Lots of tense, awkward laughter on NPR today! Hillary Clinton's book tour took her to "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross this afternoon, where the two got into it a bit over if and when Clinton "evolved," as they say, on the issue of gay marriage, or whether she held her personal opinions in favor of equality until they were politically viable. The answer is: Clinton is not telling. But it wasn't for Gross's lack of trying.
"So what's it like when you're in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage, that you actually believe in?" the host began. "Obviously you feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights, but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn't support it. Correct me if I'm reading it wrong."
"I think you're reading it very wrong," said Clinton.
"I think that, as I said, just as the president has said, just because you're a politician doesn’t mean you're not a thinking human being," she continued. "You gather information, you think through positions, you're not one hundred percent set, thank goodness, you're constantly re-evaluating where you stand. That is true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes." She tossed some more word salad and concluded, "I think it's good if people continue to change."
That was not good enough for Gross, who asked a few more times, "just to clarify ... would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?" That time, Clinton responded, "I think I'm an American, I think that we have all evolved, and it's been one of the fastest, most sweeping transformations that I'm aware of."
And in the '90s? "Were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement," said Clinton. "But the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue, and beginning to think about it, and grasp it for the first time, and think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did, or their son, or their daughter."
"I'm pretty sure you didn't answer my question," said Gross.
"Because I said I'm an American, so of course we all evolved, and I think that's a fair conclusion—"
"So you're saying your opinion on gay marriage changed."
"You know, somebody is always first, Terry ... . You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across the country if nobody changed their mind and thank goodness so many of us have."
"So that's one for you changed your mind?"
More uncomfortable laughs. "You know I really, I have to say, I think you being very persistent," said Clinton, "but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue."
"I'm just trying to clarify so I can understand," Gross countered.
"No, I don't think you are trying to clarify. I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that's just flat wrong."
"I was saying that you maybe really believed this all along ... 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."
"No," said Clinton. "That is not true."
Finally, she concluded, "I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don't think you did either. This was an incredible new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay right movement began to talk about and slowly, but surely, convinced others about the rightness of that position. When I was ready to say what I said, I said it."
She should probably come up with a more succinct way to get to that answer — you know, for the next two years.