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Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run still clouded by her husband’s past

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Speculation continues to mount over a possible run for Hillary in 2016

The glut of articles in the press these days suggesting that the White House in 2016 is already in Hillary Clinton’s hands (if she chooses to run, and can there be anyone who thinks she won’t?) ignored a few thorny matters.

I’m not surprised. In some Democratic circles Hillary worship is as ardent as the cult of Isis.

But all that frozen adoration can create blind spots. Since Hillary and her husband have been the top players in the Democratic fold for decades, it was easy for them and their supporters to miss what others didn’t, the unstoppable rise of Barack Obama.

It’s because I’m not convinced that Hillary (or her husband) have learned the lesson of Obama yet that I think it’s quite possible that another once-in-a-lifetime candidate could emerge and steal the nomination from her.

The heady achievements of the Bill Clinton era (the Irish peace process, the economic boom, paying off the national debt, etc.) are all self-evident, but so are some of his worst decisions, like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is still seriously damaging Hillary’s 2016 candidacy before it officially begins.

It’s not Hillary’s fault that her husband signed DOMA, but it certainly doesn’t help that she has still failed to endorse the full legal equality for gay people that the act pointedly prevents.

The damage DOMA does is easy to outline. It says you are not worth the usual legal arrangements that accrue to other couples. It says you’ll have to pay more to receive less.

It says you’re suspect, unworthy of equal regard, and unworthy of legal protections. It says you married the wrong person. It says tough luck.

Under DOMA, no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. But the needless harm that DOMA does goes much further.

Section 3 of DOMA codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, immigration and the filing of joint tax returns. It purportedly protects other people’s rights by stripping you of yours.

Now it pains me to say that Bill Clinton -- and while we’re at it, Al Gore -- have not always been exemplars of what a healthy marriage looks like.

Perhaps that’s why they signed DOMA at 11:45 p.m. on a Friday night in September 1996. Cover of darkness must have seemed like an appropriate move for such an unconstitutional piece of bigotry.

And make no mistake, DOMA is indefensible bigotry. Section 3 of DOMA has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts, including the First and Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

It’s why the Supreme Court decided to hear the case last week. It’s why, I hope, the nation’s top court will strike it down in June 2013.

Over the years Bill Clinton has offered some increasingly testy defenses of his decision making in regard to DOMA. But the basic facts are easy to relate.

In 1996 he was facing a hostile Republican Congress and a re-election challenge from the quite unlikely to beat him Senator Bob Dole. Hoping to give Dole a fighting chance at the election, the Republican Congress cynically passed the gay-baiting DOMA bill and sent it to Clinton’s desk.

The GOP had hoped he wouldn’t sign it so they could make gay-bashing a winning campaign issue. But Clinton did sign it. It was a cold, calculated political decision he made to undercut the issue before it had a chance to define the 1996 campaign.

Clinton’s defense of his actions has always been to suggest that if DOMA was bad, the alternatives were worse.

But honestly, what could have been worse than consigning millions of U.S. citizens to second-class citizenship under federal law? Has he any idea, or remorse, for the pointless and often unspeakable hardships he was foisting on them?

Meanwhile, Obama has repealed the Clinton-signed don’t ask, don’t tell military policy, which conservative handwringers like John McCain claimed would lead to all manner of catastrophes.

In fact, all that happened was that gay soldiers were permitted to serve without further subjection to witch-hunts. Life went on, with a little more integrity than before perhaps.

Obama has called DOMA unconstitutional and has asked his Justice Department to stop defending it in court; Obama has also publicly endorsed same sex marriage.

He has led on these issues, albeit reluctantly at times. But there’s no question that his stewardship makes a stark contrast to the total silence from the Clinton camp.

The truth is, their overly cautious approach to basic equality issues dates them far more than white hair or wrinkles ever could. So in 2008 the Clintons represented the old school, Obama represented change.

Half white, half black, in support of immigration bills for Latinos and equality for gays and reproductive rights for women, Obama looked and sounded like modern America. He spoke out for full equality, and he was elected and reelected.

But in her Oscar de la Renta gowns and coiffed hairdos, Hillary still looked like the ultimate Washington insider. She voted for the Iraq war, she voted for the Iran bill, but perhaps the greatest mistake she made was to miss the new reality that for a new generation of voters, equality is a red line issue, the civil rights issue of our generation. By missing that she was on her way to missing the nomination.

The lesson of Obama is that it’s not the 1990s anymore. The overly cautious campaign style of the Clinton era will not win elections now that the stakes have been raised for all of us.

So Hillary may not have that lock on the 2016 presidency after all. The negatives that allowed the upstart Obama campaign to eventually run rings around her have not gone away.

Where she stands on marriage equality is still a mystery. And it’s long past time both Clintons made their feelings on the impact and legacy of DOMA public record. An apology from Bill Clinton would be a terrific start.

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