The Tangled Roots of Doug Wead

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As far as national gay-rights leaders are concerned, Wead's a demagogue. However, his style is anything but shrill and strident. Though he says he's against gay-rights laws, he strongly denies being homophobic.

"I think that when any individual is demeaned and ridiculed and is certainly the victim of a crime of hate, that all of society is cheapened by that, that we're all hurt by that," Wead says. And I'll defend any human being, heterosexual or homosexual, with every ounce of strength I've got against hatred or discrimination."

Gay leaders-even gay Republicans-say they're scared of him.

Prominent gay Republicans claim that homosexuality has replaced the menace of communism as the shibboleth of right wingers. And some leaders of the religious right have acknowledged that the issue of homosexuality galvanizes their movement like no other topic-even abortion.

Marvin Liebman was a founder of Young Americans for Freedom back in the early Sixties, and served as one of the central strategists of the Goldwater movement that took over the Republican party decades ago. Today he is an openly gay Republican and says that even Barry Goldwater would be "way too liberal" for the GOP of the Nineties.

The religious fundamentalism that led to Reverend Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the Seventies and the presidential candidacy of televangelist Pat Robertson in the Eighties is far from dead, says University of Chicago theologian Martin Marty, a longtime student of religion and politics. "What we're seeing in Doug Wead and people like him is a reshaping of strategy," says Marty. Falwell and Robertson were a wedge aiming for the White House, the Supreme Court — right to the top. Now they've learned to settle for a portion of the pie. People who aren't household names call signals and beam them out into tens of thousands of local organizations. State Republican parties get taken over. It's brush-fire style, but the same big-time thunder is there."

Rich Tafel, leader of a national gay Republican organization, says that the current GOP infighting over homosexuality has moved the party further to the right. "Today, I think, a Wead would not have been fired [from the Bush White House]," says Tafel.

Amway already is on the right side of the GOP spectrum. A social and business network of millions of people worldwide, it long has been identified with fundamental Christianity. Both of its founders, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, are members of Bush's "Team 100," the 249 rich people who have given at least $100,000 each to the GOP cause.

Despite the prominent role of Amway in his life, budding Arizona politician Doug Wead has played down his Amway connections. Why? "To mention Amway would offend other businesses," Wead explains. He acknowledges that any movement that zealously recruits people, like Amway, can be offensive. And the last thing Doug Wead wants is to appear offensive.

As for his evangelical Christianity, Wead tells New Times, "Religion matters to me personally, but I don't think it should be a litmus test for people running for office." He complains that the press should be asking him about his tax-initiative drive, It's Time, not his religion.

But Wead has mixed his religion with politics for years. And it's been a blessing.

Like a real-life Zelig-the Woody Allen movie character who kept turning up next to famous persons at famous events-Doug Wead has found himself in the most remarkable situations with a huge assortment of notable or notorious people.

Thanks to Amway and his religious fundamentalism, Wead may be one of the all-time great networkers.

On a November day in 1979, Doug Wead was on the Thailand-Cambodia border, walking amid starving refugees. The next day, he was at Ronald Reagan's house in California — thanks, he says, to Amway and evangelical connections — having dinner with Pat Boone and sympathetically squeezing Nancy Reagan's hand. A few days later, Wead witnessed his friend Jim Bakker, the now-imprisoned televangelist, give presidential candidate Reagan the spiritual litmus test. (Bakker asked Reagan: "Who is Jesus?" Reagan's Zenlike response: "He is who He says He is.")

In 1980 Doug Wead attended a high-level Carter campaign strategy session involving evangelical leaders. The same year, he was introducing GOP candidate Ronald Reagan to a frantically cheering Amway convention.

On one November day in 1984, GOP congressman Jack Kemp (whom Wead met on the Amway lecture circuit) and the son of Cambodia's Prince Sihanouk visited Wead's home in Springfield, Missouri, on separate missions.

People keep popping into and out of Doug Wead's life. Or is it the other way around? The name "Wead" grows wild in indexes of books about other people.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy