Party Crasher: A Gay Republican Challenges Politics As Usual
written by Richard Tafel
published by Simon & Schuster, 1999
240 pages of text; 13 pages of index and notes


The Log Cabin Republicans, a group representing the interests of gay and lesbian members of the GOP, first came to public attention in 1995 after its attempt to donate money to the Dole campaign was first accepted, then publicly rejected, then finally accepted.

In Party Crasher, Log Cabin executive director Richard Tafel gives his side of that story as well as providing lucid accounts of a whole range of issues related to gay politics and to the Republican Party. When his self-righteousness and hypocrisy don't get in the way -- as they do far too often -- he succeeds in writing provocatively and persuasively.

Tafel makes excellent sense in discussing his two major themes: the history of gay and lesbian politics and the fault line between moderate Republicans and the fundamentalist right.

For the former, Tafel defines three different gay and lesbian political groups -- assimilationists, liberationists, and libertarians -- and describes at length (and with admirable even-handedness) how these groups complement and conflict with each other. Tafel places himself squarely within the libertarian camp, yet demonstrates an understanding of and sympathy for his ideological foes, even as he argues forcefully that his way is the best way.

For the latter, Tafel advocates for moderate Republicans, whom he describes as those who support "the traditional tenets of the party of Lincoln: individual rights, individual responsibility, free markets, limited government, and a strong national defense" (160). He contrasts these principles with those of the groups of the religious right, which Tafel argues are based on their particular and often questionable interpretations of the Bible. (Tafel seems particularly aggrieved by former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, whom he accuses of being more interested in secular power than religious faith.)

Tafel also relates his personal experiences to great effect, providing an often grim picture of what life in the political slugfest is like for someone who draws contempt from the Left by being Republican and from the Right by being gay. He draws some hopeful conclusions from his experiences, however, and shows that people who have been written off as invincibly ignorant can often be reached by bridge-building and moral suasion.

But these accounts of Tafel's life are a major weakness of the book as well as a strength. "I tread humbly in espousing my Christian faith," Tafel claims -- if only it were so! Even after noting that it was written by a politician, Party Crasher remains an unusually and embarrassingly narcissistic book. Apparently, Tafel has never been wrong in thought or deed, has always been a better Christian than his opponents, and is morally the spitting image of his blood relative, the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Tafel brings up Bonhoeffer no fewer than five times in Party Crasher). I respect the fact that Tafel has had to take a lot of abuse during his political career, but he goes much too far in compensation here.

It is this self-therapeutic aspect of the book which is its second major flaw. At several points, at great length, and in a witheringly contemptuous tone, Tafel accuses his opponents in the gay and lesbian political movements of turning to politics as a form of therapy rather than as a form of effective action. And yet, not only can Tafel's book be reasonably construed as a form of therapy for himself, but he approvingly relates several stories of conservative or libertarian gays and lesbians who gained therapeutic benefits by joining the Log Cabin Republicans. The hypocrisy is breathtaking, and fatally weakens the middle third of Party Crasher.

It is a testament to the strength of Tafel's perception and the lucidity of his prose that Party Crasher rises above the pettiness of his personality and becomes a book that every political junkie should at least skim. The reader will cringe, but will learn as well.


Review posted: 17 December 1999