Square all of that with the author of the newsletters. In 1989 he approvingly quoted a congressman who said gay rights was not a matter of “political philosophy,” but of “sodomy.” In 1994 he argued that “those who don’t commit sodomy, who don’t get blood transfusions, and who don’t swap needles, are virtually assured of not getting AIDS unless they are deliberately infected by a malicious gay.” The same year, he doubted that older gays worried too much if they got AIDS; “sex is the center of their lives,” he explained, and anyway, “they enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.”
Paul says he didn’t write any of this, but another politician couldn’t say that and expect gay writers to back off. Paul gets a pass. James Kirchick, the gay reporter who broke the newsletter story in 2008, didn’t get the sense that Paul cared as much about this as “say, the need to root out the Trilateralist-Bilderberg conspiracy.”
“I do think it's possible that he views gays personally with disgust while maintaining a belief that the government should not regulate their lives,” said Kirchick. “I actually think that's the case with a lot of straight people, even ostensibly ‘liberal’ ones who know better not to say what they really think about homosexuality and homosexuals.”
So Paul’s imperfect. Paul’s gay fans, like Andrew Sullivan, admit that much. And Paul’s liberal defenders are wrestling with whether to give him a pass on the newsletters. For one thing, they see a strategic advantage to keeping him in the race. Whatever Paul believes personally, the effect of having Ron Paul on those debate stages is to force Republicans to confront federalism and paleolibertarianism. “The party bosses,” wrote a giddy John Nichols in The Nation, “are horrified at the notion that a genuine conservative might grab the Iowa headlines from the false prophets.”
Nichols doesn’t think he’s describing a potential president. None of Paul’s liberal defenders do. Savage doesn’t. The Republican primary is a running conversation, and it expands or contracts the definition of “conservatism.” As long as Paul is in the race, it doesn’t matter what he might have thought about gay sex once. He wants politicos—people like himself, really—to stay out of the bedroom. One reason he talks like this is that gay rights, culturally, has won out.
“I recently had a conversation with a man about Ron's age who told me that he was uncomfortable with what I do in bed,” remembered Savage. “I laughed and promised not to do it to him. He gave me the craziest look and then laughed himself. Apparently, I wasn't the first gay person he'd said this too, but I was the first gay person who didn't get a sad when he told me what he thought about homosexual activities.”
And what about Paul? Well, “1990 was 21 years ago—an eternity in the evolution of attitudes toward gays and lesbians. What has he said about us lately?”
Correction, Dec. 27, 2011: This article originally described the Sacha Baron Cohen character Brüno as German. He is Austrian.