Well, Hillary Clinton seems to be one of the topics of the day. She's out promoting her new book, Hard Choices. And then she was the guest on Thursday's installment of Fresh Air, the Peabody Award-winning weekday interview program, produced by radio station WHYY in Philadelphia that airs nationally on NPR.
A certain amount of controversy seems to have arisen over her responses to questions about the history of her support for same-sex marriage. The Fresh Air website notes that 'has been getting a lot of attention.' And the comments on the episode take Clinton immediately and heavily to task.
“Fresh Air” host Terry Gross hit Hillary Clinton hard on the degree to which she, and the Democratic party, were playing politics with their views on gay marriage.That's not quite how I hear it.
But this interview did not go well. Terry Gross hits her hard, and Hillary gets defensive.
I'm a big fan of Fresh Air. I've heard pretty much every episode from the last five years or more. Overall, the guests and topics are interesting, and the extended interview format often gives a great picture of the mind and temperament of the person being interviewed.
But I'm not an unreserved admirer of Terry Gross. Her reverence for celebrities of the entertainment world often leads her into insipid lines of questioning. And she can sometimes be a little obtuse in listening to the answers her she's getting. Her interview of Sandra Day O'Connor from last year is a case in point. Nor is she at all good as an adversarial type of interviewer, and she generally avoids that line even when the subject would seem to warrant, as this interview with Karl Rove from 2010 illustrates.
I generally listen to the podcast the next day after it's published on iTunes. Now that I've heard this episode, I thought both parties generally came across pretty well. Terry Gross guided the discussion through a pretty good range of topics and Hillary Clinton was both poised and eloquent. But the discussion of same-sex marriage certainly did get a little knotty, and I'd like to step through it.
GROSS: So you mentioned that you believe in state-by-state for gay marriage, but it's the Supreme Court, too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA - the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?Not a brilliant response, but then the facts aren't very pretty.
CLINTON: Of course. And, you know, again, let's - we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I'm proud of our country. I'm proud of the people who had been on the frontlines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case and there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to, you know, make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn't going yet to be recognized by the federal government, but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband, you know, was the first to say that, you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA thankfully were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward, and that's what we're doing.
GROSS: So just to clarify - just one more question on this - would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?I grant you that Hillary does not say point-blank, "No, I did not support same-sex marriage back in 1993'. But I don't see how you can interpret the passage as meaning anything other than, "I was not even privately in the vanguard of public opinion on this issue.' But Terry is not satisfied.
CLINTON: I think I'm an American. (Laughing) And I think we have all evolved and it's been one of the fastest most sweeping transformations.
GROSS: No, I understand, but a lot of people already believed in it back the '90s. A lot of people already supported gay marriage.
CLINTON: But not - to be fair, Terry, not that many. Yes, were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to, you know, think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast - by historic terms - social, political and legal transformation. And we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground, where in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward - maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established. Although there will be places.
Just to be clear
GROSS: I - I...At every step, Hillary is counting herself among those who changed their mind.
CLINTON: Texas, just to name one, where that is still going to be an ongoing struggle.
GROSS: I'm pretty sure you didn't answer my question about whether you evolved or it was the American public that changed (Laughing).
CLINTON: I said I'm an American, so of we all evolved. And I think that that's a fair, you know, that's a fair conclusion.
GROSS: So you're saying your opinion on gay marriage changed as opposed to you - you just felt it was comfortable...
CLINTON: You know, somebody is always first, Terry. Somebody's always out front and thank goodness they are. But that doesn't mean that those who joined later in being publicly supportive or even privately accepting that there needs to be change are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across our country if nobody changed their mind. And thank goodness so many of us have.
One more time
GROSS: So that's one for you changed your mind? (Laughing).At last we're done! For all the interview time spent I don't think they got very far with this issue, and I blame Terry Gross. The question she was ostensibly pursuing was answered in the first section. A more adept interviewer would have taken what was implicit in the first response and developed the conversation from there.
CLINTON: You know, I really - I have to say, I think you are very persistent, but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.
GROSS: I am just trying to clarify so I can understand.
CLINTON: No, I don't think you are trying to clarify. I think you're trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed and now I'm in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that's just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I've done and the progress we're making.
GROSS: You know, I'm just saying - I'm sorry - I just want to clarify what I was saying - no, I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along, but - you know, believed in gay marriage all along, but felt for political reasons America wasn't ready yet and you couldn't say it. That's what I was thinking.
CLINTON: No. No, that is not true.
CLINTON: I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don't think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position. And when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.
It's no wonder that Hillary Clinton was trying to figure out where she was going, and so her responses just kept getting more layered. I suppose you could call that getting defensive. But to me it seems like she was looking for deeper meaning in the questioning than was actually intended. Anyway, I'm interested to hear your view.
You can also listen to this section of the conversation here.