The Object of Our Affection

Her husband let us down, she won’t support marriage equality, but still we can’t stop dreaming about Hillary. Sean Kennedy sits down with the front-runner for the White House and finds out what’s keeping the romance alive.

BY

September 21 2007 12:00 AM ET

The most
poignant moment of the HRC-Logo forum was when Melissa
Etheridge, redeeming herself after one too many asinine
questions about bark beetles and other unrelated
esoterica, pressed Clinton on her husband’s
failures in office. For better or worse, the two are
inextricably linked, and his record affects perceptions of
her. With Hillary Clinton in the driver’s seat
at least for the time being, a field of Democratic
candidates uniformly good on gay issues, and a long,
divisive period of Republican rule seemingly about to end,
it’s been hard not to think back to that
equally heady moment 14 years ago, when Bill
Clinton’s inauguration positively radiated promise.
His tenure in office, however, was not all that we had
hoped it would be. On “don’t ask, don’t
tell” and DOMA, he definitely let us down.

“Our
hearts were broken,” Etheridge said. “We were
thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside. All those
great promises that were made to us were broken. And I
understand politics. I understand how hard things are, to
bring about change. But it is many years later now, and what
are you going to do to be different than
that?…. A year from now, are we going to be
left behind like we were before?”

Clinton politely
sidestepped a response -- “Well…Melissa, I
don’t see it quite the way that you describe,
but I respect your feeling about it” -- yet the
question still lingers: Would she leave us behind?

In many ways the
Clintons were my first love. When I was growing up
during the 12-year Reagan–Bush reign, the Republican
political landscape was all I knew. Gay people were
still feared. I hadn’t come out to myself. And
then this fresh-faced, passionate, progressive couple with a
commitment to change and a vision of hope emerged from the
ether and changed all that, charming me along with the
rest of America. But like all infatuations, this one
was too good to be true. Slowly but surely I was
disillusioned.

Yet isn’t
that why politics often seems so much like romance, why we
fall for politicians time and time again, only to be
forcibly shown the limits of our dreams? “You
have to realize you are empowering them to hurt you,”
Lattimore tells me in an aside. Indeed, the higher the
expectations, the harder the crash.

As any good
therapist would say, no partner is perfect. At least
Clinton’s willing to try. “I cannot promise
results,” she says to me. “I can only
promise my best effort. I can only promise to do everything
that I can do to make the case, to put together the
political majority, to take the message to the
country, and I will do that. But there are no
guarantees in life or politics.”

So, I say to her,
even if the negative feedback is deafening, would you
still push forward on repealing “don’t ask,
don’t tell”? “I’m certainly
going to continue to push forward,” she says.
“But again, I can’t guarantee that the
negative feedback will go away. The president is not a
king, despite George Bush’s efforts to be
one…and don’t forget, there’s
another set of agenda items too. We’ve got ENDA and
hate crimes.”

“If they
reached your desk,” I press, “you’d
promise to sign them?”

“Absolutely, because as president I would be trying
to get them to my desk,” she says with an
exasperated laugh. “That’s the whole
point!”

She sounds like
she means it, like the filter is off for once, and I
believe her -- I really do. But as I write this, several
weeks later, I still don’t know. Commitment is
so hard. Do I want to get in bed with Hillary again? I
take a deep breath. If a relationship is about trust, I
guess she has mine.

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