Ken Cuccinelli is probably not a name known to most people, but if I add that he is Attorney General of Virginia the penny might drop. For those still in the dark, Cuccinelli has used his position to engage in one of the most serious attempts to gag scientific research in a western democracy in recent years. On the pretext of alleging that Michael Mann has fraudulently distorted the history of northern hemisphere temperatures Cuccinellis has demanded access to all of Mann’s emails (including personal correspondence with his wife). The broad outlines of Mann’s work have been repeatedly confirmed by every substantial study of temperature proxies going back 1000 years or more, which not only discredits the idea that Mann has been committing fraud, but means that even if his work was stricken from the scientific record nothing substantial would change in climate science.
It’s hard to tell if Cuccinelli is crazy enough to actually think he can find some evidence of malfeasance on Mann’s behalf or if the whole thing is just an attempt to scare climate scientists into keeping their work quiet for fear of similar attacks, but either is disgraceful.
Now I discover that Cuccinelli has another cause. He wants to ban oral and anal sex. Despite the fact that the supreme court has ruled anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional, he is trying to go ahead and prop them up. This by the way is the same guy who is amongst the leaders of the charge to have Obama’s healthcare laws struck down on the grounds that they are an overstepping of the powers of government.
Cuccinelli is running for governor; Virginia being one of two states that has its gubernatorial elections in odd numbered years. However, it seems unlikely that this is a play for votes. Virginia voted for Obama twice. Turnout will be lower, and probably more conservative, in a non-presidential year but this is still not Mississippi. Nate Silver estimates that if there had been a ballot on same-sex marriage in Virginia last year it would have got 47% and in 2016 it would pass. Banning homosexual sex will be a lot less popular than stopping same sex marriage. And there might be a few heterosexuals who don’t support gay rights but are not keen on their own sexual practices being included in the bill.
Instead it seems that this is such a passionate issue for Cuccinelli he is willing to risk his tilt at the governor’s mansion to take a case that will almost certainly be struck down.
Every political movement and strand includes some pretty embarrassing individuals, but Cuccinelli is not an isolated example. Take a look at the most aggressive climate change deniers in the federal parliament. People like Cory Bernardi and Barnaby Joyce. They too can’t stop making fools of themselves, and damaging their careers with their obsessive homophobia and general hang-ups about sex.
The nuttier aspects of Wilhelm Reich’s theories have tended to discredit attempts to link obsessions with other people’s sex lives to wider right-wing tendencies, but the sheer persistence of this sort of behaviour makes me wonder if there isn’t some value in exploring the link in a more sensible way. I’ve seen myself the way some of the more offensive Liberal (not liberal) student politicians can drop other aspects of their far right obsessions once they come to terms with their own sexuality. It’s a bit late for the majority of climate change deniers, but given the importance of understanding what motivates denialist behaviour there might be some value in understanding this better.