John Aravosis has gotten straight to the source, and has gotten conflicting stories between the Kerry-Edwards campaign, and the spokeperson for Bill Clinton.
The Kerry Edwards 2004 campaign says Bill Clinton tried to throw gays under the bus. Bill Clinton's office says it's not true. Who do we believe? And what does this mean for Hillary Clinton's presidential run?
As Pam Spaulding noted last week, Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum claims in his new book that during the 2004 elections, Bill Clinton advised John Kerry to support the Federal Marriage Amendment, i.e., the anti-gay amendment to the US Constitution that would have banned gay marriage and vitiated scores of other rights that gay couples may have, including health insurance, inheritance, child custody, parenting, and more. Shrum reports that Kerry refused to endorse the amendment.
I decided to check with Bill Clinton's office and the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign to find out if this is true. Here is what I found.
Jay Carson, spokesman for President Clinton told me:
"I checked and it's completely untrue. He never advised John Kerry to support the gay marriage ban President Bush was pushing."
A senior Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign staffer told me:
"It's definitely true. Newsweek had reported that Clinton had said Kerry should support some of the state [anti-gay] ballot initiatives. Clinton believed it would be this grand master stroke to neutralize Bush's base."
I went back to both President Clinton's office and the Kerry-Edwards campaign official, asking them to reconcile the apparent discrepancy. Clinton's spokesman stands by his denial - to the best of his knowledge, it didn't happen. The senior Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign staffer also stands by their statement that it did happen, noting that Clinton's denial was "typical Clintonian revisionism."
(As an aside, I also went back to Clinton's spokesman to make sure that he wasn't parsing his words - i.e., Clinton never advised Kerry to support the anti-gay amendment that Bush was pushing, but did he advise him to push any other version of the federal amendment? Clinton's spokesman assured me that there was no intent to parse, Clinton never advised Kerry to support any version of the federal constitutional amendment.)
I think the question to ask is whether the Newsweek story was accurate - that Clinton had suggested Kerry publicly support state anti-gay ballot initiatives in the southern states. For most people, there's not too much difference between supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, and supporting the state anti-gay ballot initiatives.
The final proof that legislative gay-bashing is still something President Clinton recommends as smart Democratic politics? Bill Clinton wanted to make sure that John Kerry's presidential defeat in 2004 would be blamed on Kerry's unwillingness to sufficiently bash the gays. That's the most sensible explanation for why he made the following leak to Newsweek within days of Kerry's loss (Kerry-Edwards campaign staff tell me that they were not the ones who leaked this to Newsweek, and Clinton and his people were the only other party involved).
President Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act when he was in the White House, advised Kerry in a phone call early in the campaign to find a way to support the state bans. Kerry never considered abandoning his principles to that extent, but he also didn’t take seriously enough the threat.
So now the gays lost Kerry the election. Priceless.
It gives me no joy to bash Bill Clinton. I cannot express sufficiently how much I admire the man's intellect and his political acumen. We had lunch with him last fall, and my first thought was "this is what a real president is like." He possesses so many of the qualities that our party and our politicians lack nowadays. But the man is politically amoral. Not immoral - amoral. And he, along with his amoral campaign aide Mark Penn, are the top advisers to Hillary Clinton's presidential run. And that should give every supporter of gay rights, civil rights, or any other issue, serious pause.
There's already a growing concern in the gay community that Senator Clinton, while "good on paper" on gay issues - and once considered remarkably good personally - will throw us under the bus if and when she becomes president. And let's be clear. We're not talking about some arcane tax policy issue. We're talking about our lives. Having the Democratic party's top two legislative gay-bashers as her top two advisers, men who will betray any cause, any principle, any supporter, for a bump in the polls (read more about Mark Penn's own loyalty problems here and here), does nothing to assuage those growing concerns.
PS And if I'm wrong, if Bob Shrum is wrong, if the senior Kerry-Edwards campaign official is wrong, if history is wrong, then let Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton publicly repudiate DOMA in its entirety.
Go read the whole thing.
The one thing in Clinton's favor over the Kerry-Edwards staffer, is the Clinton spokesperson went on record, and the high level Kerry Edwards staffer would not go on the record on this. In those cases, it's nice to get a second source from the Kerry Edwards staff.