Terry Gross v. Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has had a rough time in interviews since her book — Hard Choices — came out this week. So seeing NPR’s Terry Gross on the schedule might’ve seemed like a home game. It wasn’t.

The two sparred today ( entire program here) when Gross asked Hillary Clinton to explain her change in position on same-sex marriage, after Gross opened her line of questioning with the innuendo that it was only for political reasons.

This is basically what her answer was.

“I changed my mind for the same reason lots of people changed their minds on this issue, which is what allowed same-sex marriage to become legal in places like Minnesota. Society changes. I change and while I realize people think it’s a weakness for politicians to change their minds on an issue, that’s how society moves ahead.”

But that wasn’t her actual answer because Clinton — a lawyer — makes life hard for herself by overanswering questions.

Gross’ somewhat clumsy follow-up — have you evolved or have the American people evolved? — was plainly weird. And her dismissal of the fact that Americans feel much differently about same-sex marriage now than they did in the ’90s, seemed design to bait the likely presidential candidate. Only 27 percent of those surveyed by Gallup in the mid-’90s thought that gay marriages should be recognized.

“The vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue,” Clinton said. “It has been an extraordinarily fast change in political terms and we should celebrate that instead of plowing old ground.”

Good answer, to which Gross replied, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question.”

“I said I was an American. Of course we all evolved,” Clinton said.

“So you’re saying your opinion changed?”

“Somebody is always first, Terry, and thank goodness they are. But that doesn’t mean that people who join later… are any less committed. You could not be having the sweep of marriage equality across this country if nobody changed their mind,” Clinton said.

“So that’s one for… you changed your mind?”

(forehead slap)

At that point we were off and running and the “Clinton snaps at interviewer” headlines were written.

Called out by Clinton, Gross walked back her questioning, saying what she really meant to ask was whether Clinton always believed in same-sex marriage but didn’t support it because it wasn’t politically feasible to do so?

That would’ve been a good question for Gross, normally a very precise interviewer, to actually ask. No matter. Few of the critics discussing the exchange are bothering to notice that it was precipitated by a really badly presented question.

“So what’s it like when you’re in office and you have to do all these political calculations to not be able to support something like gay marriage, that you actually believe in. Obviously you feel very committed to human rights and you obviously put gay rights as part of human rights but in doing the calculus you decided you couldn’t support it. Correct me if I’m reading it wrong.”

Beyond that, the interview carries a significant message: Politicians in the coming elections — especially Democrats — are going to have to answer for their past positions on same-sex marriage, the same way politicians of days-gone-by had to answer for their views on race and segregation.

In politics, it won’t be enough that you feel differently on this issue now — something that might’ve been celebrated around here a year or so ago. You’ll now be held accountable that you ever felt differently on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Related: Wis. clerks could face charges over gay marriage licenses (Minnesota Public Radio News).