Write thru. Includes quotes from Fred W. Phelps, Jr., political background.
(CNSNews.com).- Vice President Al Gore has actively sought and received the support of homosexual advocacy groups in his race for the White House this year, and his quest for votes and financial contributions from that constituency has been matched by his support for new hate crimes legislation covering homosexuality, special immigration status for homosexual partners and a variation on gay marriage.
But 12 years ago, Gore was no less vocal in his opposition to homosexuality and no less strident in seeking the support of others who shared that opposition, including the man who created and operates the ?God Hates Fags? Internet web site.
"The people of this church were powerfully persuaded that, because of him talking to us - I'm talking about eyeball to eyeball - that he was opposed to the homosexual, so-called gay rights agenda," said Fred W. Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, where he runs the anti-homosexuality web site as part of the church?s ministry.
The 'God Hates Fags' web site was launched in the mid-1990s, many years after Gore sought and received the support of Phelps and his followers. But Phelps said he was no less vocal in his opposition to homosexuality when Gore was seeking his support in 1988. "He looked us in the eye and gave us assurance, that, based on his Bible beliefs, he was against the homosexual agenda and the killing of babies," Phelps said in a telephone interview.
Phelps could not precisely recall Gore?s remarks on homosexuality during the 1988 presidential campaign, but was able to characterize the candidate?s rhetoric from that time, saying it matched his own feelings on homosexuality and abortion, as well as those of his parishioners. "I mean, he sounded like an old Southern Baptist preacher when he talked about those subjects," said Phelps.
It was because of Gore?s position on homosexuality and abortion that Phelps said he and his congregation backed the senator?s candidacy in the Democratic presidential primary 12 years ago. But Phelps said his support went far beyond mere votes.
The 70-year-old pastor also claimed to have made arrangements for Gore?s campaign staff in Kansas to live with parishioners during the campaign, and Phelps? son provided office space for the campaign and hosted a fundraising event for Gore following his failed bid for his party?s presidential nomination.
"All of his summer workers from these colleges and things that came to work in Kansas, our people put them all up," said Phelps. "I'm talking about room and board for the whole time they were here."
Phelps said his support for Gore in 1988 was rewarded four years later with tickets to the inauguration following Bill Clinton and Gore?s 1992 victory over then-President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle. "He invited us all to the first inauguration and the second inauguration," in 1996, according to Phelps.
But Gore?s political largess apparently ended when Phelps and his supporters began actively demonstrating against the vice president and his position on homosexuality. "He started seeing our (anti-homosexuality) signs," said Phelps, who took advantage of Gore appearances to protest his policies on those issues. "And then he quit inviting us to stuff because we?d go to those things and picket him."
Gore campaign officials did not comment, but both Phelps and his son, Fred Phelps, Jr., provided great detail about their involvement with the 1988 Gore campaign.
Gore as ?Icon for the Conservative Side?
Then-Senator Al Gore?s wooing of Pastor Phelps and his Baptist congregation was part of Gore?s overall plan for winning the Kansas Democratic primary in 1988, according to Phelps? son, Fred Phelps, Jr. "First of all, I think it's important to note, he was the icon for the conservative side of the Democratic Party," said the younger Phelps. "He was pro-life, he was, you know, he was conservative. He was conservative on the issue of homosexual rights, so that?s why I was comfortable with him."
So comfortable was Fred, Jr. with Gore?s positions on abortion and homosexuality, the conservative Democrat signed on to the senator?s campaign early on in the 1988 fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"(Gore?s) dad was the first one to come to the state and I was involved with the campaign from the beginning here in Kansas and certainly spent a lot of time with both the father and the son, traveling across the state of Kansas on different occasions," the 47-year old lawyer said in a telephone interview.
As an activist in Kansas party politics, the younger Phelps said he used his position and influence to feature Gore in a number of campaign events. "The vice president himself came here in March - came here to Topeka in March of ?88 - and marched in the St. Patrick's parade," said Phelps. "I was with him with that, helped him to get into that and literally walked down the street with him."
The attorney also helped Gore logistically, providing office space for the campaign?s Kansas operations. "Near the end of his campaign when it really got hot and heavy here in Kansas, he brought in a team of people, probably 10 or 15 folks, and we let them use the basement of our law office building to run his campaign here," said Phelps.
Gore?s hopes for the Democratic presidential nomination eventually failed, his 'Southern Strategy' being eclipsed by the 'Four Corners' strategy employed by then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. But that didn?t lessen Phelps? enthusiasm for Gore, who said he carried his support to the floor of the nominating convention later that year.
"I was a delegate for him," said Phelps. "I was elected as a delegate to the, you know, [Democratic National Convention in] Atlanta. That was in July of ?88, and I was one of his delegates," said Phelps. "I just was comfortable with his views, more so than any of the other candidates."
Phelps? support of Gore remained strong even after the Democratic nomination went to Dukakis, who subsequently lost the 1988 general election to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. The following year, the younger Phelps said he lured Gore back to Kansas for a major fundraising event.
"Joan Finney and myself sponsored a deal for him here at my house," in February, 1989, said Phelps. "He came back here and was the featured speaker and Tipper came with him."
Finney later became the governor of Kansas, winning election in 1990 over Republican Mike Hayden. Finney won the Democratic nomination earlier that year in a three-way contest in which one of her opponents was Pastor Phelps, whose 11,572 primary votes was enough to swing the nomination toward Finney. She defeated fellow Democrat John W. Carlin by 1,844 votes out of more than 172,000 cast.
The Transformation of Al Gore
While the February 1989 fundraising event at Phelps? home could have been considered a success by many political standards, the Topeka lawyer wasn?t entirely satisfied.
"It was embarrassing because I couldn't get them all in my house," said Phelps. "I think there was about 500 or so. I had no idea that many people would show up. [Gore] was really popular here. I think, looking back on it, I think people realized he was going places."
The younger Phelps said his political trophy case is filled with memorabilia from that 1988 campaign, replete with photographs of him and his father with Gore, along with other mementos of the effort. "I?ve been getting more and more requests for those pictures," said the younger Phelps. "I think we?ll just put them up on the [God Hates Fags] web site."
Although Gore?s position on abortion and homosexuality have changed markedly from those he espoused 12 years ago, Phelps said he doesn?t feel betrayed. Instead, he believes Gore decided to hitch his political wagon to a different agenda.
"I think, to be brutally candid, I think he sold out," Phelps said of Gore. "I think he flip-flopped on [abortion and homosexuality] because he saw that, on a national level, that he was going to get more, he was going to go further, supporting the abortion of babies and supporting so-called homosexual rights," said Phelps. "I don?t know how else to say that."
The younger Phelps expressed no hard feelings toward Gore and his abandonment of the values that initially drew Phelps and others to Gore?s 1988 presidential bid. "I don?t feel betrayed. I feel sorry for him," said Phelps. "He used to be a pretty decent guy and I just think that?s why he?s having so much trouble now. Nobody really knows what the hell he believes."
But Phelps? father, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, is harsher in his assessment of Gore, accusing the vice president of changing positions "because he has no core values."
"When you have no core values, you're left with pure, raw, naked expediency," said Pastor Phelps. "He's just a big hypocrite. Just a big, lying, phony hypocrite."