The Finkelstein and Clinton Marriages

Give the former first couple their due. Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton defend each other fiercely when their political fortunes come under fire.

In early 1998, when the first whiff of the Monica Lewinsky scandal surfaced, the then-first lady rushed to the president’s defense declaring her husband was the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy. That proved to be an unfortunate case of Mrs. Clinton probably being right, but at exactly the wrong moment.

Now, the former president is rushing to the defense of his wife’s Senate career, which he has for the most part stood aside from during her nearly four and a half years in office. It turns out that a very big GOP wheel, image guru Arthur J. Finkelstein—whose wizardry helped sustain the career of demagogues such as former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, as well as more garden variety Republicans including Gov. George Pataki and former Sen. Al D’Amato—is planning to spearhead Stop Hillary Now, a $10 million effort to block the senator’s reelection in 2006. The thinking is that defeating her next year, or at least tarnishing her record, by drawing on some of the techniques that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth used against Sen. John Kerry, will torpedo Sen. Clinton’s hopes of claiming the presidency in 2008.

Finkelstein is famous for something else, however, besides being Jesse Helm’s political handler. He is also an openly gay man, who with his partner, has for years been raising adopted children on a expansive and very private estate near Boston. Earlier this month, just before news of the anti-Hillary drive was announced, Finkelstein issued a statement saying that he and his lover had married in December.

The former president didn’t waste any time in making hay of the juxtaposition of these two announcements.

“Either this guy believes his party is not serious and he’s totally Machiavellian or he may be blinded by self-loathing,” Mr. Clinton said of Finkelstein’s efforts on behalf of a party that made gay marriage one of the bogeymen of the 2004 presidential campaign.

Republicans have predictably cried foul, saying that discussion of Finkelstein’s private sexual life has no place in Clinton’s blast against him. A Republican flack who appears regularly on CNN said the former president should have learned from the intrusive investigation into his own sexual life in the Lewinsky matter. (He probably did.)

The Daily News compared the attack to John Kerry’s reference to Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter Mary during the final presidential debate last October. In one sense, that school of thought posits that it is never acceptable to mention a person’s homosexuality in public discourse, a proposition I am reluctant to sign on to.

In a deeper sense, however, the News was right. Kerry, subliminally, and Clinton, explicitly, were both trying to leverage off the notion of the Republicans’ hypocrisy in condemning gay rights in the public square while living with it, often at very close quarters, in private.

The Republicans deserve to be called on that hypocrisy. Is there any self-respecting gay or lesbian person who doesn’t think there must be some self-loathing at the heart of Finkelstein’s willingness to profit from his bigoted clients?

And yet… What is the subtext of former Pres. Clinton’s message? That we should all rally unquestioningly to the cause of his wife, despite her stated and repeated opposition to same-sex marriage and despite his own advice to candidate Kerry in last year’s campaign that he should come out for all the anti-gay marriage amendments nationwide?

Is the answer for all of us to be only partially self-loathing but loyal gay Democrats?

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