Not Ready to Forgive: Hillary Clinton & the Ugly Truth of the Reagan Years 

Gay men of a certain age—those of us who survived the Plague Years when so many others perished, including our lovers and friends—may at times be oversensitive and even possessive in our memories of what those years were like. Three decades on, the pain and the rage we felt back then still feel fresh.

Historian and activist Martin Duberman evokes this special tenderness well in the Emily Dickinson verse he chooses for the dedication page of Hold Tight Gently, his deeply moving book that recalls the suffering—and the activism—of the Plague Years:

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are…

Yes, I am well aware that Hillary Clinton has apologized and completely “walked back” the idiotic and infuriating statement she made to MSNBC at Nancy Reagan’s funeral: “Because of President and Mrs. Reagan—in particular Mrs. Reagan—we started a national conversation when, before, nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it.”

But just because Hillary has apologized, does that mean we should just forgive her and move on? I mean, of all the candidates out there, Hillary Clinton is supposed to be the real pro. If a political naif or a nut case like Ben Carson were to make this kind of insulting and preposterous statement, you might just shrug it off. But Hillary?

Hillary also violated the second rule of funerals and memorial services. The first rule, of course, is never to speak ill of the dead. But the second and equally important rule is that you don’t make shit up, either. You don’t invent an alternative fantasy life for the person whose remains lie in that coffin. If the deceased is actually a disreputable character, you are allowed to mumble nice generalities, but that’s the extent of it.

Hillary may have been exhausted from the stresses of the campaign trail, but she still should have resisted the impulse to make news at Nancy Reagan’s service; simply making the effort to be there was enough of a statement. But not for Hillary.

In 2008 and again this year, I’ve had to wonder why so many gay men–millennials in particular—love Hillary so much. In the end, I think the explanation is pretty simple; there is a kind of natural bond between gay men and feminists, and few would question Hillary Clinton’s feminist credentials. But it still sickens me to see how she and her team take the gay vote for granted. Maybe this episode will change that, but I doubt it.

The obvious parallel is the way in which Team Hillary assumes that African Americans will vote for her based on familiarity alone and will completely disregard the noxious “third way” Clinton Administration policies on trade, welfare, criminal justice, and financial deregulation that continue to have such devastating long-term consequences for the black community. Anyone remember Sister Souljah?

Why is it that the victims of these powerful politicians’ cynical triangulation, callous indifference, or casual malice are always supposed to forgive and forget? I’m not ready to forgive, and I’m certainly not ready to forget.