Many other Democrats sinned concerning the DOMA!


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...

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.
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.

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:
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
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.

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.

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.”
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?

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.

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.”
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.)

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.


  1. "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!"

    OK, so here you tell us that Clinton's veto would have been futile, and he possibly could have lost the White House.

    But of course, there is nothing at all "opportunistic" about that political calculus. And why?

    "The political groundwork hadn’t been laid"

    And whose fault was that? Why, of course! "Childish, lazy and dumb" liberals!

    Has nothing to do with the right wing milking this for as long as they could as a very effective wedge issue to drive their fundamentalist, Christian base to the polls, does it?

    1. There's a difference between "opportunistic" and "suicidal," or better yet, "stupid."

      I'm beginning to think, given the quality of the comments, that this blog would be better with comments turned off.

    2. til,

      The comments aren't fantastic, but they're not "lizard-brain" drivel either. The comments on this blog (aside from the predictable David in Cal) are what most writers would consider valuable feedback. If this blog is just going to be a rant in the wilderness, then sure, turn off the comments. If this blog is going to be an effort to have an impact on political media, then the comments should be given strong consideration.

      I don't mean to say that TDH needs to seek approval and applause from its audience...but it's not just tribal heckling that this blog encounters.

      Did Clinton throw some Democratic Party values and voters under the bus to get elected? Most people would agree that he did. The welfare program reforms he signed into law would be a clear example of that. Could Clinton have been elected twice without "moving to the center?" Probably not. Saying that he was "opportunistic" is hardly defamatory, but rather a reasonable description of his attitude towards politics--an attitude which has been, on the whole, pretty successful.

      The whole criticism about pseudo-liberals refusing " to fight until we can do so in packs" isn't very convincing to readers in the context of the political realities of a two-party system--which is something that TDH has noted. So why would TDH conclude: "It’s very hard to have much respect for horrible people like us."

    3. A lot of the comments here are nothing more than bashing. We could say that bashing is "valuable feedback," but much of it is so relentlessly stupid that it's, well, relentlessly stupid. Somerby does paint with a needlessly broad brush at times, but he at least consistently has useful things to say, unlike many of his bashers.

    4. Then, instead of asking that the comments be turned off, don't read them. It's not that hard to do. In fact, you have to click on them to access them. If "relentlessly stupid" bothers you that much, then discipline yourself not to make that double-click of the mouse.

      But it doesn't really bother me all that much even to read the relentlessly stupid David, who doesn't even bother to read the links before he posts them which quite often refute the very point he is struggling to make.

      You see, unlike you and your hero, I don't think people lack the ability to think for themselves and are not that much swayed by the relentlessly stupid. They will used their gray matter and sort through it.

      Which is what the First Amendment is all about. It's not about the right to speak only intelligent, well-reasoned ideas. It's also there to protect the ideas that some might find relentessly stupid.

      And who knows? Those with functioning brains might dismiss an idea as relentlessly stupid today because it doesn't match up very well with their world view, but upon reflection, they might find at least some truth and wisdom in it tomorrow.

    5. It pleases me to know that I share reading this blog, with someone loaded with grey matter like yourself, someone who chooses to read, and then complain about, this blog, but then delivers stern lectures to people who choose to read, then complain about, the comments.

    6. til - ftw. haha.

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  7. I am always grateful to Bob Somerby for his ability to present history as it actually was rather than as some people would like to remember it. That goes double in this situation where a number of gay friends in Washington have decided that Bill Clinton was an enemy of the gay community and, in the words of one friend of mine, "condemned us to suffer for 17 years" by signing DOMA. How things go in our nation's crapital are never simple but the fact most assuredly is that President Clinton did the best he damn well could in the circumstances. Fortunately, circumstances change and President Obama has benefited from being able to change his position and not be called opportunistic.

  8. Clinton didn't just sign DOMA (and yes, he should have vetoed it). He campaigned on it. He ran ads on Christian radio stations (i.e., directed at social conservative voters) trumpeting that he defended marriage.

    I don't see why anyone in the LGBT community is required to lionize Clinton's alleged commitment to gay rights. Running on how he saved Western Civilization from Teh Gays is as homophobic as it gets.

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