ONLINE EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY JOHN WINGERT
One of the major issues that has been emphasized on the campaign trail, at least on the liberal side of the aisle, has been Hillary Clinton’s numerous flip-flops. There are several issues on which Clinton used to hold one position, but now professes a different position in what appears to be an attempt to appeal to primary voters this cycle.
Obviously, one of the biggest of such changes over time has been Clinton’s position on gay marriage. For her Senate campaign in 1999, Clinton’s spokesperson, Howard Wolfson, vouched for Clinton’s support of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed in 1996, said that marriage, in the eyes of the federal government, would be defined as a union of one man and one woman. In 1999, 62 percent of Americans thought that same-sex marriage should not be recognized by the law as valid according to a Gallup poll.
In January of 2000, Hillary Clinton stated, “Marriage has got historic, religious and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman.” In 2004, Clinton reiterated such thoughts by saying that marriage is “a sacred bond between a man and a woman.” By 2004, Gallup polling showed a solid 55 percent of Americans still believed that same-sex marriage should not have valid legal status or rights.
In May of 2007, as Clinton began her run for presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, she still described herself as “opposed” to instituting gay marriages. Gallup polls numbers from 2007 showed that 53 percent of Americans were still opposed to same-sex marriages, and even in 2008, about 56 percent of Americans were opposed to the idea.
Polls did not show the majority of American supporting same-sex marriage until 2011, when 53% now supported it; however, the next year support dipped to 50% and nearly tied the disapproval rate. It wasn’t until 2013 that multiple polls showed support with a consistent majority of around 54-55 percent.
2013 was also the year that Hillary Clinton first decided to support same-sex marriage. In a video in March, 2013 with the Human Rights Campaign, an interest group for gay rights, she said, “I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.”
Another area of position-changing that has made headlines recently is Clinton’s position change on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In September of 2010, Clinton said the Trans-Pacific Partnership would “create new jobs and opportunities here at home.” In 2011, she said called it “a cutting-edge, next generation trade deal.”
Another year came with another round of compliments for the TPP. In 2012, Clinton proclaimed, “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.” That same year, she said the TPP would help “making trade and investment easier, spurring exports, creating jobs.”
It was until Clinton became a presidential candidate once more that she demonstrated reticence toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In May of this year, she said, “I want to judge this when I see exactly what exactly is in it and whether or not I think it meets my standards.” It wasn’t until October, that Clinton came down with a less nebulous stance on the agreement. On PBS Newshour she said, “What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.”
The primary factor that came between Clinton’s assiduous and vociferous support in her tenure in the Obama administration and October of 2015 when she shunned the trade deal was Bernie Sanders’ declaration of vehement opposition in January, 2014 due to his belief that it would shift more jobs overseas.
On immigration, Clinton said in 2014 that she thought immigrant children “should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are.” Now, her website states that she wants “a full and equal path to citizenship,” that “brings millions of hardworking people into the formal economy.”
Clinton’s website also states, “As senator, Hillary was a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, cosponsoring Senator Ted Kennedy’s 2004 bill and supporting the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act in 2006 and 2007,” but a CNN investigation found that she, in fact, supported a poison pill amendment to the 2007 immigration reform bill which was responsible for preventing its passage. At the time, The Washington Post concluded, “The Dorgan amendment is a classic poison pill: designed to kill, not improve, the bill. Its passage makes resurrection of immigration reform all the more difficult.”
When it comes to criminal justice reform and mandatory minimums, Clinton said on April 29 of this year “measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue.” In 1994, her stance on mandatory minimums was quite the opposite. “We need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders,” she said. “We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.”
This discrepancy is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric she delivers nowadays. Clinton’s website declares, “Excessive federal mandatory minimum sentences keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for longer than is necessary or useful and have increased racial inequality in our criminal justice system. Hillary will reform mandatory minimum sentences.”
When it came to the issue of gun control, Hillary Clinton, the 2008 presidential candidate, said, “We have one set of rules in NYC and a totally different set of rules in the rest of the state. What might work in NYC is certainly not going to work in Montana. So, for the federal government to be having any kind of blanket rules that they’re going to try to impose, I think doesn’t make sense.” During that campaign, Clinton argued that hunting and gun ownership were “part of our culture” and “a way of life.”
This sounds more like an argument that Bernie Sanders would put forth today in arguing that there are differences in gun issues between rural and urban areas. When asked in the first Democratic debate to comment on whether Sanders was “tough enough” on gun control, Clinton said, “No. Not at all.” She also said, “This has gone on too long, and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA.”
On the Keystone XL pipeline, former Secretary of State Clinton now says, “I oppose it,” adding that “We need to be transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy.” During the first Democratic debate, when questioned on flip-flopping, she said, “I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.” However, in October of 2010, Clinton spoke for herself and the Obama administration when asked about whether or not she would approve the pipeline. “We are inclined to do so, and we are for several reasons,” she said.
All of these instances have undermined some of Clinton’s credibility. It has led to Martin O’Malley accusing her of leading by poll rather than by firm leadership, resolve, or principle. Although it has not consistently hurt her in the polls for the 2016 Democratic nomination, many of these things should be areas that Democratic primary and caucus voters should care about.
The larger issue is that if such inconsistencies are not addressed during the primary debates, no Republican candidate is likely to bring up the fact that she used to hold more conservative positions and has since flip-flopped, because they will likely want to make her current positions seem too far to the left. So the question is, even those these inconsistencies exist, will they matter?