Ben Kawaller gives speech at Log Cabin Republicans gay GOP advocacy group on wokeness, America
Free Press correspondent Ben Kawaller. (Photo courtesy of the author)

‘I’ve Woken Up’

Free Press correspondent Ben Kawaller, a centrist Democrat, recently spoke to a gay GOP group. Here’s what he said.

Last Thursday, I was invited to speak at a mixer hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay GOP advocacy group. The planned speaker for the event, the CEO of the Israeli-American Council, had been stymied by weather in Milwaukee, and evidently I, a gay centrist Democrat, was the best shot they had at a last-minute replacement. Not one to turn down a captive audience, I appeared later that evening at the local gay bar Fiesta Cantina to deliver the following remarks, which have been lightly edited. A (nearly) full version of the speech can be found here

I’m Ben Kawaller, and I am not the CEO of the Israeli-American Council. But you may think of me as the replacement Jew. Or, if I do well, the Great Replacement Jew.

I don’t know that I would be asked to speak here if you guys weren’t in a bind. I have never voted Republican. In fact, the last time I was here was to cover you guys for a local publication formerly known as WEHOville, and at that time, I would have unhesitatingly identified as a liberal. But as I have watched what feels like a collective insanity take over so much of the left, I have become, if not right, well. . . right-curious. 

Still, it is scary, in this age of shaming and cancellations, for a registered Democrat like me to be speaking to you all. Many liberals will undoubtedly think this puts me beyond the pale. Even I can’t believe I am speaking to the team that I was always told holds up the banner of fiscal conservatism to withhold an easier life for the average American, let alone the weakest among us.

But then I figured, well, the Log Cabin Republicans are fancy gays who have done well in life, and who are in desperate, last-minute need of a speaker. Perhaps this will come with a nice speaking fee. I admit, it came as a bit of a shock to learn that in exchange for whipping together this speech and saving the entire evening, I was offered. . . two drink tickets. You guys really are Republicans. 

And this is how I know I fundamentally just don’t have the chops to be a right-winger. What self-respecting Republican wouldn’t demand a speaking fee for swooping in last minute to replace a former special envoy for the State Department? You think Donald Trump would have accepted this gig? Talk about not grasping the art of the deal.

Anyway, I have a local Log Cabin member to thank, Roxanne Hoge, for connecting me with Matt so I could be here with you guys tonight. I believe Roxanne discovered me yesterday on Twitter, as I’ve just had an interview I conducted with the mayor of West Hollywood, John Erickson, go viral. The interview was conducted following a City Council meeting where an administrator updated everyone on various DEI-related initiatives the city was pursuing. She mentioned that 81 staff members had recently attended a workshop called “Understanding Racialized Space in Architecture.” I asked the mayor how he understood racialized space in architecture, and what followed were two of the most sublimely incoherent minutes I have ever experienced.

I can’t take that much credit for it—the man just kept spewing gold. But I think the video resonated because it showed that when you actually probe some of the ideas that have gained currency in recent years on the cultural left, it’s very easy to reveal the falseness behind the people propagating them. For those who are critical of what some of us have come to call wokeness, the clip is pure catnip. 

About that word: wokeness. Several months ago another clip went viral for being catnip to the other side. In it, a conservative writer and activist, Bethany Mandel, is reduced to stutters when the leftist podcast host Briahna Joy Gray asked her to define wokeness, about which she had just written a book.

But I’ll take a stab at it, with the caveat that I wrote this speech in two hours, which may not be enough time to fully wrestle with what may be the defining issue of our time. This isn’t all of it, but a big part of wokeness is the belief that a person’s immutable characteristics, like race or gender, always and inherently either limit them or grant them advantage. And that because of that, it is okay to treat people differently, on an institutional and an interpersonal level, based on their race and gender. 

And it’s that second clause that is everything I was raised to believe good liberals—good people—stand against. 

What makes wokeness so insidious, I think, is that its first clause is based in truth: that people can be—and certainly were in the past, more or less as a rule—at a disadvantage because of immutable characteristics. It’s the rigidity of wokeness—the always of wokeness—and of course wokeness’s almost complete indifference to poverty, the greatest disadvantage of all, that makes it so repugnant to so many Americans.

To watch a clip from Ben’s speech, click below:

Including liberals. Because whether they publicly support it or not, most liberals hate this shit. Nearly everyone hates this shit. But another part of wokeness, or what it means to be woke, is fear. Terror at being seen as insufficiently supportive of efforts to help make the world a better place. It’s a terror so powerful it can lead people to betray everything they think they believe about fairness, equality, compassion, and grace. 

And my God, is it a gift to the Republican Party. 

Because most Americans don’t really know the intricacies, or even the broad strokes, of the policies put forth by the Democrats or the Republicans. And the effect wokeness has had on the way people perceive Democrats—or the way I perceive Democrats, anyway—means that when a Republican comes out swinging against progressive dogma, every instinct in me says: that’s my guy.

And then I have to remember—and here is when I lose you all—that when I was 23, I had cancer. And that I owe, if not my life, then certainly my bank account, to the fact that Barack Obama fixed it so that a high-risk guy like me can buy health insurance. 

And, lest you think I’m one of those types who mines for trauma, my cancer was ball cancer, and I caught it early enough that it was practically a nonevent. I do have a fake testicle that feels so unlike a real testicle you’d think it was bought with socialized medicine.

I’m not going to now enumerate the other reasons I can’t see myself supporting the current Republican Party; after all, if there is one thing I hold sacred, it’s the approval of a crowd. 

For any thoughtful person, aligning yourself with a political party is a process of trade-offs. Many of us feel like we’re choosing between the lesser of two evils. And that’s a phrase I dislike, maybe because at the end of the day, you can’t escape your upbringing, and we on the—let’s say center-left—we’re uncomfortable with the concept of evil. 

But the events of the past eight months have made me much more comfortable saying that evil exists. It’s been a wake-up call—you might say I’ve “woken up”—to see the very people who seem to own the brand of being good rallying behind forces that are so clearly evil, and casting America, if not the entire West in general, as being on the side of evil.

And one thing I have come to appreciate about Republicans is a willingness to say that America is good. Of course, the liberal in me can count the ways America fails to be as good as it could be, but my God. It could be so much worse. We could be in Iran. We could be in Russia. We could be in Canada.

I feel like I’ve spent the past ten minutes circling around some central truth, and I’ve run out of time to actually articulate it. I’ll take my drink tickets now.

Ben is the host of The Free Press series Ben Meets America! To learn more about this series, click here.

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