In the days when Bill Clinton was young: We’ll have to say, we’re filled with disgust for the tribal practice of hating and hunting in threes.
That said, we thought Peter Baker wrote an interesting history of the Defense of Marriage Act this week—and we don’t mean that as a compliment. Part of what made the report interesting is the material Baker chose to leave out.
Baker’s report appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times. For starters, we were struck by this recollection of the congressional politics of DOMA:
BAKER (3/26/13): Mr. Clinton was the first president to openly court gay Americans...Baker is a bit stingy with his facts at this point. As he notes, the DOMA passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming, veto-proof margins. But he fails to gift us with any numbers or names.
As a presidential candidate in 1991, Mr. Clinton flew to California for a meeting arranged by the political strategist David Mixner and other gay rights supporters. “They were pretty skeptical of the governor of Arkansas, as you can imagine,” recalled Mickey Kantor, Mr. Clinton’s campaign chairman at the time. But over two and a half hours, Mr. Kantor said Mr. Clinton won them over with “his empathy, his emotional connection.”
He tripped up in the early days of his presidency by underestimating the opposition to opening the military to gays and lesbians and accepted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise that required they keep their sexual orientation secret. So when Republicans proposed the Defense of Marriage Act in an election year, Mr. Clinton resolved not to get burned again.
The bill passed with overwhelming margins, enough to override a veto. He hoped to avoid calling attention to it with his post-midnight signature. Mike McCurry, the press secretary, got a call at home asking if they should wait until morning to announce it. “His posture was quite frankly driven by the political realities of an election year in 1996,” Mr. McCurry recalled.
Why embarrass anyone else? People, it just isn't done!
Let’s help. Even Paul Wellstone voted for DOMA—but then, so did a large majority of Democrats in both houses of Congress. By our count, five future Democratic presidential candidates voted in favor of DOMA. So did six Democratic House members who later went to the Senate.
These are just a few of the Democrats who voted in favor of DOMA. Again, this is just a sampling from two much larger groups (links below):
Democrats in the Senate who voted in favor of DOMA:The measure passed the Senate, 85-14. It passed the House, 342-67. Did we mention the fact that Wellstone, Biden, Bradley and Daschle all voted in favor of DOMA before it reached Clinton’s desk? Not to mention Gephardt, Mikulski, Reid and Reid, Harkin, Levin and Durbin.
Biden, Bradley, Daschle, Dodd, Harkin, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Mikulski, Murray, Reid, Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Wellstone
Democrats in the House who voted in favor of DOMA:
Blumenauer, Bonior, Cardin, Clyburn, Cummings, DeLauro, Dicks, Durbin, Fazio, Flake, Frost, Gephardt, Hoyer, Johnson, Kanjorski, Kaptur, Levin, Lowey, Obey, Reed, Rush, Schumer, Torricelli, Wynn
Baker was a bit stingy when it came to such facts. But then, Baker has always been a bit of a Clinton-hater. As journalism, the second part of the passage which follows is just extremely strange stuff:
BAKER: In his second term, Mr. Clinton became the first president to address the Human Rights Campaign, and he nominated James Hormel as the first openly gay ambassador. “He stood up for me when he really didn’t have to,” Mr. Hormel said last week.Journalism schools should study that second paragraph. For starters, in what way does the first sentence in that paragraph connect to the second and third?
Mr. Clinton did not back off the marriage law. As late as 2004, when 11 states put measures against same-sex marriage on the ballot, Mr. Clinton privately advised John Kerry to endorse a constitutional ban, according to Newsweek’s history of the campaign. Matt McKenna, Mr. Clinton’s spokesman, called that account “completely false.”
Does it connect at all? Except as slick insinuation?
Beyond that, did Bill Clinton “privately advise John Kerry to endorse a constitutional ban” on same sex marriage? That has always struck us as an unlikely proposition. Is there any sign that Baker has any idea if it’s true?
We were struck by one other part of Baker’s report. In the passage which follows, Baker encourages us to think that Clinton has been “opportunistic” every step of the way.
This has always been the controlling script of mainstream Clinton-haters:
BAKER: With the Supreme Court now taking up a challenge to part of the Defense of Marriage Act, [Clinton] concluded he had to finally address the law he had helped enact.We’re sorry that Baker dragged Birch into this. In our view, Birch was the most effective political spokesperson of the past twenty years. That said, her quoted statement seems a bit silly to us. (There is, of course, no way to know the entirety of what she may have told Baker.)
While he declined to join a friend-of-the-court brief filed by former senators, Mr. Clinton wrote by hand an op-ed article for The Washington Post. He said he signed the law to head off a worse outcome, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but realized now that “the law is itself discriminatory” and “it should be overturned.”
To supporters of the law, Mr. Clinton’s new position seemed as opportunistic as his original one did to the other side. His “shifting views on marriage are precisely why we have an independent judiciary,” said John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage. “The Constitution is not designed to shift with momentary political winds.”
To some gay supporters, the statement was inadequate. “I would like him to say that it was always wrong and, even if he felt forced into making a political calculation, he’s deeply sorry that it became the law,” said Elizabeth Birch, who headed the Human Rights Campaign in 1996.
Mr. Mixner agreed but said the change was enough. “The purpose of a movement is to change minds, not in some Stalinistic way to punish those who are not ideologically pure,” he said. “We created a safe place where he could change his mind.”
Should Clinton say he’s deeply sorry that DOMA became the law? According to Baker, Mixner said that he rejects the “Stalinistic” feel of such a suggestion. Repeating our strong belief that Birch was a major hero of the 1990s, we’d be inclined to agree.
Alas! Same-sex marriage wasn’t yet ripe in 1996. For that reason, Republicans crafted a measure, and a long string of major Democrats voted for it, long before it reached Clinton’s desk.
So many Democrats voted for it that a veto would have been overwhelmed. But what a shame that Clinton didn’t veto the measure anyway! We could have had the best of both worlds: DOMA would have passed anyway, and Dole might have gone to the White House!
In the past few years, we have all been able to see how childish, lazy and dumb we liberals actually are. Part of our eternal dumbness lies in this:
The president isn’t our Daddy! We can’t always turn to Bill or Barack and insist that he use the bully pulpit to solve all our problems, the way Daddy always did.
These presidents have labored in difficult settings. In many ways, the difficulties have been created by the lazy uselessness of our imitation liberal journalists and by our non-existent career liberal institutions.
In our view, Birch was a superlative spokesperson during the 1990s, when conservative spokespersons felt less need to be polite to gay and lesbian representatives. In general, though, our pseudo-liberal tribe is easily conned, and our careerist leaders are lazy and dishonest. As a group, we refuse to fight until we can do so in packs.
Along come wormy fellows like Baker. In his rather selective piece, you can read the rest.
Allegedly opportunistic behavior by the numbers: In the House, Democrats voted in favor of the DOMA, 118-65. To read all their names, just click here.
In the Senate, Democrats also voted in favor, 32-14. For all the names, click this.
Daddy couldn’t help us back then—but no, it wasn’t just Bill Clinton. The political groundwork hadn’t been laid—but luckily, people like Birch continued to struggle and work, in ways which were very smart.
People like Baker continued to type. In accord with their deathless scripts, the term "opportunistic" will be dropped on one head only.
Today, the politics has changed; we liberals are bravely hating in threes. It’s very hard to have much respect for horrible people like us.