Bill Clinton may be charming, well spoken, and a budget surplus producing ex-president, but what is it about him that keeps him knee-deep in unwarranted kudos among minority groups?
Thankfully, political thinkers like Melissa Harris-Perry have done their part to dispel the notion that Slick Willie was “the first black president” and someone whose political policies justify the fanfare Clinton has enjoyed in the black community. Now it’s time to clue in some new folks who would like to do the same thing as it pertains to Clinton’s legacy on gay rights.
GLAAD has announced that former President Clinton will be the recipient of the first Advocate for Change Award.
In a statement, GLAAD’s Wilzon Cruz said of Clinton, “President Clinton’s support of the LGBT community and recognition that DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is unconstitutional and should be struck down shows that the political landscape continues to change in favor of LGBT equality.” Cruz added, “Leaders and allies like President Clinton are critical to moving our march for equality forward.”
I wish you could hear my laughter.
In defense of Bill Clinton
To be fair to Clinton, he did note the error of his ways in passing the Defense of Marriage Act, writing in the Washington Post, “As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is contrary to those principles and, in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.”
Clinton stressed that when signing the bill into law back in 1996 that it was “a very different time.” I imagine he would make the same argument for the equally reductive “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Ditto for Newsweek and political consultant Bob Shrum writing in his book, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, that Clinton was pushing John Kerry to back local gay marriage bans in red states to eat away at President George W. Bush’s supporters in the 2004 presidential election.
And as Richard Socarides wrote over at the New Yorker: “Still, how was it that Bill Clinton, the first president to champion gay rights, put his name on one of the most discriminatory anti-gay statutes in American history?”
But does he deserve it?
Eh, probably because the times aren’t really that different. Clinton is just as shrewd then as he is now. Clinton’s co-sign of anti-gay legislation was his guarantee to reelection and his repudiation of both policies guarantees he maintains his soaring popularity.
And of course, makes sure former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the clear once she decides she’s officially ready to get the presidential coronation that was supposed to happen for her back in 2008.
That’s fine, though. Clinton is a master politician and his shift does in fact prove that the political and cultural landscape is increasingly favorable to marriage equality. But while both aspects are true, neither makes Clinton exactly the poster child for audacity or for change agents.
Perhaps Bill Clinton could’ve still been invited to the event, but why not let the more progressive and productive president who created change be awarded for it?
Obama’s record speaks for itself
In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order granting gay partners of federal workers some limited benefits. A year later, he called for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in his State of the Union address. Obama also passed and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The Obama administration also created the first ever national study of discrimination in housing against members of the LGTB community.
Obama’s health care bill has also made sure that starting in 2014, insurance companies can no longer turn away individuals if they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Moreover, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients.
Was Obama sluggish on revealing that he’s “evolved” on marriage equality and reached a position he reportedly initially held way back in 1996? Surely.
Maybe Obama is playing politics, too, but in the end, he’s been more progressive on gay rights than any president before him.
I get that GLAAD enjoys bestowing rewards on those who make an effort to right their instances of homophobia, but Clinton’s actions as president led to serious setbacks for gays to be treated as equals. A “my bad, y’all” is admirable, but not necessarily honorable.
Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter @youngsinick