Hillary Clinton is announcing that she’s running for president, which is a surprise of a magnitude unsurpassed since Barry Manilow wed another man. Clinton has been considered a candidate since Election Night 2012, and in the absence of any declared rivals, enters the race as the inevitable nominee.
Things can always go sideways for her, but no one else has the campaign apparatus, name recognition and resume to match hers. There is Vice President Joe Biden, but he hasn’t put together the team necessary for a campaign. There’s Martin O’Malley, and if you said, who’s that?, you just identified the main problem the former Maryland governor faces.
But just because Hillary is inevitable doesn’t mean she should take the LGBT vote for granted. Granted, the Republican alternative is too grim to imagine. Still, that doesn’t mean that Hillary should just expect us to line up at the polls for her. Here are five things that Clinton needs to do to prove that she is serious about wanting our vote.
1. Explain why she was so late to embrace marriage equality. Clinton didn’t get around to announcing her support for marriage equality until March 2013, just three months before the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision, six months after the Democratic party included it in its platform and ten months after President Obama announced his support for it. What took so long? Republican Sen. Rob Portman announced his support for gay marriage three days before. It’s kind of sad that Clinton was so tardy that she was upstaged by a Republican, and a conservative one at that.
2. Prove she’s not defensive about LGBT issues. One of the low-lights of Hillary’s pre-announcement tour was her disastrous interview with Terry Gross on NPR. What should have been a simple question about whether Clinton felt constrained in her support for marriage equality because of politics turned into a defensive crouch by the candidate. Clinton felt insulted by the suggestion and her response boiled down to “I’m proud of what I’ve done.” And that was not in a hostile interview. It’s worrisome that a thoughtful question somehow leads to an unnecessary outburst. Hillary is going to have to prove that that’s an exception, not the rule.
3. Get personal. Who are the gay and lesbian people in Hillary’s life? Who educated her about LGBT issues? What are the stories that changed her mind about gay rights? Right now, the answer is, who knows? One of Clinton’s flaws as a candidate is that she’s so cautious that she doesn’t get personal the way that Joe Biden does. But it also suggests–fairly or not–that Clinton isn’t entirely comfortable talking about the issue. Getting personal would put that problem to rest.
4. Make it clear she doesn’t share Bill’s tactics. Clinton is her own person, but she came into politics as the wife of Bill Clinton, the man who signed DOMA into law and then advertised it on Christian radio stations. Sad to say, such shamelessness worked for the first President Clinton. Did Hillary learn that same lesson? She needs to explain to us how she loves Bill, but she will follow her own path. That means not selling us out if it’s convenient.
5. Address the lesbian rumors. The right-wing has long speculated (or perhaps fantasized is the appropriate word) that Clinton is a closeted lesbian. Clinton has never really addressed the rumors head on. She should. But how she should will be revealing. If she’s defensive and treats the accusation as a slur, that would be a bad sign. If she uses it as an opportunity to educate the public while poking some fun at her foes, that would be a good sign. She should start practicing now, because someone is bound to ask that question on the campaign trail.
6. Tell us how she’s going to extend President Obama’s legacy. The country is a better (but not perfect) place for LGBT citizens because of Barack Obama’s presidency. Marriage equality, the repeal of DADT, an nondiscrimination executive order–each is a major accomplishment, but put them altogether into a single presidency, and it’s a remarkable legacy. How will Clinton extend that legacy? She needs to come up with specific goals, not just platitudes. Will it be expanding the Clinton Doctrine that she outlined as Secretary of State? Will it be taking on transgender issues?
Clinton has big shoes to fill. She has to say how she’s going to do it.