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Tea partyer’s apology reverses roles in familiar scene

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

You have seen this particular American scene many times, with a loyal wife in the supporting role, and the practiced script:

Thanks to those who supported me. I take full responsibility. I am truly sorry. I need to atone ...

The words are familiar, and so is the meaning, or lack of it. By now, we accept this particular public appearance of apology for the procedural that it is: A necessary step to the next step that’s so routine, even the apologizers are embarrassed.

“It sounds trite to even say that I’m sorry,” said state Rep. Todd Courser, in a rambling audio statement he released earlier in the week about his relationship with state Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell.

Gamrat and Courser stormed into political office as tea party renegades, forming an alliance so close they merged office staffs and rumors linked them romantically. A Detroit News article revealed that Courser had asked staff members to circulate a false, scandalous email — a situation that blew up when the staff member refused. Now, the whole mess is under investigation by the state House.

The one distinctive feature of Gamrat’s appearance was the presence of her husband, Joe Gamrat — in other words, a man — standing uncomfortably at her side.

In the decades since Sen. Gary Hart resigned from his presidential race after being photographed on the yacht “Monkey Business,” we’ve witnessed variations of this scene with many players, and their wives who would otherwise have remained anonymous. But who remembers ever seeing a man forced to publicly play loyal political spouse?

To his credit, Joe Gamrat looked every bit as uncomfortable as his female predecessors have over the years. This particular trope launched the long-running “The Good Wife” TV series, as the fictional Peter Florrick resigned from his position as state’s attorney in the middle of a sex scandal, while his wife Alicia stood by, pale and trembling. That opener was a near-perfect retake of Eliot Spitzer’s resignation in New York, as his wife Silda stood by. (The Spitzers eventually divorced; the fictional Florricks are still married.)

That Gamrat and Courser formed an alliance based on a fierce public allegiance to so-called traditional family and Christian values heightens the weirdness of any gender breakthrough. The irony of it has propelled their unlikely story to unexpected national fame and attention. On Friday, CNN carried Gamrat’s public statements live, and cable TV news shows feasted on the story.

Gamrat neither resigned nor took enough from the cup of full responsibility to explain how it was that she knew nothing of Courser’s scurrilous email — bizarrely directed at Gamrat and himself — when an audio recording made it clear she was consulted about it.

Even so, Gamrat is the more sympathetic figure of this particular Michigan tea party duo: Her semi-apology, delivered haltingly through tears, suggested genuine regret at having hurt her family. While confessing no wrongdoing directly, and bizarrely including a couple of military veterans to give her courage under siege, she gave the clear impression that she tries to be a law-abiding and decent human being.

Even that bit of sincerity escapes Courser, whose cynicism is the most tawdry piece of the drama — the political conniving and lies mixed in with references to prayer and God, the disregard for his constituents’ intelligence and trust, the use of religious faith as a protective cover for a paranoid and bizarre view of the world.

As the Gamrat and Courser story unfolds, straining credulity, it’s tempting to believe their tea party affiliation has less to do with politics than with Lewis Carroll’s “mad” tea party in Alice and Wonderland.

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”

“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter. “It’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

lberman@detroitnews.com

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