Jimmy Breslin and the Rev. Lou Sheldon may have more in common than either man realizes -- beginning with their rhetorical styles. Sheldon makes sweeping statements about gay activists, while Breslin uses a remark of doubtful merit to make sweeping statements about Sheldon (and about political and religious leaders seen in Sheldon's presence). The heart of their dispute rests on these paragraphs from Breslin's Newsday column of April 7:
"Homosexuals are dangerous," Sheldon assured me one day [nearly 12 years ago]. He was a short man with eyes gleaming when he mentioned how bad homosexuals truly are.
"They proselytize. They come to the door, and if your son answers and nobody is there to stop it, they grab the son and run off with him. They steal him. They take him away and turn him into a homosexual."
Both in a press release and in an interview with Newsday's Pete Bowles, Sheldon denied making those remarks or ever meeting Breslin:
Sheldon accused Breslin of "making up quotes out of whole cloth."
"In this column, Breslin looks brilliant and he is right -- mouthing the lines he puts in my mouth, I do sound like a 'fruitcake,'" Sheldon added.
Breslin cites a column he wrote in 1992 to establish that he and Sheldon met each other, and conversed briefly, during the Republican National Convention in Houston. Breslin says he made notes of their conversation, but did not consult those notes to reconstruct the conversation.
The paragraphs preceding Sheldon's purported remarks are instructive about Breslin's sense of logic and his broad understanding of the phrase "the other day." Breslin quickly bounces from the war in Iraq to taking on the local Catholic cardinal to seeing evil collusion among aging white men:
[Holy Week] is supposed to be a week of glorifying, of reasserting deep belief, of flowers and family and happiness. Instead, we have a religious war that kills our young.
The Roman Catholic church in our precincts is under Cardinal Edward Egan. He speaks in words that belong on a wedding cake and is useless at a time like this.
We send young men to fight a worldwide religion and we haven't heard a word from Egan, not a thought about who the other people are and why they hate us. I would say that he probably doesn't know the first thing about Islam.
Here he was the other day [November 5, 2003], in the White House with a groan of bald or white-haired old men who cheered as George Bush signed a bill banning late-term abortions.
. . . Egan was there shoulder-to-shoulder with Jerry Falwell and the great Bush favorite, the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. He is out of Anaheim, Calif., and now is in Washington because he has the big issue and he belongs downtown with it.
In a column responding to Sheldon's charges, Breslin drags out those aging men again: "Every religious controversy has something to do with old men battling about a fetus or a woman's body, but this one is unique."
Over the years, Sheldon has been blunt in his criticism of gay activists. In one paper from 2002, he accused the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of "recruiting children in public schools" into homosexual behavior.
In another paper, he criticized gay activists who compare their opponents to the KKK and the Nazis -- by saying they're using the same propaganda tactics advocated by Hitler.
Neither party in this dispute shows concern for describing ideological opponents in anything but the most lurid possible terms. May their dialogue be long-lasting and enlightening for both men.