June 05, 2007
Was the fix in for Hillary?
Posted by: Chris
It's fascinating to see how Hillary Clinton's candidacy has the ability to polarize, not just among the left and right of American politics, but within constituencies. Consider the split-screen, almost schizophrenic reaction to the release this weekend by the Human Rights Campaign of its "report card" on the Democratic presidential candidates.
Ben Smith, blogging at The Politico, saw a Hillary headline in the HRC release:
The news … seems to be that Hillary is repudiating her long (if tepidly) held support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband signed, and which drew her criticism in New York.
Smith quotes Clinton spokesman Phil Singer confirming, however, that Hillary still supports the one-half of the Defense of Marriage Act that allows states to refuse gay marriages from other states. That drew scorn from the gay left, where bloggers like Pam Spaulding questioned "sHillary's" position as half-hearted:
It was obviously not ok for states to prevent people of different races from marrying back in the day (that was overturned by Loving v. Virginia in 1967), but Hillary Clinton is saying that it is ok for a state to apply that discriminatory thinking when the couple is gay or lesbian in 2007. That renders CUs legally unequal when you cross state lines.
In similar fashion, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan suspects HRC may have "rigged" the report card for "the other HRC" — Hillary Rodham Clinton — by masking her continued support for half of DOMA. Gay Republican blogger Boi From Troy sees it the same way:
I had grown some respect for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton yesterday when I read that in a survey for the Human Rights Campaign, she had repudiated her support for the Defense of Marriage Act and was now opposed. It would take a pair to disagree with a policy signed into law by your husband!
But it looks like defending her own marriage is more important that standing up for the equal rights of all Americans to marry, as the New York Senator is backtracking, telling The Politico that in her own responses to HRC, “she distances herself from a central plank of DOMA — its bar on the federal recognition of same-sex marriages — but not from the portion which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.”
What makes all this fascinating is that Hillary's position on marriage and DOMA is exactly the same as four of the other six candidates who responded to HRC. Only Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich favor full repeal of DOMA.
Despite all this flak from the Net roots about Hillary selling gays short on marriage, the headline in the MSM is that she's practically backing full marriage equality! Patrick Healy asks today on the New York Times blog "The Caucus": "Is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton preparing to endorse gay marriage?":
Her advisers say no – she supports civil unions only – and gay rights advocates who work with Mrs. Clinton say she has not promised them anything. Yet these advocates also say that Mrs. Clinton is inching, in her famously incremental way, toward a policy position that might at least open the door to gay marriage.
So did HRC rig things for Hillary, or is she truly out front on marriage, inching her way to a full-fledged endorsement? Well, the way the HRC questionnaire frames the issues does mask some important differences in ways that benefit Hillary the most.
Obama gets no credit for being the only candidate (besides Kucinich) who opposed DOMA since it was first proposed a decade ago. As noted, he’s also the only one (besides Kucinich) who now favors its full repeal.
On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hillary is rated the same as the rest for favoring repeal, even though as recently as this week’s New Hampshire candidate debate she still defended her husband’s support for the 1996 “compromise” on gays in the military as “an important first step.”
HRC shows Clinton and Obama as supporting gay immigration rights even though both hedged in their questionnaire answers, saying UAFA should be toughened to address fraud concerns. HRC didn’t even ask the candidates where they stood on ending the ban on immigration by people with HIV.
The report card doesn’t try to tally leadership, of course, and the biggest deficiency of Democrats at the federal level has been their inability to translate pro-gay rhetoric into law.
Of the seven candidates, only Bill Richardson of New Mexico has shown leadership in actually enacting gay rights, having managed workplace protections, a hate crime law and employee D.P. benefits in his first term as governor of a “red state.” He even called his legislature into special session this year to try for statewide domestic partnership, although the measure failed.
You wouldn’t know any of that from reading the HRC report card, which added up check marks in a way that makes all seven Democrats look equally good on gay and HIV issues, a blurring of the lines that did benefit Hillary the most.
My own guess is that HRC set things up not only to favor “the other HRC” but Democrats generally, since the party’s most likely nominees are not as strong on gay rights as those in the second and third tier, especially Richardson, Kucinich and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.
It’s still a huge achievement for HRC to have all these candidates on record backing full federal recognition for gay couples. The race for president often redefines a party’s positions on issues generally, and the HRC questionnaire has raised the “floor” of what we can expect from Democrats — and any politician who claims to be “gay friendly.”
For a comprehensive look at gay immigration rights, click here for the Gay News Watch summary.
For a comprehensive look at gay issues in the U.S. presidential race, click here for the Gay News Watch summary.
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