But with a small dose of gratitude from my corner. Let me explain.
Pastor Fred Phelps and his flock (and I mean that literally, since church members are rumored to be first-degree relatives) are back in the news again. On Monday, the group staged a protest at a high school in Washington D.C., written up by my Politics Daily colleague Joann Weiner.
The Westboro Baptist Church, designated a hate group by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, may be located in Topeka, Kans., but most Kansans would be happy if Floyd Phelps and his church disappeared back into the time warp from which they came.
God hates gays? Don’t know about that, but it’s quite clear that God loves irony. Phelps earned a law degree in 1962 and then worked as a civil rights attorney on behalf of African-Americans in Kansas.
Contrary to today’s conservative image, Kansas has a radical and bloody history. “Free State” is still a battle cry in Kansas, albeit mostly a commercial one these days.
Today, Kansas is a reliably red state. Kansans vote Republican, except for one little district that includes affluent, educated Kansas Citians and the town of Lawrence, home of University of Kansas (and informally known as Berkeley of the Plains).
And yet Kansas has its own special strain of Republican.
The term for Republican in Name Only may have originated in California in the 1990s, but Kansas residents would just laugh. Oh, there’s a name for it? We’ve been living it for decades.
My most liberal friends in Kansas are Republican for the simple reason that a registered Democrat in Kansas is comparable to, say, a registered Communist in Montana. You’ll be ridiculed by conservatives, tolerated by moderates and ignored by everyone.
If you want a place at the political table in Kansas, you register Republican and then vote as you choose. The Kansas RINOs perform the invaluable public service of kicking extremists out during the primaries. So then you typically have a moderate Republican running against a moderate Democrat.
The RINOs, naturally, detest Fred Phelps. He’s so reviled in Kansas City that being picketed by him is something of a badge of honor.
I, for one, am grateful for Phelps. He’s doing us a favor. He reminds us of just how ugly intolerance and exclusion really are.
Most Americans are too polite to bring up topics that make them uncomfortable or that have become too hot to handle. But Mr. Phelps, our very own Dorian Gray picture in the attic, is keepin’ it real.
[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]