After being put in the political stocks by the sham of a Benghazi Committee and having to take verbal beatings by a bunch of vicious, dishonest Republicans, Hillary’s unflappable and calm demeanor throughout earned a degree of respect from me and doubtless many other Democrats who may not have been as enthusiastic about the prospects of her becoming the Democratic nominee for President.
Then the following day, an overconfident Hillary reminded everyone why she should continue to be distrusted. She appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and unflinchingly delivered propaganda to shield herself from criticism due to her support of and Bill Clinton’s signing of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
To refresh memories, DOMA was a law signed by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996 that, according to Wikipedia:
[DOMA] defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, and allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.
By defining “spouse” and its related terms to signify a heterosexual couple in a recognized marriage, Section 3 codified non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, social security survivors’ benefits, immigration, bankruptcy, and the filing of joint tax returns, as well as excluding same-sex spouses from the scope of laws protecting families of federal officers (18 U. S. C. §115), laws evaluating financial aid eligibility, and federal ethics laws applicable to opposite-sex spouses.
Bill Clinton’s views on gay rights were actually very supportive and Progressive, he didn’t sign DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT, which allowed gays to serve in the military as long as they hid it from others) because he was homophobic or anti-gay rights. He did it for a reason that is quite familiar for Bill Clinton (and Hillary for that matter), because it was better for serving himself.
Why did a gay rights supporter like Bill Clinton sign such an institutionally bigoted law against gays? The clue is quite obvious when you look back at the date of the bill’s signing.
September 21, 1996. It was an election year, the year of a Presidential election, less than a month and a half before Bill Clinton hoped to win re-election.
It may be hard to remember just how unpopular gay rights were in the America of 1996 but less than 30% of Americans supported gay marriage back then. Many Democrats in Congress joined most (if not all) Republicans in being strongly against gay marriage. And no Presidential candidate, even up to and including President Obama, could come out in favor of gay marriage as a candidate without a potentially huge political price to pay.
So as was often the case with Bill Clinton, he triangulated what would benefit him most, put aside his principles and signed an oppressive law into place in order to win an election. He didn’t allow photos of the signing, it seems clear he wasn’t proud or happy about signing it…but in the end, he did sign it.
In 2013, Richard Socarides, who served as a White House Special Assistant and Senior Adviser in the Clinton Administration, wrote a piece for The New Yorker in which he described the reasons that Bill Clinton signed DOMA:
Inside the White House, there was a genuine belief that if the President vetoed the Defense of Marriage Act, his reelection could be in jeopardy. There was a heated debate about whether this was a realistic assessment, but it became clear that the President’s chief political advisers were not willing to take any chances. Some in the White House pointed out that DOMA, once enacted, would have no immediate practical effect on anyone—there were no state-sanctioned same-sex marriages then for the federal government to ignore. I remember a Presidential adviser saying that he was not about to risk a second term on a veto, however noble, that wouldn’t change a single thing nor make a single person’s life better.
During the campaign season, Clinton would sometimes complain publicly about how the Republicans were using the marriage issue against him. He said, derisively, that it was “hardly a problem that is sweeping the country” and his press secretary called it “gay baiting, pure and simple.” And that September, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, President Clinton signed it.
Socarides wonders whether a veto of DOMA would actually have made a difference in Clinton’s re-election, siting the potency of the anti-gay, Karl Rove driven, George W. Bush campaign attack on John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential race that helped rally The Right to get Bush re-elected. Also, Congress had passed DOMA with enough votes to override a veto. It is possible that some Democratic votes would switch to sustain a Clinton veto but we will never know.
Could it have been an added risk to Bill Clinton’s re-election to have vetoed DOMA, even if his veto could have been overridden? Possibly. Is it possible that risk could have been mitigated by the reason Bill Clinton gave for the veto? That’s possible too. Could he have at least stated that he would delay signing it because there was a question of Constitutionality to it, even if he wanted to say he favored it for political reasons? Of course, we know now that would have been accurate since DOMA was recently struck down by the Supreme Court for that reason. Bill Clinton and his advisers had to know that any law that takes away rights from a particular group of Americans has never stood a test of Constitutionality in the long term, they could have used this excuse to permanently stall signing it but Bill and his staff chose instead to play it “safe” and reluctantly sign bigotry into law, claiming it wasn’t bigotry.
Why does this matter now? Because instead of honestly recounting this understandable, politically driven situation, that may make Bill and Hillary look self-serving but at the same time, affirm that even then, they personally supported gay rights, Hillary and her campaign have instead laid out a cover up using an inaccurate justification to try and make her and Bill instead look like protectors of gay rights for supporting oppression against them.
It’s the same kind of Karl Rovian twisting of the truth that many Democrats despised in the Bush years and Hillary’s comfort and ease in delivering it (as she did in the 2008 race) does not bode well for what one might expect from a President Hillary Clinton.
Here is Hillary Clinton’s new spin about why she supported DOMA and why Bill Clinton signed it as she presented it on The Rachel Maddow Show last week:
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I – I want to say a word about the – the issues you mentioned, because my – my – my take on it is slightly different.
On Defense of Marriage, I think what my husband believed – and there was certainly evidence to support it – is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that.
And there wasn’t any rational argument – because I was in on some of those discussions, on both “don’t ask, don’t tell” and on – on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers and occasionally I would – you know, chime in and talk about, “you can’t be serious. You can’t be serious.”
But they were. And so, in – in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.
It’s like police officers saying, “The reason we shot the innocent black man in the stomach is so other officers wouldn’t shoot him in the head! We were protecting him!”
It’s so insultingly dishonest that, at least for me, it has wiped out the sympathies that she earned in the Benghazi hearing. She once again appears as the calculating, dishonest politician who has a low opinion of the intelligence of voters and is quick to offer fabrications to them about anything as long as it advances her ambition.
This self-serving story that Bill was defusing the energy for a Constitutional Amendment against gay marriage has been occasionally floated by Bill Clinton and his camp since then as one of the excuses for joining with the homophobes in signing DOMA but it is completely at odds with articles written about this decision by insiders from the Bill Clinton Administration and campaign. It instead appears as a convenient and desperate straw man.
Constitutional amendments are virtually impossible to pass, take many, many years and go through an enormous, burdensome and failure-bound process. The Right Wing Evangelicals who strongly supported a Constitutional Amendment then (and still do now but to no avail) are a small minority of voters. Would a majority of those who opposed gay marriage in polls automatically support changing the Constitution to enshrine that?
There was not even enough energy behind passing an Equal Rights Amendment for women in the activist years of the 1970’s even though women represented over 50% of voters…and considering that amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923 and couldn’t get passed in 50 years, there really didn’t seem any immediate threat from a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage.
And even if this story was taken at face value, supporting bigotry with the excuse that it might have prevented greater bigotry is still hugely unprincipled and cowardly.
If elected President, Hillary is saying that she may sign bills that harm Americans in order to prevent what she’d suggest are greater harms that could come if she didn’t do so.
But in fact, she is demonstrating that she has no guilt when she supports laws that oppress Americans, she instead just sees it as an inconvenient truth that needs to be covered up. She demonstrates no commitment to speaking honestly to Americans about such a situation that may be unflattering to her.
To be fair, Hillary Clinton reflects the traits of many other accomplished politicians. She is not unique in this respect. The powerful ambition, the self-serving dishonesty for political expediency, the lack of conscience when their decisions harm many of those they are supposed to serve. This is what many politicians do, not the ones who best represent those who put them in office but perhaps a majority who become politicians primarily for reasons of personal gratification.
At the same time, there is no question that any of the Republican field would make such traits look minor if they became President. The choice next November will be between a government, society and economic demolitionist from the Republican Party…and a self-serving, not always honest, corporate-friendly, well-experienced Hillary Clinton or a principled, populist, democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders.
The choice still remains obvious. Even if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, not voting for her and as a result, handing the Republican nominee the value of an extra vote is unthinkable. Hillary may not be the most trustworthy, may not keep her promises to The Left and may even sign a bill into law that hurts supporters of hers and other Americans while claiming it is “protecting them” from worse harm…but with a Republican, all of those plus so many more terrible things are assured.
I will vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination for President but I will do so with eyes wide open, recognizing the true character of who that person is and never hesitating to criticize them as honestly as I would a Republican. That’s what I believe sets Dems and Progressives apart from Repubs, the willingness to honestly appraise and criticize our politicians when they do the wrong thing or we disagree with their actions.
One could only hope that with enough voters being vocal about their criticisms of their candidates’ negative traits, that it would give them less room to maneuver towards them along the way.