Senator Hillary Clinton scores a point in the LGBT column for her public appearance (albeit via satellite transmission) with openly lesbian icon Ellen Degeneres on the campaign trail. As Scott Shrake reports, the crowd was pretty openly gay, too.
Good for Clinton. Some may scoff that Ellen is the most mainstream-friendly gay icon, not exactly a challenge to hetero-normative ideology, but I think Clinton runs two big risks here. First, Democrats have been pretty quiet about queer issues since conventional wisdom blamed “gay marriage” for motivating Christian Conservatives and other homophobes to tip the balance for George Bush over John Kerry in 2004. So for once Clinton is defying conventional wisdom by bringing Ellen, who made pop culture history by coming out of the closet on her show and attempted to address queer issues in its last season, into her campaign. This is very different from appearing on Ellen’s talk show, where Barack Obama showed up last Fall to show off his dance moves (Ellen and dance are also closely linked concepts these days, for better or worse.) Ellen’s campaign appearance is Clinton’s answer to Oprah’s Obama advocacy.
The second risk is for Clinton, personally. The Right has made no qualms in making lesbian jokes about her, and even contending that she is in fact a closeted lesbian herself. In a sane world, questions about a candidate’s sexuality would be dismissed as irrelevant or idle gossip – or even better, we would happily have an out-and-proud lesbian President. But in this world, photos of Clinton palling with an openly gay public figure run risks of inflaming irrational fears and biases among voters similar to those provoked by, say, a photo of Obama in a turban. (FTR – no, I don’t think the Clinton campaign spread it around, but it’s not like they are above that sort of thing.) In other words, Ellen’s appearance on Clinton’s campaign trail offers the Right wing attack machine plenty of fodder.
Like I said, good for Clinton. She didn’t let that scare her. Perhaps she and her staffers ran a cost-benefit analysis (Shrake thinks Ellen appeals to a youth vote.) But I like to think that maybe, just this once, Clinton threw caution to the wind and said, “Fuck ’em.”
Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Obama to crawl out of the deficit column where he landed thanks to that whole McClurkin thing.