Politicians are reflections, not activists

Carly Besser Opinion Editor

Campaign season, while it lays out the groundwork for the future of a politician, marks the beginning of dirt-digging and scathing review of a candidate’s past.

Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State turned Democratic presidential hopeful, has been the target of skeptics (understandably) for her use of a private email server to conduct public business.

Clinton’s secret homebrew email server scandal is worth the criticism. It was wrong and against federal policy. What is unnecessary, though, is how opponents crucify her for being a “flip-flopper” on social issues.

Clinton’s campaign launch video featured not one, but two, same-sex couples – a sign of how far she’s come on the issue, just like a lot of Americans. According to a Gallup poll, support for same-sex marriage is rising among all ages. Support from 18-29 year-olds rose from 41 percent to 78 percent between the years 1996 and 2014. The same upward curve is seen in older generations.

Though it’s a thoughtful way to address the issue, Clinton’s campaign video contrasts highly with her 2008 campaign, when she said she opposed federal same-sex marriage rights.

It’s a tough pivot to explain, but we often forget that politics is a numbers game. It’s why Republican candidates are oddly similar to your local Evangelical pastor. It’s also why Rand Paul, a radical libertarian and daddy’s boy, is latching onto the Republican platform instead of his true beliefs. Right-wing politicians often unanimously include a federal opposition to same-sex marriage because coming out in support of marriage equality is controversial in a conservative climate – which means less votes.

Because of this risk, politicians are not responsible for leading social change. Instead, they reflect what the public already believes. To criticize Clinton for changing her mind on a social issue that was once half as supported as it is now, is implying she should have just committed political suicide. While we acknowledge that we have come far in our beliefs about same-sex marriage rights, we must also admit that times were different decades ago.

We like activists when they fight for a cause that we believe in. In many cases, it’s daring. The Human Rights Campaign would not be as successful as it is today in 1996. Clinton, with multi-millions in campaign funding and political action committees, would have risked most of it by taking a socially unconventional stance on gay marriage.

Clinton’s evolution on same-sex marriage is believable because of the amount of damage control she’s undergone in the last year. Knowing that she is associated with the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by her husband in 1996, and her 2008 platform, Clinton is taking strides to reassociate herself. She outwardly condemned the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed in Indiana and now fully supports federal gay marriage rights. Clinton is not the only politician to transform her views on same-sex marriage equality. She joins the likes of former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and other high-profile politicians across both parties. It’s worth mentioning that Paul also changed his stance on increasing military spending and the threat of Iran since he last shared his opinion in 2007.

Most of us, as non-politicians, weigh in on social issues like marriage equality and abortion because we have a moral compass that leads us one way or the other. Politicians like Clinton have more to lose. To be representative of the people means being as versatile and flexible as they are on certain beliefs. Ideas change, and we should be more understanding of that.

Column by Carly Besser, Senior from Louisville, Ky.