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Bill Clinton: Now He Gets It?

Bill Clinton: Now He Gets It?


At long last, Bill Clinton has said he "basically" supports gay marriage. Interesting, considering the most pressing causes of the gay rights movement today are the result of problems he created as president.

The most that can be said about Bill Clinton's newfound (and feeble) belief in marriage equality is "Better late than never."

One would have expected the former president's change of heart to garner more media coverage than it has. Clinton is, after all, the only living ex-president to support same-sex marriage. Perhaps the lack of attention was attributable to a belated realization on the part of the media that political endorsements are overrated. Or maybe it's because the public is tired of hearing about gay marriage. Whatever the reason, I suspect that the press's woolgathering had something to do with the fact that a sizable portion of the population has finally come to the realization that most of the things that emerge from Bill Clinton's mouth are prevarications, hot air, outright lies, or some combination of the three. One can hope.

At an annual convention of liberal college activists held in Washington last week, Clinton was asked if he would publicly support efforts to enact same-sex marriage. "I'm basically in support," he answered. Asked if he personally believed in the cause, he replied "Yeah. I personally support people doing what they want to do. I think it's wrong for someone to stop someone else from doing that."

What eloquence! What moral conviction! Remember that these stirring words come from a man who, prior to the emergence of Barack Obama, was widely considered to be the greatest political communicator alive.

While few in the mainstream media seemed to care about Clinton's inarticulate and hedging announcement, it did come as news to gay activists. That's because when Clinton was last heard from on the issue in May, he said that his stance was "evolving." At least Clinton's "evolution" was faster than that of prehistoric man.

It bears repeating that the most pressing causes of the gay rights movement today -- repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and "don't ask, don't tell" -- are the result of problems he created as the 42nd president of the United States. And despite the manifold indignities that he inflicted upon countless gay Americans with his role in implementing these two laws, Clinton still refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on his part, never mind apologize.

Witness his angry and patronizing interview, so typical of his undignified behavior during the last Democratic presidential primary, with a group of college students assembled by MTV last year. Asked about his 1996 signing of DOMA, Clinton portrayed himself as some sort of hero who was actually doing gay people a favor by preventing the worse option of a constitutional amendment. But there was no talk of such an amendment in 1996, and plenty of Democrats voted against the law. If the decision that Clinton made in 1996 was so painstaking, why did he brag about it on Christian radio stations during the presidential campaign?

And Clinton has the gall to accuse Republicans of using gay issues for electoral gain!

To make his point, Clinton only mentioned the part of DOMA that allows states not to recognize marriages or civil unions performed in other states, giving credence to the specter of gays descending upon red America in search of marriage licenses. In so doing Clinton neglected to contend with the other and far more damaging aspect of DOMA, which forbids the federal government from bestowing the myriad rights and obligations (which the Government Accounting Office has estimated to number 1,138) that straight couples receive to same-sex couples.

Similarly, last January, Clinton ridiculed the notion that he shared any blame for the passage of "don't ask, don't tell" or that the statute is all that invidious.

"'Don't ask, don't tell,' as articulated as I worked it out with Colin Powell, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meant literally that ... that people would be free to live their lives as long as they didn't go march in gay rights parades or go to gay bars in uniform ... in uniform ... and talk about it on duty, they would be all right. Now, as soon as he [Colin Powell] left, the antigay forces in the military started using it as an excuse to kick people out.'"

Discharges of gay soldiers rose under Clinton. If he was so concerned about the way the law was being implemented, he could have done something about it.

After leaving office Clinton added insult to injury. We also know that in 2004 he advised John Kerry to support not only the many state-level constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, but also the Federal Marriage Amendment championed by President George W. Bush. Five years later, with a series of states having legalized same-sex marriage, the polls decisively showing a generational surge in support for the cause, and -- most important in terms of this discussion -- the definitive end of the Clinton dynasty upon us, Bill Clinton wants us to know that he "basically" supports gay marriage.

Pardon me for being cool toward the latest tergiversations of this congenital liar and shameless opportunist.

The gay community has never come to terms with the true record of the Clinton White House, as was evident by the overwhelming support Hillary's primary bid received from gay men ... support so slavish and irrational that it pains me to conclude it was predicated on little else besides the woman's diva-like qualities.

Earlier this week the Freedom to Marry coalition issued a press release praising the former president. In their rush to extol him, however, gay activists should be wary. For the most important thing to know about Bill Clinton is that the man never takes a position based upon considerations of things like morality or justice. He takes positions based entirely upon a cold calculation of what will advance his political (and, of late, business) interests. If, for whatever reason, his cynical support for marriage equality gets in the way of his wife's political career or a shady business deal with an Arab oil sheik, Clinton will abandon the cause faster than he fled the 1992 campaign trail to carry out the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally retarded black prisoner who had shot himself in the head after committing a double homicide.

To provide the most succinct and accurate description of the Clintons, I defer to someone who knows them all too well and who also happens to be the richest and most powerful gay man in America: David Geffen.

Explaining his surprise support for Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary, the record producer told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, "Everybody in politics lies, but [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it's troubling."

Geffen, who raised millions of dollars for the Clintons and twice slept in the Lincoln bedroom, came late to recognizing the mendaciousness of this couple.

Hopefully other gays will follow his lead. Better late than never.

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James Kirchick