican circles, the adult industry needs to keep a very close eye on the general direction the GOP takes in the future.

Duke (who served as senior vice president of Planned Parenthood for southwestern Oregon before replacing Michelle Freridge as FSC's executive director in 2006) stressed that being a Republican does not automatically make one hostile to adult entertainment and that being a Democrat doesn't automatically mean one cannot be an adversary to the industry. Duke has known some centrist Republicans who had no problem with adult films or adult websites and some card-carrying Democrats who were vehemently opposed to erotica in general. Duke likes the idea of RRM encouraging a more socially moderate direction for the GOP, but she doubts that the Christian Right's strong influence on the party will be decreasing anytime soon.

"I consider myself an optimist," Duke said, "and I'm hoping that more people in the Republican Party will realize that the government needs to stay out of our personal lives and go back to the business that it should be doing-which is defending our borders and maintaining our highways. But I'm skeptical. I've seen the moral majority take over the Republican Party; I've seen the damage they have done to the party, and I've seen the damage they have done to Republicans who are trying to be moderate. If the Republican Party of today went by the principles of the Lincoln Republicans-the principles that the party was established with-you wouldn't see them attacking the adult entertainment industry. You wouldn't see them doing outrageous things like outlawing sex toys in some states."

Duke said that she is "very disappointed" that McCain now appears to be courting the Christian right (which he was quite critical of in the past), adding that she finds it equally disheartening that Giuliani's positions on abortion and gay rights will likely cost him the GOP presidential nomination. "I'd like to believe that a Republican with moderate social beliefs could get through a primary," Duke said, "but I don't think that Rudy Giuliani will make it to the general election. The religious right is going to be hammering him and saying that he is morally bankrupt; I'm sure you're going to be hearing that. All of Giuliani's history — divorcing his second wife, moving in with a gay couple — will be broadcast in really nasty commercials."

But Duke, a Democrat, stressed that adult companies shouldn't necessarily consider Democratic politicians their allies. "When I accepted this position with the Free Speech Coalition, my Republican friends were much more supportive than my Democrat friends," Duke said. "People who considered themselves liberals would tell me, 'I oppose adult entertainment because it oppresses women' — and I would respond, 'No, it does not.' I absolutely consider myself a feminist, and I would tell my Democrat friends that I believe that sexual expression is freedom for women."

Adult as 'Whipping Boy'
Walters, of the Florida-based firm Weston, Garrou, DeWitt & Walters, stressed that realistically, the adult industry shouldn't expect to find an abundance of enthusiastic supporters in either the Republican or Democratic parties anytime soon; both parties, he observed, have their share of politicians who will gladly use the adult industry as a "whipping boy" if they think it is expedient.

"It's no panacea for the adult industry no matter which of the two major parties is in control," Walters said. "I always ask people to remember that despite some of the good things that occurred during the Clinton era — i.e., no federal obscenity prosecutions against adult entertainment — Bill Clinton did sign the Communications Decency Act, one of the worst examples of censorship legislation to come out of Congress. And we have seen proposals like the one from Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who proposed a 25 percent tax on adult entertainment. So the Democrats have certainly not been a friend of adult entertainment, but they have been less of an enemy than the Christian fundamentalist right.

"You can't forget that someone like Giuliani — who is perceived as one of the more moderate people in the GOP — is the one who eliminated adult entertainment from Times Square."

Asked whether or not he thinks Giuliani can survive a GOP presidential primary, Walters said, "I think it will be tough for anyone to get the Republican nomination without the support of the Christian fundamentalist right, which controls the nominating process of the GOP. So that means, what is Giuliani going to do? Is he going to become more conservative or more fundamentalist and somehow ditch some of his skeletons, or make some turnabouts on abortion? Who knows? But it's going to be tough for him to get the GOP nomination without kowtowing to the fundamentalists a bit more than he has in the past, even though he appears to be doing pretty well in the polls so far."

Walters noted that while the political landscape is generally problematic for the adult industry, it is important for adult-oriented entrepreneurs to remember that some politicians are more problematic than others. Walters said that although the Bill Clinton administration, for example, was not idyllic for the adult industry, it was certainly far preferable to the Bush administration. Walters also criticized Clinton for signing the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but he was quick to applaud the fact that Janet Reno (Clinton's attorney general) had no interest in federal obscenity prosecution and that the adult industry grew by leaps and bounds during the Clinton years. Walters encouraged adult-oriented entrepreneurs to become as politicized as possible between now and the 2008 elections — for adult webmasters, he said, that means picking and endorsing candidates on their websites.

"The adult entertainment industry has the attention of many hundreds of thousands of potential voters, including potential swing voters. The adult industry needs to decide on a candidate and put political messages on the front of their websites — something like, 'If you enjoy visiting this website and if you want to continue visiting it after January 2009, then vote for this person.' I honestly believe that if the adult Internet decides on a candidate, it could put its desired candidate in office."

Susan Wright, president and founder of the BDSM/fetish-oriented National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), told XBIZ she would like to see the adult industry have a dialogue with "Goldwater Republicans" — that is, old-fashioned Republicans who have no desire to micro-manage adults' sex lives. But unfortunately, Wright said, true Goldwater Republicans haven't been setting the GOP's tone in recent years.

Lots of GOP Consumers
"A lot of people who consume adult entertainment are Republicans," said Wright, who is a registered Democrat. "A lot of swingers are Republicans, and a lot of people in the BDSM community are Republicans. Many people who are into alternative sexuality are in their 30s and 40s. They have more disposable income, and people who have more disposable income tend to be more Republican. But the Republican Party was taken over by the religious social conservatives, and the whole focus on religious conservative social values has not served the Republicans very well. Barry Goldwater [known for his revival of the American conservatism movement in the 1950s and 60s] firmly believed that private, personal sexual issues were not Republican issues, and were not something that Republicans should delve into. But the Republican Party has moved a long way from that philosophy in the last few decades."

Piccionelli, of the L.A.-based firm Piccionelli & Sarno, told XBIZ that as much of a pounding as the GOP suffered in 2006's midterm elections, 2008 could be much worse for that party if it doesn't nominate a socially moderate presidential candidate. The ideal GOP ticket, Piccionelli said, would be Giuliani with retired Gen. Colin Powell as his running mate (assuming Powell was willing).

"Two tickets that would make it an interesting, interesting presidential race would be Rudy Giuliani/Colin Powell and Al Gore/Barack Obama," Piccionelli said. "The Republicans' best shot right now is Giuliani. And if Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, distances himself from the Religious Right and wins in the general election, I think the adult industry will be OK. If a Republican gets elected by distancing himself from the Religious Right and starts to gobble up the center, then the adult industry will probably have the Religious Right off its back for a while. But if the Republicans, God forbid, nominate somebody like Sam Brownback — which would be the height of stupidity — they are going to get their butts kicked in the general election."

Piccionelli went on to say that if 2008's GOP presidential nominee runs as a so-called "neocon" or as an ally of the Christian right, the Democrats might enjoy their greatest presidential victory since 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover by winning 57 percent of the popular vote and carrying all but six states in the electoral college. "If the Republicans do not become a centrist party, they will probably suffer their worst debacle since 1932 and will probably be out of power for a generation," Piccionelli said. "They will become a minority party."

Another L.A.-based First Amendment attorney, Allan B. Gelbard, said that if the Christian right maintains its stranglehold on the GOP, it is inevitable that many "Goldwater Republicans" who don't favor a radical fundamentalist agenda on social issues will leave the party — and that could mean joining the fiscally conservative but socially moderate Libertarian Party in the future.

"If the Republicans don't get their act together," Gelbard said, "I think you may see a fair number of people bailing from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party — and the funny thing is if that happens and the Libertarian Party becomes a party to be reckoned with, you'll probably see a fair number of Democrats go there too."

Gelbard continued: "I don't like to speak doom and gloom, but if this country does end up with a significant leadership that ignores its constitutional duty and puts its hand on the Bible as opposed to the Constitution, you could end up with civil war in this country. There is a fair amount of religious people in this country who don't think this should be a theocracy, and the Republican Party is gradually taking us there. If you let people chip into the wall between church and state, the wall is going to fall down sooner or later — and we need to make sure that the wall stays up."

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