I caught the political bug while in college in 1992, seduced by the charming optimism of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. At the time, I was interning as a radio news reporter at KQED in San Francisco. One of my assignments was to cover a Clinton visit. Although I was still a political neophyte, there was something special about this candidate. With a central theme of "change" he inspired and instilled hope - while making the future seem limitless.
Beyond his political gifts, Clinton substantively appealed to me because he was in favor of gay and lesbian equality. I had come out four years earlier and a pervasive silence on GLBT issues had been the norm for political discourse. By and large, "gay" was something to be whispered in the cloakroom - not an issue thoughtfully discussed by the most powerful political figures in the land.
Bill Clinton changed this.
On May 11, 1992, the presidential candidate made an unprecedented appearance at a gay fundraiser at the Palace Theater in Hollywood. Organized by GLBT advocate David Mixner, $100,000 was raised for the Clinton campaign. The candidate gave an historic speech that led the audience to break out in spontaneous applause on several occasions.
"Tonight I want to talk to you about how we can be one people again, without regard to race or gender or sexual orientation or age or region or income," Clinton told the appreciative crowd. "Those of you who are here tonight represent a community of our nation's gifted people whom we have been willing to squander. We cannot afford to waste the capacity, the contributions, the heart, the soul and the mind of gay and lesbian Americans...What I came here to tell you in simple terms, is, I have a vision and you're a part of it."
Today's young people (and many older voters) forget Clinton's mesmerizing and momentous outreach to the GLBT community. He offered groundbreaking opportunities and an unsurpassed vision of hope. Clinton's call for unity sparked the imagination and inspired a new generation who wanted a break from the old ways. Indeed, it becomes crystal clear when one reads Clinton's old speeches that he was the Barack Obama of 1992 - the change agent who would transform Washington.
So, what happened?
From the moment the Clintons set foot in the White House, they endured unrelenting attacks by the right, who saw the family as illegitimate usurpers of ascendant conservative power.
The far right - mostly Republicans, but some Democrats, such as Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) - kneecapped Clinton's efforts to allow gays to serve openly in the military. Of course, Clinton deserves blame for cravenly capitulating and allowing the disastrous, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to become law. But, let's not forget that it was a concerted effort by the right wing to humiliate Clinton that resulted in this fiasco.
Led by the Clinton-hating tycoon Richard Mellon Scaife and Rev. Jerry Falwell, the barrage of phony "scandals" and outrageous allegations continued unabated. Matters got worse when the irrepressible Newt Gingrich became House Speaker in 1994. The Clinton obsession reached a head, so to speak, during the Monica Lewinsky drama. In what amounted to an attempted coup d'etat, the right wing tried to impeach Clinton for private sexual relations.
The truth is, the conservative movement is as pugnacious as it is repugnant. It is arrogance with a self-centered sense of entitlement - with its unpatriotic actions wrapped in the flag and justified in the name of God.
As imperfect - and at times disappointing - as the Clintons may have been, for many years, they were all that stood in the way of the conservative movement's complete domination and takeover of America.
Unfortunately, for their successful efforts at partially derailing the conservative juggernaut, the Clintons are being blamed for sullying the tone in Washington. This twisted line of reasoning reminds me of the kid who finally retaliates against his bullying tormentors, only to be sent to the school's office and reprimanded for fighting. The historical revisionism on the Clinton era must stop because it does not conform to reality. They did not pick the fights, they just retaliated -- and often won. If Obama is elected president and faces the same frontal assault as Bill and Hillary, he will suffer the precise partisan fate. We can only hope that he has the killer instinct and resourcefulness to effectively fight back.
There are many reasons to vote for Obama - he is smart, inspiring, and an historic figure that would likely make a terrific president. But, changing the tone in Washington is not a reason to cast your vote on his behalf. The conservatives are still there -- though largely discredited -- serving their selfish movement rather than America. We ought to reward candidates who stand up to their evil agenda, rather than peg them as divisive and part of the problem.
While this may make great campaign rhetoric, Bill Clinton's presidency is a cautionary tale. Nothing in Washington is going to "change" until the modern conservative movement is transformed or vanquished.
Here is an experiment that I came up with: Clear your mind for a minute, and then, ignorning EVERYTHING negative that has been SAID about her, please tell me precisely what Hillary has ever done to deserve the horrible reputation that the republican scumbags have tried to saddle her with?
posted by Chris L., at
1/30/2008 12:54 PM
The Clintons are not true liberals. Ever hear of the DLC. Well as the joke motto for them is if youcan't beat the Republicans might as well join them. Also clear your mind about Hillary and tell, what she ever did successfully during the Clinton years. I'll give you a clue and it wasn't Health Care
posted by OTM, at
1/30/2008 2:29 PM
Chris L -
Most of my conservative friends foam at the mouth when speaking about Hillary.
I've posed the same question to them, often.
It always amazes that they can never really answer the question.
But without fail they always revert to the repug mantra which demonizes and vilifies her.
But this ain't Hillary's first time at the rodeo - after what she's been through as 1st Lady - she's ready for the repug slime machine!
Now this is when "bring it on" seems much more appropriate.
posted by Paul in Atlanta, at
1/30/2008 8:42 PM
I started to respond to OTM about Hilary and Health care but he or she is a moron - why do people like you bother to post on these types of forums? There are all kinds of other places to hate the Clintons. Frankly, they weren't my favorite folks but even as I was undergoing withdrawal from my conservative upbringing and my mind was still cloudy, EVEN I could see the relentless ridiculous attacks on the Clintons were 90% unwarranted. Get a life OTM.
posted by Jaroslaw from Michigan, at
1/30/2008 8:51 PM
Great column. I'm so tired of the right and left blaming the Clintons for the crap that was thrown at them non-stop since Bill took office. They had the gall to keep Bush 1 from a second term and for that they had to be punished by the newly ascendant right wing smear machine. The right will do the same to any Democrat in power, they take compromise as a sign of weakness. Look at the Repub minority in Congress now and how they've done nothing but obstruct. They only respect power, and if Obama holds his hand out to them they'll snap it off and shove it so far up his * he won't know what hit him. As for the "not true liberals" rant: give me a moderate Dem who can get elected over a true lib Kucinich any day.
posted by jtool, at
1/30/2008 10:40 PM
Who are we supposed to blame for the campaign calls that Bill Clinton made while running for his second term where he bragged about his support for DOMA?
Who are we supposed to blame for Bill Clinton's advice to John Kerry to support the various anti-gay marriage amendments in 2004, including the one in Kerry's home state?
I was a big supporter of Clinton and still appreciate a lot of the things he did but I refuse to act as if he was or is a saint and I refuse to excuse every anti-gay thing he did on him being the victim of homophobic Republicans.
I'll vote for Hillary if she is the nominee but I don't hold out a lot of hope for another Clinton administration as far as gay rights goes.
I also think if she is matched against McCain we risk eight more years of hell and a right-wing Supreme Court for the rest of our lives. Many of the things said about her, and thought about her, may be bogus but the fact of the matter is huge numbers of voters HATE her even if they don't know why.
posted by Anonymous, at
1/30/2008 11:09 PM
They hate her because she is a woman who "doesn't know her place". They think that women should be at home in the kitchen while men do the "real work". That is how those kinds of people think, and I would be ecstatic if they would all disappear, but reality is reality, and we have to help the country move beyond them.
posted by Chris L., at
1/31/2008 9:14 AM
What is also disturbing is that the right wingers are trying to discredit Bill Clinton's legacy even more by saying that when he left office, he left us with a surplus that was attributable to the republicans, not his own fiscal responsiblity. Sounds like the GOP is a party of desperation to invent something like that.
I'm still dumbfounded as to why there are Gay republicans who actually believe that they can change their party from within, a party that doesn't want them, care about them or their rights. Why do they keep on supporting these people?
posted by Robert, NYC., at
1/31/2008 11:10 AM
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