Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why I Disagree With Rachel Maddow About Bill Clinton and Gay People in 1992

Yesterday, the great Rachel Maddow said:
"People talk about the liberal media and they say the whole media is liberal and the whole establishment is liberal. It’s not true. If you really are a liberal, it’s been a long time in this country when you felt like mainstream politics had nothing to say to you, and that mainstream politics just was not about you. And I look at all these young people in particular out at this Bernie Sanders event: 
I was 19 in 1992 when Bill Clinton was running on the Democratic side, and at the 1992 Republican convention Pat Buchanan got up there and gave his ‘culture wars’ speech where he basically declared a crusade against minorities and particularly against gay people. And as a gay person watching that in 1992, I didn’t feel like Bill Clinton had my back, right? I didn’t feel like the Democratic Party had my back. He was talking about agreeing with Ronald Reagan that government was the problem and all that stuff. If you are a liberal, you are not a majority in this country and you know it and it always feels that way. But this Democratic race with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigning this way against each other — that happened because Bernie Sanders got into this race. And all these kids who are enthused about this race — whether or not they’re supporting Bernie Sanders directly — are never going to feel like mainstream politics isn’t about them." 

Yes, we had Photoshop in the olden days ...

She's totally right about the liberal media bullshit and about how kids are probably feeling now because of Sanders. But my jaw literally dropped when I heard Rachel Maddow say this about Bill. I'm six years older than she is so maybe the difference is that I wasn't a first-time voter, having lived through H.W. and the Lee Atwatering of Michael Dukakis. But I distinctly remember being with a big group of guys at Rage in WeHo and talking about HOW MUCH it felt like Bill Clinton cared about gay people. and how he was the first politician to acknowledge "us." I remember feeling like the Clintons were genuinely comfortable with gay people and had gay friends when he said: "I have a vision for the future and you are part of it. You represent a community of our nation's gifted people that we've been willing to squander. But we can't afford to waste the capacities, the contributions, the hearts and souls and minds of the lesbian and gay community." How he vowed if elected we would finally receive federal civil rights protection. How he'd appoint an AIDS czar and that his administration's war on the epidemic would rival "the Manhattan Project," (As opposed to giggling at the crisis.) That my gay friends were actually excited to vote. And it may not have turned out the way it should have, but he ran on the promise of ending the ban on gays in the military -- and I remember A LOT of LGBT people being thrilled about this and about him in general. (Hell, I still get chills when a presidential candidate mentions us now, imagine what it felt like back then at the height of the AIDS epidemic.)  And more than anything, I remember thousands of people celebrating on Santa Monica Boulevard the night he was elected (and again in Dupont Circle when he was re-elected in '96). Truthfully, if you were gay and following the 1992 election, I don't see how you could feel like Clinton didn't "have your back." If you say you don't remember any of this, I say you're either too young or deliberately trying not to recall what it felt like at the time because you're angry at what did transpire while he was in office.* The excitement surrounding the Clinton ticket is part of the reason this image (above) was going around. That, and we all thought Al was hot!

*And I know I'm in the minority here, but I feel like Bill Clinton had the best intentions and only did what he had to do at the time while dealing with a lunatic Republican majority. The compromise of "don't ask, don't tell" was written by a gay congressman who Clinton appointed chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In retrospect, it still inflicted harm against us. But it was better than what we had -- and its motivations was pure. This progress may seem small in retrospect. But real change -- which has since happened under President Obama -- could not have happened without the baby steps that came first. (Keeping a Democrat in the White House was more important to me than anything else given what had happened during the Reagan administration -- and I don't think the unintended consequences of "don't ask, don't tell" were not obvious) . And even if you could persuade me that I am wrong about Bill, that argument could only be made by rewriting history through the lens of knowing gay marriage was a possibility in our lifetime, something I don't believe ANYONE could have predicted.


Jim said...

Yeah I felt like he had potential to have my back but didn't have it yet and then didn't really get it. But our expectations were lower then, and in hindsight I should have been angrier than I was at him.

Mike c said...

I remember feeling Bill (and Al) had my back, after Reagan, Bush I, marching in ACT-UP, etc. Maybe not as much on my side as Jessie Jackson would have been, but still, on my side.
Then I remember being bitterly disappointed when the promise to end discrimination against gays in the military turned into "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (I've always heard that Al Gore fought against this compromise.) He could have done something heroic, but instead, he triangulated. You can say that politics is the art of compromise. But was this a necessary compromise? Or was it expedience? It certainly brought heartache, even suicides, and told yet another generation to stay in the closet, or else.
It might be that this lesson of expedience and compromise is why, in the end, I'm leaning towards Bernie over Hillary. Bernie has _always_ been on our side, without compromise. Sure, Hillary supports nondiscrimination in hiring and marriage, now. But getting to the right side (and also in the case of the Iraq war) took her a while.

Robert Marez said...

I was 12 in 1992, and although no one but me knew I was gay, I got those same chills when the Clintons spoke about the LGBT community.

I, like you, are in the minority here, but judging the 90s Clinton's through the lens of 2015 is juvenile and stupid. What did he do? Or what did he start? Those are the only questions that need use answered. If when answering them, you know it was worth it, then that is enough.

Liberals, as a group are really that pack of jaded ol' queens we smile at.

Today's liberals are the same ones who discount LBJ for using the N word. You can't judge LBJ based on time stamped vocabulary. You have to judge him on what he did. He expanded social security, gave us medicaid, and signed both the voting rights and civil rights acts while knowingly giving away the South to republicans. He may have used the N word, but he sure as hell didn't use it with the venom any southerner brave enough to utter it does today.

Robert Marez said...

Oh give me a break. Opposing DOMA based on states rights and the full faith and credit clause is not exactly "always on our side." Throw in a mention of the 10th Amendment and he could've been Rick Perry in a bad grandpa costume.

And civil unions over full marriage in 2006 for his state? Woo-hoo, I feel warm and fuzzy.

I love Bernie Sanders as the spiritual stand-in for Elizabeth Warren, but let's not oversell reality here.

Robert Marez said...

And another thing...

Hillary was the representative of the state of New York. She gets to back cowboy justice for her constituency. It was the responsibility of the other states to be the voice of reason.

We don't let the fathers of murder victims on the jury. These were Hillary's children. She had every right to support military she was representing the views of those who elected her. That's how our democracy is supposed to work. Now we hold it against her?


Bill Carter said...

People unfamiliar with the politics of the 90s sometimes seem to have a skewed perception of the origins of DADT. Bad as it was in retrospect, it was at least theoretically an improvement over the situation it replaced, in which gays were automatically expelled from the military, and gay "witch hunts" were common. It was the best deal Clinton could get from an overwhelmingly homophobic Congress, which accurately represented its overwhelmingly homophobic constituents.

Sure, Clinton could have been more heroic, but it would have ended, at best, in a Pyrrhic Victory (See, for example, the way the Republicans used same-sex marriage as an issue that may well have cost John Kerry the Presidential election a decade later.)

Bill Carter said...

PS I see that to post a comment here, you have to swear that you are not a robot. I'm reporting you to the Rubio campaign, which will almost certainly sue you for discrimination.

You guys in the mainstream media don't even try to hide your bias anymore, do you?

Mike in Asheville said...

I also disagree, major league, with Maddow's view. I was 33 in 1992, and tested HIV+ in 1986. By 1992, I had out lived my doctor (gay, lost my cousin-crush cousin, lost my first love who was also my coming-out partner (we told our families the same day), and several dear men with whom I shared my heart.

Before Clinton, there was practically ZERO government funding for HIV/AIDS anything -- no services, no research, no treatment -- NOTHING. The US AIDS monthly death rate at the time was 1000! Over 200 gay men were dying every FUCKING wee!

Yes Clinton, a politician, played politics. We lost shit, and we gained shit.


As a Berkeley alum, I was very familiar with the extremely liberal voice of Congressman Ron Dellums. He was a loud voice working for HIV/AIDS funding and gay and lesbian civil rights. The more the right hated him, the more I admired him. When Clinton became president and the Democrats retook the House, Ron Dellums was named the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and it was Ron Dellums who, literally, wrote the DADT legislation. Yes in retrospect DADT still inflicted discrimination against us, BUT, it was better than all out ban that previously existed.

Hilary Clinton, after 12 years of Nancy Reagan and Barbra Bush, was the keynote address at the San Francisco 1993 HRC fundraiser gala. Never before had anyone from the White House even appeared at a gay/lesbian organization.

I NEVER want to have another old white man as president. EVER. Go Hilary.

JM said...

I remember watching the 92 Dem. Convention and for the first time ever, rainbow flags were flying in the crowd. I felt included!

JV said...

Here's the thing, the Democratic Party and the Clintons didn't have our back as much as they do now, but we definitely knew they were not our enemies. We always knew and know now that the Republicans have been our enemies. No contest. Back then if you had to choose a party you chose the Democratic Party as a gay, just as you do now.

BB said...

As I recall, Clinton talked a good game but he instituted DADT and signed DOMA. The New Yorker ran a pretty good article on his moral retreat on gay rights between 1992 and 1996

JV said...

Talked a good game? Both were compromises. DADT allowed gay soldiers to stay in the military. DOMA meant that States could still one day, and they did, allow gay marriage. We had to take baby steps to get to where we are now. The notion that Bill signed those to be against us is wrong.

BB said...

Well, Clinton has said in 2009 and again in 2013 when he asked the Supreme Court to overrule DOMA, that he thought it was wrong. So if your standard for compromise is enacting laws you later say were wrong, I guess he compromised, all right.

JV said...

Of course he said it was wrong. He signed it knowing it was a compromise, which meant it contained elements he didn't want. That doesn't mean he signed it to be against us. That's revisionist history, and it all had to do with Hawaii contemplating allowing gays to marry. The nation "panicked" and the DOMA was the compromise. Hawaii could do what it wanted (they didn't do it after all) but it wouldn't affect the rest of the states. It was either that or risk Congress passing an amendment deny us from marrying anywhere.

BB said...

Right; he "destroyed the village in order to save it." Good thinking, but Bill was never clear on moral principles anyway.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

@BB: But we're talking about how we felt in 1992, not what happened afterward.

LB said...

I remember feeling that the Clintons were a) genuinely comfortable with gay people in a way no First Family had ever been, had gay friends, sincerely wished well for the gay community; and b) were ready to throw gays under the bus when it became politically necessary. Which only shows, maybe, that they were politicians.

Michael Cohen said...

Interesting point of reference: Just 4 years earlier, the "card carrying" ACLU member and Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis RETURNED a million dollar donation that various gay groups raised for him -- he didn't want gay money. Fast forward to Clinton. It was the first election I could vote in. I remember feeling in awe that he talked to gay audiences and said he had gay friends. I would later be disappointed in several of his actions, but he still opened a world of possibility and A LOT of young people came out in '92. Those are my reflections.

barry simon said...

My reflections on Mr. Clinton's signing DOMA was he wanted to get re-elected and he knew if he didn't sign it the Republicans would use it against him. So he balanced his re-election against our civil rights and sacrificing us wasn't such a bad deal if it got him to keep the White House four more years. That's why I couldn't vote for him. And DADT was the result of his arrogance, thinking he would easily wipe away discrimination is the military. DADT was a compromise because he opened a can of worms he couldn't close and DADT was the best solution, like smoking dope but not inhaling. DADT was an unreal situation, a masquerade posing as a solution which didn't stop gays and lesbians from being ousted from the military. In fact, I believe more were thrown out after DADT than were before this "compromise."

As for Hillary, Elizabeth Warren tells a story of explaining a proposed bill having to do with credit that would be terrible for the average American. She explained why to then first lady Hillary who said "I get it" and campaigned Bill to veto it which he did. BUT when Hillary became a senator and the same bill was brought to the Senate floor, guess what the lady senator from NY who was supported by Wall Street money did? She voted for this formally bad piece of legislation because it was a good deal for her campaign contributors.

In other words, she and her husband are opportunists cut from the same clothe. I have no illusions about politicians being saints, but the Clintons are a work unto themselves. Bill is going around telling crowds that Bernie voted for a particular piece of legislation. Well, when that bill was a stand-alone piece, Bernie voted against it. But then at the last moment Bill stuffed it into a major budget bill, a bill Bernie voted for so the government wouldn't close down. And now Bill blames Bernie when it was Bill who pulled this political maneuver!

I hope Bernie is the nominee so I don't have to hold my nose when I vote for Hillary. But better any Democrat than the clown show that is the Republican field of candidates.

James Greenlee said...

I felt that the Clintons had our back too at the beginning. Much less after DADT and DOMA, but I also remember the climate at the time. Some of the Congressional rhetoric over those two bills was incredibly hostile, even from some Democrats. But Hill and Bill were by far the most gay-positive SCOTUS and FLOTUS we'd ever have. As someone said above, they'd throw us under the bus for expediency, but the same was true for virtually any candidate, right or left when the rubber met the road back then. Contrast with Ronnie & Nancy and their good friend Rock Hudson, and how they treated him (and the rest of us).

Interesting that 1992 is used as this break in time though. I'd been a good little Republican at the time, closeted, and voting like my parents did. 1992 shook me free, with the GOP convention and how horrible it was. Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson? GHWB on the 700 Club? That was it for me. BTW, I had that Bill and Al in cutoffs picture as my computer wallpaper back then!

James Greenlee said...

^^^Edit: "But Hill and Bill were by far the most gay-positive SCOTUS and FLOTUS we'd ever HAD."^^^

Obviously, the Obamas have eclipsed the Clintons, and everyone else in this regard.

Willie Wonkya said...

Barry Simon, you need the rest of the story on a couple of issues.

DADT didn't was a compromise, yes. But, it was supposed to make it possible for gays to serve in the military when the current law didn't allow them to serve in the military at all. The problem was that the military didn't hold up the "don't ask" part of the law.

As to the Elizabeth Warren story about the bill the Hillary ended up voting for as senator, you also don't have the full story. You have the Bernie supporter version of the story. But, if you search the internets enough, you'll find the whole story. When Hillary voted for that bill in the senate, it had been amended to the point that all the issues Elizabeth Warren had with it, had been fixed. Then after the bill came back from conference, the republicans had removed those amendments. And, at that point Hillary voted against the bill. So, you need to do some further research.

Brett House said...

Clinton was GREAT during the 1992 election. He represented a massive sea change for LGBT issues. It was only AFTER the election that he threw us under the bus with DADT and DOMA. But folks have to remember that the only reason DADT consumed the early days of his presidency was because he was willing to speak about LGBT issues *during* the campaign.

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