A real maverick

With a winning smile, Fred Karger introduces himself as the first openly gay Republican candidate running for the office of President of the United States in 2012.

No, this isn't another Hollywood movie, although Karger does hail from LA. Rather, this is the dauntless path that this veteran Republican operative has decided to take, and he invites us on his journey. A real maverick if there ever was one, Karger has played an active role in conservative politics for five decades; he has worked on all Republican presidential elections since the Bush-Reagan campaign of 1980; he has witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly of politics enough to be able to take it all.

At times confrontational, Karger says he wants to ''set an example and bring people together.'' His approach to leadership may be questionable, yet it is heartfelt. Some may wonder whether Karger is a bona fide politician or merely an activist. After all, he does not shy away from using that loaded term to describe himself. In 2008, he started Californians Against Hate, an initiative to confront both the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage in their push for Proposition 8.

Asked about how he would manage not to stigmatize religious communities if elected, Karger retorts that they are ''bullies destroying lives.''

''My aim is to keep up the pressure against their campaign of hate," he says. ''There is religion-based bigotry in the United States.''

Sometimes, his tough stance on bigotry rankles, as when he recalls that Steve Scheffler, the President of the Iowa Christian Alliance, wouldn't shake his hand. Still, he adds that ''anti-gay hostility is limited," and he has ''met with many moderate people of faith on [his] campaign, each greeting him with decorum.''

He muses, ''Often, I am the only openly gay person they've ever met. I am pleased to be opening up avenues of opportunity – and dignity – by simply being myself.''

When it comes to his program, Karger takes on a fairly protectionist approach to economics.

''We need to stop outsourcing jobs and hire people here at home," he says. "We will have to give incentives, or perhaps even penalties, to companies. This is how we will solve the economic crisis.''   

It is unsure how this, however, will be possible, or even favorable, in the fray of globalization. Similarly, Karger takes on a fairly non-interventionist approach, as he is opposed to nation-building. Asked if he thinks American interventions abroad, particularly in the Middle East, may be an opportunity to spread freedom, including gay rights, he blurts out, ''Not sure if that's the case. America needs to lead by example to other countries. We can't afford to nation-build the entire world.'' 

''The war on terror will be won through toughness and resolve and strategic efforts, as opposed to nationbuilding," he adds. "It is a different type of warfare than before. It won't be won by overthrowing governments. Instead, we need tactical intelligence. If I am elected, it will be my top priority to have the strongest defense possible.''

In the lead-up to the election in 18 months, Karger says he has just started the fundraising process. He expects funds coming both from the establishment and from the grassroots.

''We will run a low-budget, frugal campaign to set a good example," he says. "I don't believe that the leader of the Free World should be the richest man in town.''

So long as he feels supported by the Republican National Committee, he will ''continue to get the message out.'' Yet it would be naive to disregard Karger as a little man in the quest for one of the most senior positions in the world. When we spoke, he was getting ready for a trip to Israel, where he was scheduled to meet with top politicians and members of civil society.

''Perhaps because I am Jewish, I feel particularly committed to Israel, the only democracy and beacon of hope in the Middle East," he says.

An attendee of the AIPAC Policy Conference a few weeks later, Karger's unwavering desire to further American interests and values is a testimony to his benevolent character. Meanwhile, he was also on his way to England, for television appearances... The Karger machine had snowballed.


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