The Rev. B. Sam Hart, the personification of a near miss, is gone but not forgotten. He was nominated by the Reagan administration to the Civil Rights Commission despite his onemajor flaw: He is intolerant.
Strong word, but it applies to Hart. He is convinced, by God among others, of certain truths, among them that the Equal Rights Amendment is an abomination, that busing to achieve school desegregation is wrong and that homosexuals are and should be outside the protection of some if not most laws. These are strange credentials indeed for a nominee to the commission that is supposed to be the nation's civil rights watchdog.
As a result, Hart came under some criticism, not to mention investigation, and asked to have his nomination withdrawn. The White House was glad to comply. By then, after all, it had been revealed that Hart was in hock to some people, including the Small Business Administration ($100,000) and his home town in Pennsylvania ($4,400). This was too much for the White House. To be intolerant is one thing, but owing money is something else again. Hart got the boot.
But before his memory fades entirely, B there are some things about him that are worth considering. The first, of course, is that he had a perfect right to say all the things he said, and the second is to acknowledge that in a strict sense some of them were defensible. It is possible to support women's rights without favoring the ERA and it is also possible to be against school segregation and still be opposed to busing.
Hart's views on homosexuals, though, are a different matter entirely. He simply read them out of the community of mankind, denounced them and proclaimed them outside the law. In his view they have chosen to be what they are and what they are is an abomination. For these views he cites the law of God as he interprets it.
I, for one, am not prepared to argue the Scriptures with Hart, but the origin of homosexuality is a different matter entirely. Recent studies indicate that homosexuals have about as much control over their sexual orientation as heterosexuals have over theirs. When it comes to the Civil Rights Commission, though, none of this should matter anyway. A person's sexual orientation--chosen or not--should not put him or her outside the protection of the law. After all, there are still people in this society who think it is great sport to beat up homosexuals.
The nomination of Hart sent these people a message of encouragement. But more than that, it was yet another signal, intended or not, that the Reagan administration feels responsible for and is responsive to only the people who elected it. The result is that some people feel on the outside. After all, in no other area is rhetoric or just plain vibes as important as in minority relations. Some minorities, blacks in particular, live on the message of hope--that someone cares and that someday things will get better. What stings about the Reagan administration's position on school busing, for instance, is not its opposition to busing, but the feeling that what it is really opposed to is school integration instead.
Similarly, when it comes to homosexuals no one expects that an administration that has the blessing of the Moral Majority is going to appoint a gay rights activist to the Civil Rights Commission. (It is okay to buy dresses from gays and to be friends with gays, but not okay to stick up for their rights.) It is quite a different matter, though, to choose as a nominee somone who is openly hostile to homosexuals and then fail to either repudiate him on that issue or dissassociate the administration from his views.
No one suggests that Ronald Reagan knew Hart's views on homosexuality in advance. But once he knew those views he did nothing publicly to disassociate either himself or his administration from them. Given a choice between tolerance and intolerance, the administration by its silence chose the latter, thinking maybe that this is smart politics. In the short run it may be, but in the long run it diminishes the presidency itself. The next time Ronald Reagan says he is the president of the all the people, he ought to think again. He's not. Not until he wants to be.