Clinton's 'compromise' on gays is dishonorable


If they ever put Bill Clinton on Mount Rushmore, they are going to have to carve two faces.

One will be the caring, compassionate face of the civil libertarian.

This is face that tells Haitian refugees they won't be returned to Haiti without a fair hearing and tells gays they will no longer be banned from serving in the military.

The other face will be the cold, calculating face of the politician.

This is the face that breaks both pledges. This is the face that wants to get re-elected.

Though in his speech to military leaders on Monday, Clinton portrayed his promise to gays as a rather off-the-cuff remark -- "This question had never before been presented to me, and I had never had the opportunity to discuss it with anyone," he said -- it was no such thing.

It was a pledge repeated and refined verbally as well as in writing throughout his campaign.

In response to a questionnaire in January 1992 asking whether he would sign an executive order ending the ban on gays in the military, Clinton responded in writing: "Yes. I believe patriotic Americans should have the right to serve the country as a member of the armed forces, without regard to sexual or affectional orientation."

Yet the directive Clinton issued Monday states that "homosexual conduct will be grounds for separation from the military services."

What is homosexual conduct? Not just a homosexual act, but NTC also "a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual."

Stating you are a homosexual will create a "rebuttable presumption" that you have an "intent" to engage in a homosexual act.

In other words, under Clinton's new policy you can be thrown out of the military not only for your actions, but also for your speech and your intentions.

Which is hardly what Bill Clinton told gays in Los Angeles on May 14, 1992, when he raised an estimated $100,000 (out of an eventual $3 million) from the gay community.

In that speech, Clinton was so emotionally committed to equality for gays that his eyes filled with tears and his voice broke.

"Tonight I want to talk to you about how we can be one people again," Clinton said, "without regard to race or gender or sexual orientation. . . . For every day that we discriminate, that we hate, that we refuse to avail ourselves of the potential of any group of Americans, we are all less than we ought to be."

Reasonable people believe in compromise, however, and Clinton is calling his new directive on gays in the military an "honorable" compromise.

But one of the few things you should not compromise on are matters of fundamental human rights.

Harry Truman did not compromise on desegregating the military in 1948, even though the military said it would be bad for morale, it would break down military cohesion and that white soldiers could not be expected to sleep, eat and shower in proximity to black soldiers.

Those who currently oppose gays in the military do so out of fear or ignorance or both. And they do not deserve a compromise.

What they deserve is leadership from their commander in chief and their president.

But this is not what Bill Clinton is providing.

Embarrassed by what he should be proud of -- opposing the war in Vietnam -- Clinton now seems incapable of standing up to the military.

This is a mistake. You don't compromise with prejudice. You fight it.

And what does Clinton's compromise actually win him? Very little. It does not, for instance, win him the admiration of Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., a man who smells weakness like a shark smells blood.

Sam Nunn is not angry that gays are in the military. Sam Nunn is angry that Sam Nunn is not in the White House.

And he has used the issue to bash Bill Clinton, because Clinton has shown himself to be lacking in resolve and not a man who wishes to fight on the tough issues.

Bill Clinton wishes to be loved, which is human.

Sometimes, however, it is better to be respected, which is presidential.

"The great heartbreak," Bill Clinton said to that gay crowd in Los Angeles, "is seeing people wasted."

And it would be a very great heartbreak indeed to see Bill Clinton waste his presidency by doing what is easy rather than by doing what is right.

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