As you’ve already heard, Hillary Clinton got in a bit of a spat with an NPR (!) host this week regarding her shifting opinion on gay marriage and the authenticity of her stated positions. I say you’ve already heard because Noah dug into the subject previously, but he arrived at a somewhat different conclusion than I did, particularly given the woman’s history. (I’ll come back to Noah’s piece in a bit.)
One of the more common refrains coming from the hard core, Hillary loving left – as well as some less expected sources – is not an argument that her shifting values are completely understandable and completely valid as you might expect. The more common answer I’m seeing is, to borrow a phrase from the subject herself, what difference, at this point, does it make?
This is the case being put forth this week by Doug Mataconis – no fan of Hillary himself – in his article, It Doesn’t Matter When, or Why, Hillary Clinton Changed Her Mind on Marriage Equality. That lede should nicely explain why I chose the title for this essay. It has a few components to it, one of which is the choice of how to describe the issue. These days, you’re apparently not supposed to say “gay marriage” in polite conversation. Doing so immediately brands you as some sort of mouth breathing troglodyte who just wants to keep down Teh Ghays. I guess you’re not supposed to even say “same sex marriage” either. Now it’s only acceptable to say Marriage Equality.
But that’s not the point at issue here today. We’re exploring motives and calculations. So why, in Doug’s opinion, doesn’t it matter? Two reasons, it seems. The first is fairly short and simple.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that support for marriage equality is a required position for any Democratic politician at any level. On some level, then, it’s fair to wonder whether a politician like Clinton who now says they support marriage equality is doing so because they actually believe in it in some abstract philosophical sense, or because they need to take that position to be politically viable. This would seem to be especially true given the fact that just six years ago politicians such as Clinton, Obama, and Biden were all saying that while they supported civil unions and equal rights for gay couples, they believed that marriage was an institution that should be limited to one man and one woman.
Oh, I’ll grant that completely. It’s entirely toxic to be a Democrat and not support gay marriage. But not only does this not address the question of whether it “matters” or not, it essentially gives up the high ground immediately. That’s just using a lot more words to say, hey. She’s a politician. They’ll all blow sunshine up your skirt if it gets them another vote.
But there’s more, and this second part requires a bit longer quote to gather the flavor of it.
On some level ,though, I think the question of when or why a politician, or any person for that matter, changed their mind on same-sex marriage is really quite irrelevant. This is an issue on which we have seen public opinion change dramatically over the course of a very short period of time. Less than twenty years ago, when a court case in Hawaii set this issue in motion and led, at first, to the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, public opinion polls showed that the vast majority of the American people opposed the idea of extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians. In 1996, for example, a Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and only 27% supported it. Now, we are at the point where same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, an area occupied by more than 50% of the American population and polling shows that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. When the public debate on this issue began, it seemed inconceivable that we would be at such a point in such a short period of time and, now, the day when gays and lesbians will be able to live together as married couples is not only in sight, but is likely far closer than people thought it would be just a few years ago.
None of that would have happened if people had not changed their mind on the issue of marriage equality. At some point, nearly everyone who now supports marriage equality was opposed to it in some sense or the other. Do we demonize them for being wrong in the past, or do we congratulate them for coming around to accepting the idea of equality now?
This argument just doesn’t hold any water when I read it. Yes, there has been a shift in American public opinion over time, but it’s been over a very measurable period of time. Not a vast span in geologic terms, of course, but the period between the study Doug cites and today is nearly twenty years. That’s pretty much an entire generation in both biblical and scientific terms. And that’s what we’re talking about here… a generational change. With Hillary we’re talking about six years at most, and coincidentally enough (I’m sure), it’s the six years since the last presidential election. That’s a little too convenient of a coincidence for me, thank you very much.
And that convenient bit of timing brings us back to both the original question of whether or not this matters and the conclusion which Noah reached in his article. In the latter piece, Noah concludes that some liberals may have just cause to wonder whether or not Hillary has actually come around to supporting gay marriage or if she’s secretly still opposed to it.
Clinton’s current position on gay marriage, while right-thinking, was simply not adopted fast enough, and her enthusiasm in support of the cause is very much in doubt. While fringe progressives have been freely critical of Clinton for some time, this issue may provide moderate Democrats with a vehicle for airing their concerns about the likely Democratic standard-bearer.
I disagree. I don’t think this is an issue of Hillary Clinton secretly harboring some deep affection for traditional, one man one woman marriage but claiming a more progressive banner for political purposes. I find it far more likely that she’s either always been a fan of gay marriage and was lying about it in 2008, or – far more likely – that she really doesn’t give a good fig about it either way but is willing to say whatever the current national poll numbers tell her is the popular answer.
Does that matter? Well… that depends. Do you want to support a candidate who actually has no values but will tell you what you want to hear as long as it gets her into office? If not, then no. I suppose it doesn’t matter. But if you think our elected leaders ought to have both the character and the spine to open the books and display the courage of their true convictions it might say one heck of a lot.
In closing, particularly for those of you who wandered in here following a link, you probably think you’re reading yet another article from some Right Wing Nutjob who reflexively opposes gay marriage. The truth is that you might be surprised. One of these days I should really do a lengthy post covering my own views on the subject (which would no doubt bring a host of cat calls from the readers as well) and how I arrived at them, but to do it here would turn this piece into a novel. And that’s not the point of this discussion today. The question is whether or not Hillary Clinton is authentic on this subject or others, and the way I read the cards on the table, this one doesn’t pass the smell test.