A reader quotes me:
“I find the opportunism of the Clintons – who did more substantive harm to gay people in eight years than any other administration – more disgusting than the fundamentalist hostility.” OK, I can go along with “more disgusting than fundamentalist hostility,” but I would describe Bill Clinton’s behavior in 1996 as cowardice more than opportunism. It was an eternity ago in terms of public opinion, and DOMA passed the House 342 to 67 and the Senate 85 to 14. To buck that would have required great courage. (Hillary’s more recent statements when a senator are far worse.)
But worst of all was 2004, where Rove, the GOP, and the right-wing propaganda machine aggressively targeted gay people to get out the vote in state after state. What makes their behavior so much worse was that cowardice was NOT a factor; on this issue, the GOP was not threatened with a challenge from the left. They maliciously ginned up fear and hatred solely to get a few more voters to the polls.
You keep repeating this assertion about Clinton, and I have to say it doesn’t ring true. I’d argue Reagan, in his disregard for AIDS, was clearly more responsible for not just “harm” but a quantifiable number of deaths. DADT happened because Clinton overreached, in his first months in office, on trying to fully lift the restrictions on gays in the military. DOMA was considered to be a sop to homophobes in an area (gay marriage) that was inconceivably distant.
Did his Justice Department have to ringingly announce it had no constitutional objections to DOMA during the actual hearings? Did his 1996 campaign have to run ads in the South bragging of defending marriage? And it was not inconceivably distant: Hawaii was pushing the envelope. And even if it were inconsistently distant, why wouldn’t that be an argument for his vetoing it – or just letting it pass into law without his signature? Another adds that “in 1996, not only were about 80% of Americans opposed to marriage equality, but roughly half supported outlawing gay sex.” Another:
The whole idea of Lent is repentance and the search for forgiveness, isn’t it? And isn’t Easter about renewal? Which is why your comments on the Clintons, I feel, are wholly out-of-whack with what you’ve said about folks like Rob Portman.
You are falling victim to the vitriol you felt about Clinton’s presidency back in the ’90s and his own blatant opportunism, neither of which I fault you for. I do, however, fault you for castigating the Clintons’ “change of heart.” You recently told a reader:
Even if they are pure opportunists, as a civil rights cause, it shouldn’t matter. What matters is support for marriage equality. Period. Late-comers should be as welcome as the pioneers.
Now granted, you said this about Rob Portman, who suddenly did an about-face on gay marriage strictly because opposition to it harmed his son (he didn’t give a shit when it was other people’s sons and daughters, apparently), but how does this not apply to the Clintons as well?
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Clintons are nothing but glaring opportunists who did everything they could to keep gays out of normalizing institutions that would allow them to feel like full human beings. I’m willing to buy that argument, because I think DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” showed President Clinton to be at best callous and at worst a political eunuch. But just look at Rob Portman’s voting record. He voted YES on an amendment to the United States Constitution banning gay marriage, something the Clintons never did. He voted YES on banning gays from adopting in Washington, D.C. – which the Clintons vehemently opposed.
Here are two recent posts on the Clintons:
I welcome president Clinton’s change of heart, just as I welcomed Barack Obama’s and Bob Barr’s. But I am not going to white-wash his or Richard Socarides’ records.
It’s churlish to cavil. If we can forgive Ken Mehlman, we can surely forgive Bill Clinton. And welcome him to the civil rights cause of our time.
But here’s the legacy that Clinton wielded as a Democratic Party president – cited now by countless Foxbots. Clinton didn’t just sign DOMA, he signed the law banning HIV-positive tourists and immigrants, legitimizing the rank bigotry and anti-scientific posture of Jesse Helms. He had plenty of time to prep for the military ban, but his first few months were among the most disorganized and chaotic of any president in recent times. He didn’t just enact DADT, his own Pentagon subsequently doubled the rate of gay discharges from the military.
I’ve praised Hillary Clinton for her breakthrough for gay human rights at State. I’m happy about Bill Clinton’s recent op-ed. But I cannot accept an apology Bill Clinton still refuses to offer. I’m not whitewashing the GOP either (is that the impression you’ve got from the blog on gays and the GOP over the years?). They bear by far the largest share of the blame – especially Rove and Bush and Mehlman who knew better and used our lives and loves as tools for the maintenance of their own power. The Clintons were just cold opportunists – the Frank and Clare Underwood of their time. I’m just not going to pretend they were allies of the gay community, when they weren’t. They like to think they are; but they weren’t. The record is patently clear. I lived through it. And had a front row seat in Washington.