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The GENTLEMAN FROM MARYLAND: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative by Robert Bauman (Arbor House: $17.95; 276 pp.)

October 05, 1986| STEVEN ENGLUND | Englund teaches French history at the Universite' de Paris-VIII. In 1980, he worked as chief staff writer for President Carter's Commission for a National Agenda for the Eighties. and

The Bauman Affair broke late in the summer of 1980, at a time when the sore-pressed Carter Administration sought by any means to sow dissension among its enemies and regain the political high ground. Democrats had few adversaries more effective, or more disagreeable, than Bob Bauman, third-term representative from Maryland's Eastern Shore, erstwhile founder of Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union, a man whom Richard Viguerie's "New Right" hailed as "one of the 10 most admired conservatives in Congress." More than the other nine, Bauman was one mean s.o.b., a brilliant parliamentary tactician known for an abrasive personal style that led even fellow conservatives to call him "self-righteous" and "Elmer Gantry-like."

One day in September, Bauman received a visit from two FBI agents. They informed him that he had been under investigation for some time, and that it was known that he consorted with young male hustlers whom he transported around the District of Columbia for the purpose of having sex--a federal felony. Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department told Bauman he could fight the charges and risk a jail sentence, or he could plead guilty and receive probation and a suspended sentence. As the government and Bauman well knew, either recourse entailed the probable destruction of his career when the news got out, as it inevitably did.

Bauman argues to extremely good effect that the FBI acted at the instigation of "higher ups." Very likely the White House gave the word after receiving pressure from House Speaker Tip O'Neill. O'Neill loathed Bauman and regarded him as one of the Right's most effective paladins. The FBI, like all investigatory agencies of government--like the press for that matter--generally honors the unspoken "Gentleman's Agreement" and does not hassle the hundreds of homosexual men and women who occupy places in the highest reaches of elective and appointive politics.

Indeed, the very success of the "agreement" as a means of punishment or extortion turns on the fact that it is dishonored only occasionally, only--shall we say--"surgically," as when a powerful speaker wants to rid himself of a maddening Republican gadfly.

Bauman, a fighter, struggled for a time. He even sought to stand for reelection in 1982 until a vicious, ad hominem primary forced him to retire permanently. Ultimately, he lost more than his career. His wife of nearly two decades left him, taking his four children, leaving Bauman with a large, empty, expensive house, which he presently was forced to sell. Nor, with all the effort in the world, could Bauman land himself a job in government--not even in the right-wing Reagan Administration whose accession Bauman had done so much to prepare. Ultimately Bauman was like a fly caught in a spider web; he died slowly of asphyxiation. Subsequently, he turned into himself to reflect on the life he had lost and the life that was to be. Then, like so many others in such straits, Bauman wrote a book about it.

"The Gentleman From Maryland" makes for relentlessly depressing reading. It is the aching tale of unmet need growing (one could hardly say "being sublimated") into a vindictive and self-destructive personality. Bauman endured a bitter, lonely childhood in which he was rejected by his adoptive father and sent off, at a young age, to a military school. He emerged from those years determined to wreak a measure of retribution: "I clearly recall making a conscious decision I was going to show a world that did not want me it would have to deal with me someday. I did not need anybody. If I was unloved, I would be respected. I would see to that . . . I did not know it and did not understand it, but denial of my suppressed homosexuality was becoming part of my being."

Political success and neurotic revenge were far from sweet, however. Barring a decent measure of self-understanding and acceptance, Bauman's adult life gradually descended into a pageant of self-destruction. One indeed has the impression that the FBI and O'Neill only narrowly won a race with Bauman himself for the man's ruination. Behind the facade of tough guy, Bauman's life was a study in compulsion, alcoholism, marital infidelity, and personal profligacy leading to near destitution. (William F. Buckley, who kept his political distance from Bauman, nevertheless showed himself a true friend by sending, unbidden, a loan for $20,000 to the hard-pressed family.) Bauman proved himself an absentee father and an incommunicative, distracted husband, wracked by guilt and self-loathing, but adamant about refusing to acknowledge the suppression at the heart.

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