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Bill Clinton Heckled at Netroots Nation; Answers on DADT, DOMA

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Blogger/activist Lane Hudson stood up and interrupted Bill Clinton's keynote last night at the Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh, asking, "Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Right now?"

Clinton responded to Hudson that he ought to go to one of the health care town halls. "You'd do really well there." But Hudson did get the answer he wanted, and more on DOMA.

Answered Clinton, when interrupted again: "You wanna talk about ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, I’ll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn’t deliver me any support in the Congress and they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military and the media supported them. They raised all kinds of devilment. And all most of you did was to attack me instead of getting some support in the congress. Now, that’s the truth."

Clinton went on to explain why he signed DOMA: "We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the Levin referendum much later in 2004, in the election, which the Republicans put on the ballot, to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican congress presenting that."

Clinton's entire answer and transcript, AFTER THE JUMP...

Hudson discusses why he stood up and interrupted Clinton on the Huffington Post. "...it became clear there would be no questions. As I sat in the audience thinking about how Netroots Nation is about celebrating the most open forum of discussion ever to exist, it occurred to me that we were nothing more than a captive audience being talked to. One way communication was NOT what we were there to celebrate and advance."

Netroots2

Transcript (via Andrés Duque at Blabbeando)

HUDSON: Mr. President, will you call for a repeal of DOMA and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” right now? Please...

CLINTON: Hey, you know, you ought to go to one of those congressional health care meetings. You did really well there. I’ll be glad to talk about that. If you will… If you will sit down and let me talk, I’ll be glad to discuss it. But if you stand up and scream I won’t be able to talk. But the other guys would love to have ya. I wanna talk a little about that too.

But anyway, so, here we are in a different world. Now, it’s not like the 1990’s. You wanna talk about ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, I’ll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn’t deliver me any support in the Congress and they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military and the media supported them. They raised all kinds of devilment. And all most of you did was to attack me instead of getting some support in the congress. Now, that’s the truth.

Secondly – it’s true! – You know, you may have noticed that presidents aren’t dictators. They voted - they were about to vote for the old policy – by margins exceeding 80% in the House and exceeding 70% in the Senate. The gave test votes out there to send me a message that they were going to reverse any attempt I made by executive order to force them to accept gays into the military. And let me remind you that the public opinion is now more strongly in our favor than it was sixteen years ago and I have continued supporting it. That John Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under me, was against “Don’t A..” – was against letting gays serve – is now in favor of it. This is a different world. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

Let me also say something that never got sufficient publicity at the time. When General Colin Powell came up with this ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ it was defined while he was Chairman much differently than it was implemented. He said that, if you will accept this, here is what we’ll do. We will not pursue anyone, any military members out of uniform will be free to march in gay rights parades, go to gay bars, go to political meetings, whatever mailings they get, whatever they do in their private lives, none of this will be a basis for dismissal. It all turned out to be a fraud because of the enormous reaction against it among the middle level officers and down after it was promulgated and Colin was gone. So nobody regrets how this was implemented even more… anymore than I do. But the congress also put that into law by a veto-proof majority and many of your friends voted for that, believing the explanation about how it would be eliminated. So, I hated what happened. I regret it. But I didn’t have, I didn’t think at the time, any choice if I wanted any progress to be made at all. Look, I think it’s ridiculous. Can you believe they spent – what did they spend? - 150,000 dollars to get rid of a valuable Arabic speaker recently?

And, you know, the thing that changed me forever on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was when I learned that 130 gay service people were allowed to serve and risk their lives in the 1st Gulf War and all their commanders knew they were gay, they let them go and risk their lives ‘cause they needed them, and then as soon as the 1st Gulf War was over, they kicked them out. That’s all I needed to know, that’s all anybody needs to know, to know that this policy should be changed.

Now, while we’re at it, let me say one thing about DOMA, since you… The reason I signed DOMA was, and I said when I signed it, that I thought the question of whether gays should marry should be left out to states and the religious organizations, and if any church or other religious body wanted to recognize gay marriage they ought to. We were attempting at the time, in a very reactionary congress, to head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states. And if you look at the Levin referendum much later in 2004, in the election, which the Republicans put on the ballot, to try to get the base vote for President Bush up, I think it’s obvious that something had to be done to try to keep the Republican congress presenting that. The President doesn’t even get to veto that. It’s the Congress can refer constitutional amendments to the states. I didn’t like signing DOMA, and I certainly didn’t like the constraints it would put on benefits, and I’ve done everything I’ve could, and I am proud to say that the State Department was the first federal department to restore benefits to gay partners in the Obama administration, and I think we are going forward in the right direction now for federal employees, and I don’t like that eith… I don’t like the DOMA.

But actually all these things illustrate the point I was trying to make. America has rapidly moved to a different place to a lot of these issues and so what we have to decide is what we are going to do about it.

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Comments

  1. It would help to avoid shouting incidents if speakers would announce they will take questions after speaking.

    Posted by: J. J. | Aug 14, 2009 7:34:08 AM


  2. Go, Bubba! Defend thyself!

    Posted by: James | Aug 14, 2009 7:47:38 AM


  3. Now these answers sound real. No press secretary, no politics, just a real raw answer and I believe him. The president can't just say well eff all of you, I'm doing what i want. Very often, he is at the mercy of Congress to pass the laws and compromise if there is a more extreme law that is to be passed.

    Posted by: Aiden Raccoon | Aug 14, 2009 8:18:58 AM


  4. His explanations make perfect sense, and I do recall when DADT was first implemented reading that it would end witch hunts and discharges based solely on a service member's sexual orientation.

    I also agree that the LGBT community needs to press their congressional representatives for support on our issues. It's been a couple decades since we had any substantial national cohesion. Admittedly, HIV/AIDS brought with it a greater sense of urgency than, say, marriage equality or other civil rights.

    Posted by: sparks | Aug 14, 2009 8:26:22 AM


  5. I'm not sure "heckled" is the correct headline. Clinton's response is the most complete & likely honest answer we've gotten on both of these bad laws... ever?

    Posted by: stephen | Aug 14, 2009 8:34:40 AM


  6. As someone who was around then, Bill is telling it exactly as I remember it. I never understood the vilification of him, and (by extension) Hillary over this. Their intent was there, but they need Congress to pass legislation. If Obama loses the democratic majority in Congress in the midterms, he will lose the ability to effect health insurance reform, as well as all these gay issues. Both DADT and DOMA were defensive measures to prevent more draconian laws from being passed. Get ready to see the Great Black Hope make some disappointing compromises. Not because his heart isn't in the right place, but because Laws require Congress.

    Posted by: patrick lehman | Aug 14, 2009 8:39:01 AM


  7. I'm so sick of people saying the Clinton's have a bad record on gay rights. No, they have a very good record and Bill especially deserves more respect from the gays. DOMA and DADT were NOT (absolutely NOT!) intended to harm gays or anything sinister like that. Congress would not allow gays to serve openly in the military, Clinton made a compromise that left us in the best situation possible. The same goes for DOMA; the intention was always to stop a greater evil (a total ban on gay marriage, which congress WOULD have passed back then and which would mean there would be 5 states that never could have legalised it). Cut him some slack already, he done the best he could!

    Posted by: David G | Aug 14, 2009 8:53:03 AM


  8. President Clinton has been ridiculously clear and consistent when discussing these topics. People need to stop approaching him in this manner, because he honestly doesn't deserve to be heckled with a question he's answered SEVERAL times before.

    Posted by: ian | Aug 14, 2009 9:03:33 AM


  9. This is where we make ourselves look like a short-sighted self-serving 'special interest group' instead of a politically savvy cross-section of the populace. If we don't get what we want exactly the way we want it at the exact time we want it, we instantly proclaim that we've been betrayed and thrown under the bus. We have to get over ourselves and do the hard work necessary to move these initiatives forward.

    Posted by: David D. | Aug 14, 2009 9:12:11 AM


  10. BTW - the post supporting Clinton are the most sad examples of House Slave attitude I have seen in quite sometime .... have some self respect people --- he just blamed YOU for his misdeeds.

    Stop being grateful for his handouts. You will never come close to having as much in life as this greedy selfish man.

    Posted by: Willie | Aug 14, 2009 9:19:49 AM


  11. "Stop being grateful for his handouts."

    SING OUT LOUISE!!!!!!

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 14, 2009 9:31:05 AM


  12. BTW - the post supporting Clinton are the most sad examples of House Slave attitude I have seen in quite sometime .... have some self respect people --- he just blamed YOU for his misdeeds.

    Stop being grateful for his handouts. You will never come close to having as much in life as this greedy selfish man.

    POSTED BY: WILLIE | AUG 14, 2009 9:19:49 AM

    I'll take Bill Clinton's effort and clear explanations over Obama's crumbs and dodging any day. Clinton at least attempted. I've yet to see any action or plan from Mr.Obama.

    Posted by: Jason Moreland | Aug 14, 2009 9:32:03 AM


  13. The fault must always lie in the stars and never in ourselves, right Willie?

    Posted by: Yeek | Aug 14, 2009 9:32:14 AM


  14. The lesson to take from this is that the President cannot change these things alone. For some reason many people here can only focus on one politician, the President. But we also have our congresspeople & senators, who have to be lobbied. Know where they stand. Support them if they're on our side. Lobby them if they're not (yet). Look at health care: just voting for Obama hasn't gotten us there (yet).

    Work at the state level too, which is where marriage happens now: reps, senators, governors all need to be pressured.

    It's too easy to blame DOMA and DADT on Clinton and too easy to blame not repealing them on Obama. Two sides of the same coin.

    Posted by: KevinVT | Aug 14, 2009 9:32:40 AM


  15. I wish Clinton would get out there to the general public and more specific communities (like gay, black, et al) and provide background explanations about more of the issues of his presidency.

    Too many Americans either didn't have a civics class or were asleep during it, instead learning what they "know" from idiotic talking TV heads. Too many Americans have almost no clue how the government works - especially between the executive branch and the congress - or bother to learn about an issue they're upset about, including Hudson.

    President Clinton could do a tremendous service to this country by opening an ongoing discussion of how the federal government works using his own administration as an example. Maybe some of the morons that watch FOX News will actually learn something rather than just showing up at public forums and shouting down the people that are there to discuss the concerns of the attendants that have legitimate concerns about Obama's proposals...

    Posted by: David B. | Aug 14, 2009 9:34:14 AM


  16. Lane Hudson's moment in the spotlight is obscuring a more important aspect of Clinton's appearence: He came out vigorously for Obama's health care proposal, and implored the crowd to not allow Obama's plan get defeated the way Clinton's was in 1993.

    Bill Clinton, like him or not, is still enormously persuasive - more than any living former President. The Obama administration should use him to stump for the health plan.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/13/clinton-urges-progressive_n_259298.html

    Posted by: Hank | Aug 14, 2009 9:50:24 AM


  17. My fav comments to Lane @ HuffPo:

    First:


    photo

    I hope you feel better but, Bill Clinton has no more power to influence DADT or DOMA than you. So your clamoring to "debate" as opposed to listen has given you something to brag about but has not advanced the debate. Look, the history of DADT is crucial in this "debate". Clinton had a military and a congress who did not want to discuss the issue AT ALL and the nation was tepid , at best. So what the GLBT community now sees as the biggest affront since Plessy v. Ferguson, was seen at the time as a great victory. DADT was intended to allow gays to stay in the military so long as everyone looked the other way. that was progress at the time; trust me! Now, I agree, that now it seems like a terrible insult that demands a remedy; but with some perspective, the GLBT community must stop attacking the President for not tackling this hot potato head on and create a climate where his support for your cause will not damage his popular support for other legislation, Health Reform, for example . Lyndon Johnson told Dr. King that the art of governing is the favorable timing between the power and the politics. YOU NEED TO STOP YELLING AND GO AFTER THE GENERALS. An order from the president will get you another result just as intolerable as DADT unless the Generals and Sergeants are made to support the idea. ANYTHING ELSE IS JUST YELLING!

    Second:

    You only stood up and yelled out to become the story, not to get an answer. Plain and simple. Other than the location you are not to much different than the town hallers.

    Third:

    Well, bully for you. You asked a question. Bill answered you. It wasn't bad to ask the question, but Bill's answer was much more interesting, and actually true.

    I think Bill's speech was much more interesting, and it was full of home truths that everyone should realize, especially at netroots. The part where he quoted Machiavelli was absolutely brilliant. And it was also apparent that there was a real longing in the man, and a real willingness to greet the new day. The part where he talked about 40 years in the wilderness for liberals was absolutely true. And that it's important to fight with each other, and then move forward doing as much as you can do.

    For my own opinion...not one thing was said in Bill's answer that we didn't already know.

    Posted by: Adam | Aug 14, 2009 9:57:59 AM


  18. God bless Bill Clinton. If it wasn't for him speaking out on Prop 8 we would have lost by MUCH MUCH more than we did.

    Posted by: Daveynyc | Aug 14, 2009 10:01:31 AM


  19. Lane Hudson is a self-promoting lightweight.

    House slaves? Mary, please. We act like spoiled children instead of working the system like every other group.

    We just look like fuckwads when we stamp our feet and hold our breath.

    I read Hudson's posts on a couple of private listserv's every day. He is insufferable.

    Posted by: Josh G. | Aug 14, 2009 10:27:14 AM


  20. I appreciate President Clinton's answers to these questions. I even believe his answers to be mostly true, if a bit colored by time and recollection.

    What I DON'T understand, and I wish Lane would have asked him to clarify, is why he, ON HIS OWN, recorded a radio spot aired in the South for his 1996 re-election campaign, where he BRAGGED about signing DOMA and "protecting marriage". Somehow I don't believe these ads were referring to protecting gay marriage from a constitutional amendment. His actions in that campaign, along with the rumors that he encouraged Kerry to support the MA marriage amendment during the 2000 election, tend to make me question if his true reasons for supporting DOMA are as he recalls them now that he has years between him and his presidency, times have changed and his legacy is at stake.

    Regardless, for what it's worth, I'm glad Lane asked the questions and I'm glad President Clinton answered them. I would still like to hear him explain the radio ad.

    Posted by: Zeke | Aug 14, 2009 10:27:25 AM


  21. Lane Hudson rocks! With more people like him something might be done.

    I don't hate Clinton, but he still could have refused to sign DOMA and DADT.

    One had washes the other in D.C. and I'm sure Mr. Clinton got a few things he wanted out of the deal.

    Face it, it's easy to throw gays under the bus and then blame someone else.

    I do think Clinton did more for gays than any POTUS before him, but still it's not enough and Obama is not acting fast enough either.

    Posted by: Bobby | Aug 14, 2009 10:29:22 AM


  22. Speaking of Prop 8, have I missed TR's coverage of the latest development from Equality California? They're pushing for the vote in 2012. Pretty big story that I haven't seen here.

    Posted by: steve | Aug 14, 2009 10:30:51 AM


  23. Its clueless bloggers who misrepresent the history of DADT. I'm glad Bill is willing to stand up and defend himself. I hate revisionist history. Next we'll be blaming Gavin Newsom for failing to enact gay marriage.

    Posted by: Pee Town | Aug 14, 2009 10:36:42 AM


  24. "Bill Clinton has no more power to influence DADT or DOMA than you"

    Really? He wasn't "The Commander in Chief"?
    Apparently the military refused to take orders from him re DADT. This should have led to mass court martials. Why didn't they take place?

    (crickets chirping)

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 14, 2009 10:39:43 AM


  25. Whether you like Bill or not, the answer he gave is accurate and true. The worst part, we're repeating history with the current administration. It's time to start holding our Congressional leaders to account or we will never move forward in the repeal of DADT/DOMA, or enact ENDA. It's time to put our campaign dollars to work. . .that's what will win us the day in the end in politics.

    Posted by: Keith | Aug 14, 2009 10:41:11 AM


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