Big Think Interview With Fred Karger

Fred Karger is a Republican political consultant, gay rights activist, and potential 2012 presidential candidate. Karger's corporate political career has spanned three decades and has included work on nine presidential campaigns. Most notably, Karger served as senior campaign adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald Ford. 

In 2006 Karger founded Save the Boom!!!, a grassroots campaign to save the oldest gay bar in the Western United States, the landmark Boom Boom Room and Coast Inn in Laguna Beach, California. Save the Boom!!! motivated Karger to more actively pursue his interest in LGBT politics. Soon after, Karger started Californians Against Hate, an organization devoted to bringing public attention to the Proposition 8 campaign.

He is the first openly gay candidate ever to run for the U.S. presidency. 

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How do you anticipate Americans will react if your campaign picks
up speed?

Fred Karger: Well, you know, President Carter said on this very site that he thinks America is ready for a gay president. Polls have shown that. There is a Vanity Fair/CBS poll that showed over 50% of the public supports the concept of an openly gay President. We’ve certainly, you know, emerged as a political force in this country, you’re seeing a lot of attention to the issues. We’ve just passed “Don’t Ask, Don’t’ Tell” repeal. And so I think the timing is absolutely perfect. I think the fact that I am an outsider; that I’ve been in the political process for over 30 years; I’ve worked on nine presidential campaigns. I’ve been very high level at three. I think that shows the public is ready. And my experience, particularly on the political side of things, but as a Washington outsider would be unique and will be welcomed.

Question: If you officially declare that you’re running, how will right-leaning talk show hosts like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh react?

Fred Karger: Well, I'm not so sure how some of the far right-wing people will react to my candidacy. I'm considering myself an independent Republican. I'm more progressive, particularly on some of the social issues than anybody else considering running. So there might be some opposition. I actually faced my first bit of hatred when I was in Iowa in May. I had a reception there, as I had done in New Hampshire many times, this is my first in Iowa. After that, the Republican National committeemen, a man named Steve Sheffler, who also happens to be President of the Iowa Christian Alliance, sent me a very terse, threatening e-mail. And it said: "You and the radical homosexual community are not welcome in Iowa. And as a matter of fact, I will work overtime," an interesting choice of words, "to abort your candidacy." Well, you know, this is from the number-two-ranking Republican in the state of Iowa. And I turned that over to the Des Moines Register and it became a huge news story there. And a lot of comments, everyone defended my right to be in that Iowa caucus, if I choose to do so. So, I think if people are going to attack me strictly because I happen to be gay, I think that that will backfire.

Question: America may be ready for a gay president, but is the rest of the
world?

Fred Karger: I hope to start traveling the globe; I'm talking to some organizations that locate individuals like me on foreign-policy trips. I want to put a face on the gay community. I think that we've certainly gotten a bad rap, you know, the fact that I am openly gay now, should not make a difference to any foreign leader. Yes, there are laws in the books in many countries—the death penalty in about 19 countries—for being gay.

So I hope to be able to have a voice in world politics as well. To negotiate, to talk to people, and to let them know that we are not demons, we're just like everyone else. We just want to get married and have families and live in the suburbs or the cities and be just like everyone else. And I think that's important. You know, certainly other countries in the world are far more advanced. You know, there are big-city mayors that are openly gay, like in Berlin. We've got countries where marriage is allowed. Catholic countries like Argentina and Spain. Rhe world has evolved and where little behind the times here in the United States. And I think that we're moving in a very good direction, but we have a lot to do.

So I’ve got no qualms about meeting with foreign leaders who may be a little hesitant about, you know, gay civil rights and gay people, and talk to them.

Question: Is it contradictory to be both gay and republican?

Fred Karger: I do not think that there is a contradiction to being gay and republican, although, when stories are written, it's usually the headline: Gay Republican, and I understand why. Many leaders of the Republican Party have led the effort of gay bashing; certainly here in California going back into the 70s when I got involved. It has been the republican elected officials, along with a few, kind of, minor celebrities who have really been the major offenders in this.

You know, looking back in history, it was Abraham Lincoln, the first republican president, who freed four million slaves in this country. Theodore Roosevelt, who is my political hero, he was the most progressive republican. It was the first to invite a black for the White House, he was for women's suffrage, he was the one who really led the way in civil rights 100 years ago.

So I am trying to bring the Republican Party back to its roots of Lincoln and Roosevelt because I think it's so important. It's gotten hijacked by a few far right individuals that have abused the gay issue to win elections and that's wrong. And I hope to set that record straight by considering running for president myself. And there's a lot of basis to the Republican Party which is still very prevalent in this country; you know, less government, where as that's contradictory to some of our leaders. But the government should stay out of our private lives, and that's a Republican philosophy.

They claim in the last election, in the midterms, that 31% of the gay community voted Republican, 25% in the time before. So I just hope that there's balance, I think the Republican Party has a lot of good people. It's a little tough because of the leadership. But on the don't ask don't tell repeal and eight United States senators courageously stand up and stand up for their leadership to repeal that discriminatory law. Five more in the House of Representatives. So we're taking baby steps they're but I hope to help significantly in bringing the Republican Party back to the party it once was, as a leader in civil rights in this country.

Question: What percentage of politicians today do you think are closeted
homosexuals?

Fred Karger: Just like in business and entertainment—and certainly politics is no exception—there is a stigma. And I know because I was a part of that. I've been gay since I was 18, I lived a terrible double life for close to 30 years where I had a gay life; it was a very healthy gay life, but my career, professional life I was completely closeted. And it's a terrible existence. I thought it would hurt my career, I was in... I thought it would jeopardize my relationship with my family. So I kept this deep, dark secret.

I hope that everyone around the country who sees this, you know, will think twice and come out to your friends and families and to yourself. There are a lot of people sitting on couches watching this or at their computer screens. You know, it's important to live your life honestly. It's okay to be gay. Rosie O’Donnell said it beautifully on "The View" after this terrible incident with this preacher in Colorado, Ted Haggard. She looked in the camera and she goes: "It's okay to be gay!" And that really resonated with me.

And it is. It's the only way to live, to live your life honestly and thankfully, the Congress and the President signed this, just recently, the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." It’s not the stigma; religion is the culprit here in teaching people that this is wrong. It’s not. It’s the way we're born, it's a huge part of our being and to be able to live openly and honestly is great.

I’m sure there are plenty of closeted gay people and lesbians in politics all over this country; they’re coming out, just as entertainers are and business people and just normal Americans. And so it’s a wonderful thing and the more younger people realize that it’s perfectly fine... One of the reasons, probably the main reason I’m considering running for President, is I want to send that message to younger people, that it’s okay. You’re okay, you can be gay, you can even run for President of the United States if you want to. It gets better. It gets really good.

Recorded December 22, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Directed by John Keitel
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd


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