Clinton And Forgiveness

Jul 1 2013 @ 12:20pm

I post the above video to point out that there were many at the time who opposed DOMA for the right reasons, including civil rights icons like John Lewis. Not Bill Clinton. A reader writes:

“When [Bill Clinton] actually apologizes, I’ll leave this behind. But you cannot forgive someone who refuses to admit they did something wrong,” – Andrew Sullivan.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” – Jesus.

So to your retort that Clinton knew what he was doing, reread Jesus’s words, spoken from the cross. Looks like he forgave people who did not admit they were doing something wrong.

Forgive, Andrew. Forgive. Either that or stop talking about faith, grace, mercy, the whole shooting match. Because it seems, in this instance, you don’t get it.

The trouble here is the distinction between public officials and their public acts and private human beings in your actual life who fail or stumble or hurt you. I truly do try and forgive those who have done me wrong (it isn’t always easy) in the warp and woof of living. But in assessing public affairs – like, say president Bush authorizing torture or backing the Federal Marriage Amendment – it seems to me to be a different case. As a public writer, it is my job to criticize, to judge when someone’s public statements in public office are defensible or wrong. I play a role as a blogger which requires me to be much tougher and harsher than in real life – when I am dealing with public figures, public statements and public records. I have met Bill Clinton only once. I am dealing with the public, not the private, man.

And when a public official like Clinton did so much damage to gay lives, inflicted so much pain (he didn’t just sign DOMA but the HIV travel ban and DADT), and when he then portrays himself as a civil rights activist and gets applause from pathetic liberal gay groups (GLAAD, HRC, et al.), I figure if I don’t point out what a glaring bullshitter he is, who will? I wouldn’t care much if he weren’t still machinating his way back to power, and using the gay community as part of his and his wife’s second run at the presidency. But he is.

As for the Gospel reference, I am, of course, in awe of the power of Christ’s forgiveness even on the cross. But his workaday executioners did not know they were killing the son of man. Clinton knew full well that he was using the gay issue as a wedge to win him back the then-center and right, as he angled for re-election. Dick Morris himself explained it all to me subsequently and actually personally apologized.

And yet Clinton cannot even publicly apologize – for the same reason Alec Baldwin cannot: narcissism and sociopathy.

In 1996, Clinton instructed his own Justice Department to state that DOMA was entirely constitutional on the very day of the DOMA hearings, in which I testified. Do I not have a right to point out that his current position is, er, at odds with that – and that a little attempt to acknowledge his own (and HRC’s) role in making DOMA happen as quickly as possible would make him far more credible? In fact, make him credible, period? He could have refused to sign the law and let it pass without him. He didn’t. He signed it because he thought it would get him votes. That’s who Bill Clinton is. Another reader:

If I didn’t forgive the people in my life (public and private) who refused to admit they did something wrong, I’d go insane with the rage. I think you’re confusing forgiving and forgetting, and I think it’s a very important distinction.

I hope you don’t forget what Clinton did and didn’t do – I hope millions of people don’t forget – but if we don’t forgive, we’re only contributing to our own pain and anguish and feeding our anger, and that takes precious time and energy away from doing what needs to be done to fix the wrongs. Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to be truly Christian, but here’s a great opportunity for all of us – forgive but don’t forget, and keep fighting state by state until it’s done.

I live in Chapel Hill, NC – a lovely liberal, gay-loving bastion in a very red state that passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage – so I have to walk the “forgive but don’t forget” talk myself.

Another quotes the Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness is finding a way to be non-reactive and unperturbed by what has happened to you. Reconciliation means a return to amicability, and that requires the reestablishing of trust.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with what the other person does or doesn’t do. It’s all about understanding how holding on to anger hurts you. I can understand why an apology would be necessary for you to reconcile with Clinton. However, forgiveness is about you recognizing that holding onto your anger and hurt in this area only causes further suffering for you. It’s like carrying around a hot coal – once you realize that you’re only harming yourself, you can drop it. I found this description helpful in understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Sounds like there’s still some lingering anger and/or hurt inside about this. Not always an easy step to take, but if you’re able to forgive, you will ultimately benefit.