The fact that many on the left are now embracing GOP talking points in order to attack Hillary and Bill Clinton is troubling. To wit: A new story in Salon about Bill Clinton’s “odious” presidency, which echoes a lot of what I’m hearing from a number of supporters of Bernie Sanders of late.
Don’t be mistaken, Sanders didn’t start this. Over the past several years, there’s been a growing movement by some on the left — who have become more vocal and more powerful of late — to eat our own. They regularly question the loyalty of progressive colleagues who’s political purity was proven decades ago.
They way these folks win an argument isn’t by proving you wrong, rather they prove you bad and evil. They don’t question your ideas, they question your integrity. And if the facts don’t back them up, they rewrite history.
Which takes us back to this notion that the 1990s were a terrible time, and that Bill Clinton’s presidency was just awful.*
I came out in 1991, and started working as a fellow for Senator Kennedy, on gay rights issues, in early 1993. I worked on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, ENDA, HIV/AIDS and more. And on gay rights and HIV, Bill Clinton was a god-send. No, he wasn’t perfect — he gave us DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I was supremely ticked about both. (Though it’s important to remember that we got DADT because Clinton tried to repeal the policy altogether — something unheard of before he got to office — and did so inartfully.) But President Clinton also gave us openly gay and openly HIV+ senior administration officials, and an openly HIV+ speaker during prime time at the Democratic convention. Keep in mind, we’re talking 1992 and 1993, nearly 25 years ago. These pro-gay moves were unheard of at the presidential level.
Bill Clinton appointed openly-lesbian Roberta Achtenberg(Jesse Helm’s “damn lesbian”) to HHS, even though the GOP opposition was fierce. He appointed the first openly-gay US ambassador, Jim Hormel. He also finally protected gay federal employees. Up until Bill Clinton came around, for example, you couldn’t be openly gay at the State Department. That rule was why I turned down a commission in the US Foreign Service in 1989. I passed both versions of the Foreign Service exam and was offered a position, and I said no because I’m gay. So, just on gay rights and AIDS, what Bill Clinton did was beyond historic.
Here’s a list of some of the gay and HIV accomplishments — again keep in mind, this was over 20 years ago, following the Reagan and Bush presidencies, when being gay was not acceptable:
- 1997, Clinton endorsed adding sexual orientation to the Hate Crimes bill.
- Appointed first-ever openly-gay US ambassador.
- Had an openly-gay person with AIDS speak during prime time at the Democratic Convention in 1992. This was a multiple “first.”
- Tried to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
- Ended discrimination against gays in the federal workforce.
- Ended discrimination against gays in getting security clearances to work for the feds.
- Endorsed ENDA.
- Blocked Republican efforts to pass legislation prohibiting unmarried couples from jointly adopting children in the District of Columbia, and legislation which would have denied certain federal funds to localities with domestic partnership laws.
- Issued first-ever presidential gay Pride Month proclamation.
- Dramatically increased funding for HIV/AIDS.
- Worked to stop discrimination against people with AIDS.
- Opposed anti-gay ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.
- Fought discrimination against people with AIDS in the military.
- Directed the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to vigorously prosecute those who discriminate against people with AIDS, leading to actions against health care providers and facilities that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- First administration to help asylum-seekers based on sexual orientation.
- First president to grant asylum for gays and lesbians facing persecution in other countries.
- Fought harassment of students based on sexual orientation.
- Fought for and signed the Kennedy-Kassebaum Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which bans insurance discrimination against people with pre-existing medical conditions including HIV/AIDS. In addition, President Clinton issued a directive that ensures that all providers of Federal health insurance abide by non-discrimination rules including sexual orientation.
- Under President Clinton’s leadership, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention commissioned scientific panels to study lesbian health issues and to suggest research methods for scientists who want to study specific lesbian health issues. This is the first time a U.S. Government agency has commissioned an examination into this subject.
- Appointed more than 150 openly-gay appointees to his administration. Again, this simply wasn’t done before Clinton’s presidency.
- Appointed first-ever White House gay liaison.
- Appointed the first-ever White House AIDS Czar.
- Convened the first-ever White House conference on HIV/AIDS.
- First president to speak before a gay organization.
And on HIV/AIDS, the list is just as long. You can read it here.
I can appreciate that some people like Bernie more than Hillary. And that’s fine. But rewriting history, and eating our own, is wrong. Such an approach does a disservice to the truth; which as usual, is far grayer than some advocates would like you to know.
Disagree with Hillary on trade or the Wall Street bailout if you will. (Though personally, I believe we’d have gone into a depression without the bailout.) But let’s stop pretending Bernie is a saint and Hillary the devil. They’re both politicians. They both have a spotty record, depending on the issue. Both will have a difficult time getting things done with a GOP congress. And both are better than Trump.
* Attacking a woman because you don’t like the job her husband did 20 years ago is also a right-wing talking point. And a little bit sexist, too :)
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