Family Values

Brynn’s comment about the vileness of the phrase “family values” reminded me of a show I watched last night on A&E, The Secret Life of a Serial Killer—one of their ubiquitous crime/investigation programs, gravely narrated by Bill Kurtis. Although I’m generally fascinated by these kinds of shows, I had a particular interest in this one, as it was about a case in Indiana during the mid-90s that didn’t get a lot of media attention because the victims were gay men. (And what attention it did get in the major press was pretty infuriating, as the victims were described as “living on the margins of society” and all sorts of nonsense; the Indy gay press did a much better job with it.)

Anyhow, the killer was this total freak called Herb Baumeister, who fled to Canada and offed himself before he could be arrested. There were a lot of weird things going on with this guy, but on the surface, he was “normal”—he had a wife and three kids, owned a chain of stores, supported charities, went to church, etc.

His wife was interviewed for the program, and a couple of things struck me. In spite of her husband having been revealed as a closet homosexual and serial killer, she was still, disturbingly, waxing rhapsodic about the wonder days of yore when they met in college and fell in love. She spoke at length about how, during that time (the late 60s), everyone on campus just laid around doing drugs and talking about stuff, but she and Herb were Young Republicans, although “in those days, you didn’t come out as a Republican.” And she also went on about how they weren’t one of those couples who goes on romantic getaways and ignores their kids—they had “family love.”


I found it absolutely amazing that a woman who had married a serial killer—and, by the way, took him at his word when he told her the skeleton their son found in the backyard was just some old bones his physician father had left him; “I didn’t question it; Herb kept everything!” (yeah, like the skeletons of his victims)—still found the reserves within her to condemn hippies and parents who didn’t parent like they did. Unbelievable.

In the end, after their business had failed, they were losing their million-dollar home, and divorce proceedings had started, Julie Baumeister eventually led detectives to the place where their son had found the bones, where officials unearthed tons more. But in the interim, her husband had claimed at least two more victims. She said (paraphrasing), “Everyone seemed to know but me. I didn’t know anything; someone should have told me.” Right. It was everyone else’s fault for not cluing you in that your husband was a wacko. His being fired from a job for peeing on a letter addressed to the governor of Indiana was the first red flag, honey. Once you discover bones in the backyard, it’s time to call the cops.

It may seem like I’m being a bit callous toward a woman who went through something almost unimaginable, but the sympathy I might have for someone else in her position was completely squashed out of existence by my thorough irritation at her insistent perplexity that her good, Republican, family values husband could have been capable of what he did. She seemed to use his conservative, family man façade as an excuse for her own ignorance—how could anyone know that a man like that could do something wrong?—a wonderment predicated on the pernicious assumption so pervasive in our society that Republicans have the market cornered on family values and goodness. Republicans don’t do things like that. Christians don’t do things like that. The implication, intentional or not, is always that it’s the “freaks,” like those horrible dope-smoking college hippies, who are twisted and evil. It’s liberals. It’s atheists. It’s gays.

But, of course, they were actually the victims of this splendid family man with his family values.

Time and again, we see this same formula play out, yet the conventional wisdom that the GOP is the party of moral values, that conservative Christianity provides the only acceptable moral model, doggedly persists. Haven’t we seen enough evidence to the contrary that this erroneous assumption can finally, at long last, be sent the way of the dodo?

That’s not to suggest that there are no bad liberals, atheists, gays, or no good conservatives, Christians. It’s just to suggest that it’s time to retire the exhausted good conservative v. evil liberal shtick. Being myself a carrier of none of the labels that this rule deems “good,” and also having never strangled 50 or so dudes for my own pleasure, I’m getting a little tired of the wide-eyed bewilderment any time one of the “good” guys turns out to be an evil shithead.

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