Just days after General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, drew criticism for saying that homosexuality was immoral, Democratic presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are being lambasted by gay rights groups for adhering to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of their own, with both refusing to take a definitive stance on the ethics of homosexuality.
On Wednesday, ABC News asked Clinton whether she agreed with Pace’s remark. Refusing to answer directly, Clinton said instead that “I’m going to leave that for others to conclude.” Obama’s initial response was also ambiguous, as he told Newsday on Wednesday that the Joints Chief of Staff has traditionally only commented on military matters and that this was probably a “good tradition to follow.”
Obama’s spokesman later told the press that the senator disagrees with Pace’s comments and does not think that homosexuality is immoral.
Both Clinton and Obama’s statements have elicited outrage from gay rights groups and others who are calling the senators flip-floppers. But most of the anger is directed at Clinton, who gave a keynote speech last Friday to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s foremost gay rights advocacy group.
Though Clinton told the HRC that she was proud to stand by their side and that she hoped to have a strong partnership with them if she was elected president, her refusal to take a strong position on homosexuality has many people wondering whether Clinton and other Democrats, who have pledged support to the gay community, can be counted on as advocates for their cause.
“Although Clinton has met with gay groups twice this month (GMHC and HRC) and promised the HRC crowd a ‘partnership,’ she refuses to say whether or not she believes homosexuality is immoral,” said Andy on Towleroad. “In evading the question, is Clinton simply making a pathetic political dodge to avoid conflict with potential conservative supporters that do believe it is immoral? Or does it speak more (and I sincerely hope it doesn’t) about her underlying beliefs?”
Though Clinton’s husband instituted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — a law that forbids openly gay people from serving in the military — Clinton herself has never publicly discussed her views on homosexuality, only stating that she disagrees with the Pentagon’s policy.
Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones argued that Clinton’s unwillingness to take a moral stance on homosexuality is more a political maneuver than a sign of her personal views. “It was either the biggest brain fart of the campaign season to date, or a really, really ugly attempt to tack to the center — what’s a little bigotry in the name of campaign season moderation?” said Stein. “I’ve always agreed with the sentiment that Clinton is running for the general election, not the primary — everything she says and does is geared towards making her palatable to the country as a whole. But nonetheless, this is insane.”
Kevin D. Korenthal of SoCalPundit says that Hilary’s latest political maneuver will not help her presidential candidacy. “Hillary’s major weakness always has been and always will be her inability to act on her true political beliefs,” wrote Korenthal. “You see, Hillary Clinton is a devout Leftist ideologue. Since such beliefs are unlikely [to] earn her the presidency, Hillary must parse most of the major positions she takes against how Americans will perceive her.”
Many politicians typically avoid taking definitive positions on controversial issues, fearing that they will alienate potential voters. But some bloggers believe that the America electorate would prefer a president that is more honest and forthright. Keith Boykin, for one, says politicians need to quit the doubletalk and become more straightforward.
Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.
“I believe the American people are more progressive than the politicians give them credit, but people need leadership, direction and education by their public officials,” said Boykin. “Even when the public doesn’t agree with the Democratic viewpoint, it still makes senses to articulate and explain the viewpoint. That’s the way to help educate and move people who are on the fence. The public respects strong leadership, even when they disagree with the viewpoints expressed. That’s why Ronald Reagan was so well liked even though most Americans disagreed with some of his policies. If the Democrats stand up for what they believe, explain it to the public, and defend it without apology, they will win the election. But if they try to dodge their way around the delicate issues, they do a disservice not only to the affected constituencies but also to their party and their country.”