A reader, like many from the in-tray this week, sticks up for Hillary:
Like you, I’ve been kind of flabbergasted by the media’s (and most Democrats’) eternally short memories on how awful the Clintons were on LGBT rights in the ’90s. Even as a kid (I was 16 when Bill left office), I thought the way these supposed liberals treated gays and lesbians was abominable – and I wasn’t even on the front lines the way you were.
But honestly, while I know you’re just reporting what’s going on, what’s being said about Hillary, I’d like a clarification: why do you hold the Clintons to so different a standard on this issue than any other politician – including President Obama?
I ask this not because I’m a big fan of Mrs. Clinton’s; in fact, I neither support her for the Democratic nomination nor for president, and it’s going to take a LOT for her to earn my vote. But Clinton’s reversal on marriage equality, while equally calculated, has been pretty much the same as Obama’s shift on the same. In fact, whereas I think that Clinton actually DID have to evolve on the marriage question, I think Obama’s reluctance to embrace it publicly was nothing short of political calculation. Having known the man and worked for him during his run for the Senate in 2004, I have a very hard time believing that he ever even needed to “evolve” on the issue, considering not only his personality but where his (former) denomination, the United Church of Christ, has long stood on gay marriage.
I mean, I get it: you don’t like the Clintons.
I don’t like them either. Well, I kind of like Bill, who could sell you rotten piss as liquid gold. But Hillary has always rubbed me the wrong way – something about her being too fake, too robotic, too Park Ridge (you have to grow up in the near northwest suburbs of Chicago to get that one). Even her soothing words of kindness often seem less than genuine (a characteristic she shares with Mitt Romney). There’s just something about her that makes me not want her to be president.
But as far as her alliance with the marriage equality movement, she may be sincere, or, as with most things Clintonian, she may be politically calculating. But why does it matter? Ken Mehlman used his political calculation of being “for traditional marriage” to take him all the way to the top post in the Republican Party – yet he was embraced when he finally came out. It took Senator Rob Portman having a gay son for him to understand how gays and lesbians feel when they’re denied the right to marry whomever they love – yet he was championed when he announced his support. And at each of these times, you have reiterated that the marriage equality movement should embrace converts, not shun them or try to pick apart whether their support is calculated or genuine.
But it seems to me that you’re talking (er, writing) out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand, yeah, you’ve said the same thing about Clinton in the past. But I also don’t see others who have come around to supporting marriage equality grilled the way Clinton is about whether or not her support is genuine. Think about those who voted for DOMA, including Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Senate Majority Whip Durbin, and House Minority Whip Hoyer – four of the six most powerful Democrats in Washington, all of whom now “supposedly” back marriage equality. In fact, so far as current Democratic Party leaders go, Nancy Pelosi alone had the balls to vote against DOMA, when all her colleagues were lining up to enshrine inequality into law.
Clinton, on the other hand, was a non-voting First Lady when DOMA was enacted in 1996 and was never in a position to repeal it. It’s really unfair to hold a grudge against her for something she has come out in support of just because her husband made things so much harder for you two decades ago. It’s logically inconsistent, and it undermines any good reasons you might ultimately have for not supporting her candidacy.
I’m not holding a grudge; I’m completely happy to move on, as I am with most pols, including Obama. Check out my Ask Anything on the subject. But I gave Obama hell for dilly-dallying in his first term on gay issues, and agree with my reader that he was not “evolving” so much as strategically bullshitting on marriage equality. But his bullshitting was at least calculated to increase the chances of our success, by getting out of the way, whereas the Clintons most definitely got in the way in the 1990s and did all they could to discredit and destroy the campaign for marriage equality. No Democratic politicians have that record or such ultimate responsibility for it. And yes, it is hard for me to believe that the people who signed both the HIV Travel Ban and DOMA are civil rights heroes or pioneers. They were not our allies. They were not even bystanders. They were the enemies of our civil rights when they held power.
But does this really matter now with respect to gay equality? Not much. Do I think Hillary will back gay equality in office? Yes. Do I think her influence on the Supreme Court if she gets to replace a Justice or two will be good? Yes. Does this issue offer a reason not to vote for her? Not any more. I just believe that her record illuminates her conniving, cynical political character. And that remains a perfectly legitimate worry.