Readers respond to Farhad Manjoo's "Did Clinton Play the Gay Card?"

Published April 16, 2005 8:00AM (EDT)

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I'm getting sick of heterosexuals telling the gay community what we should be offended by. Finkelstein has spent his career promoting right-wing extremists like Jesse Helms. At least indirectly, he has opposed the advancement of gay equal rights by stroking anti-gay candidates. Now, he has the audacity to take advantage of the tiny victories that gay activists have achieved in spite of his labors. He is the lowest form of political operative, completely lacking in integrity. It is that bald hypocrisy that Bill was attacking.

Self-loathing is a common term in the gay community. Internalized homophobia is something most of us have to fight during our youth if not our whole life. Many are raised to hate "soulless, hedonistic" homos. In puberty, as we realize we are one of this reviled group, self-hatred is common. We try to change. We try to blend in. A disproportionate number of gay youth commit suicide. Many gay youth align with anti-gay causes in hopes that it will "straighten" them out. Obviously, this is shame taking over one's identity. Most of us get past this and find pride in our true nature, but some, like Finkelstein or Jeff Gannon, continue this self-loathing behavior. Gay men who encourage homophobia are pitiable, yes, pathetic even. However, it is not heterosexist to call them on their hypocrisy.

-- Stephen Pearce

Regarding Mr. Manjoo's recent piece accusing former President Clinton of gay bashing, it seems that Mr. Manjoo may have missed the context in which the quoted statements appear.

The initial report I saw noted that a reporter asked a specific question about Finkelstein's recent marriage, and Clinton was responding to that question, not simply dropping it into an answer to an unrelated question. Someone asked what he thought, and he told them.

It is also important to note two other things. First, Finkelstein and his group are engaging in more of the vicious anti-Hillary bashing of the sort that has been going on against her for years now. (Remember, many of the anti-Hill crowd always makes an accusation -- or at least a hint -- that Hillary is a lesbian.) And second, the person they are viciously attacking is Bill's wife. Somebody takes a shot at your wife, you get to take a shot back.

-- Tim Howe

Arthur Finkelstein deserves to be called out for what he is, a man whose personal and professional hypocrisy is extraordinarily dangerous to his gay brothers and sisters. The problem is not his political affiliation; it is his work to advance the career of Jesse Helms, who rallies people to the polls under a banner of hatred for people like himself. For a gay man to sell out the interests of other gay people for his career is traitorous and it should make all of us consider self-loathing as a potential reason why.

For Finkelstein to reap the benefits of same-sex marriage after fighting so hard to have it banned is certainly ridiculous and unfair, but more apropos to this conversation, it makes him fair game for criticism. And you better believe his attacks against the Clintons will be personal and gloves-off, so why are they not allowed to enjoy the same candor, especially when they're dealing in truth? If anything can be learned from the Kerry Swift Boat debacle, it's that dignified silence is a great way to lose.

P.S. He didn't marry Jeff Gannon, did he?

-- Rex Polkinghorne

I don't understand Farhad Manjoo's point. Are Democrats allowed to point out Republican hypocrisy only when it's not gay-related? What Bill Clinton did was point out Finkelstein's hypocrisy (which happens to be that he is gay, yet worked to promote conservatives such as Jesse Helms). It seems Farhad Manjoo is the one playing the "gay card" in writing the article, busily contacting various gay and lesbian organizations trying to find someone offended by Clinton's remarks. How about asking the same organizations if they are offended by Finkelstein's hypocrisy?

Now, is it hypocritical for Bill Clinton to call someone a hypocrite? There's certainly a point to be made there, but this article was too busy playing the gay card to notice.

-- Seth Aronson

It is incredibly misleading to say that President Clinton promised to allow gays in the military, then signed the "don't ask, don't tell" law; it makes it sound as if he simply lied and abandoned us. Clinton had every intention of lifting the ban by executive order, but he was blindsided by attacks from Colin Powell, Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn (then chair of the Armed Forces Committee) and others, making the end of the ban politically untenable.

While Clinton ended up disappointing the gay community in some particulars, he was the first (and only) president to recognize our humanity and to raise the profile of issues that matter to us.

-- Robert Massing

I found Farhad Manjoo's article about Clinton's gay baiting fascinating and "sad" (as Clinton might say it). The contrast I enjoyed between my memory of the United States thriving under Clinton's leadership and our current totalitarian administration has faded somewhat.

I think John Marble of the Stonewall Democrats was particularly astute in differentiating between "self-internalized homophobia" and "principled political convictions." As a queer person, I have a lot at stake in how policy shifts re: gay marriage, anti-sodomy laws, etc. Some days I'm hopeful (though not so much during the past five years). But what I've come to discover is, it's not so important what others think of me as a queer person, but rather what they do.

Clinton's recent gay baiting -- yes, I would characterize it that way -- is indicative of how he approached the "homosexual agenda" during his presidency. On the surface of it, he talked of tolerance and inclusion even, but his policy of "don't ask, don't tell" and his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act were clearly discriminatory. Clinton fooled the queer folk: his touchy-feely rhetoric tried to convince us that what people think was more important than what they do.

I find no reason to quote the old saying about opinions here -- we all know it. I couldn't care less what someone like Eugene Rivers thinks of me, and if Hillary wants to stand with him, at least I know where she stands. What she does is another matter. I hope she understands the difference.

It seems to me Clinton's use of the "self-loathing" in reference to Arthur Finkelstein points to a profound misunderstanding of the distinction between thought and action. It shouldn't matter how a public servant does or doesn't view him- or herself; what matters is how he or she serves the public. If Clinton was trying to portray Finkelstein as hypocritical, as John Kerry portrayed the Republicans when he outed Mary Cheney in the debates, he might just benefit from another quick look in the mirror and at his legacy in the queer community of not putting his money where his mouth was.

-- Travis Mader

We constantly hear politicians rant and rave about the evils of Hollywood. Yet they still take money from the very same media companies who produce those films and TV shows the politician objects to. Is valid to ask them about this apparent contradiction?


We have learned about great "moral crusaders" who preach about the sacredness of the traditional family unit who then get caught cheating on their spouses. Is valid to ask them about this apparent contradiction?


And by that same token, we learn that a person who works for a group or politician that is strongly against gay rights -- and may even demonize homosexuals with their rhetoric -- is in fact a homosexual. Is it a valid question to ask them about this apparent contradiction?

Yes, it is. It is uncomfortable, upsetting and even unfortunate, but in the end it is a legitimate question to put forward.

Did Bill Clinton take it a little too far with his armchair-psychologist "self-loathing" diagnosis? Yes, I think so. But his question still needs to be addressed, even if it makes those of us who believe in equal rights for gays and lesbians wince just a little.

-- Seth Thompson

By Salon Staff

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