Bill Clinton, Lagging Indicator

Bill Clinton has never been one to needlessly stake out an unpopular position, which tells us something important about his recent declaration that he’s “basically in support” of gay marriage: The issue is fast becoming a mainstream one in Democratic politics.

The former president had previously said that his position on gay marriage was “evolving,” but, really, does anyone think that Clinton has been that conflicted in his personal view? As on countless other issues, his public position has been guided not by his own values but by political pragmatism.

This was clear when he was drawn into the gay marriage debate during his presidency.

When Clinton first took office in 1993, he actually let his personal instincts on gay rights shape his policy, matter-of-factly seeking to overturn the ban on gays openly serving in the military. The military’s leaders weren’t ready, nor was rank-and-file public opinion, and Clinton paid dearly: His popularity sagged, the rest of his agenda was bogged down, and a reputation for clumsiness took hold.

Bill Clinton, Lagging Indicator