Steve Clemons reads a lot. He’s never fully caught up on the thousands of e-mails he gets daily and he’s inundated with what he calls a “gusher” of information. But it’s part of what gives his blog, the Washington Note, its sharp edge and keeps him in demand as a commentator on cable news.
“It’s constant and I do a pretty good job of keeping up with it, absorbing information quickly,” he says. “So the chances are high that I will know an angle or a twist to ask about. You gotta be informed — that’s a big part of it. If not, you’ll be derivative.”
Clemons started his blog with his friend Josh Marshall in 2004 as an outlet for his dual passion of foreign policy and economic “stuff,” that he wasn’t doing much with at his day job as a senior fellow at the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank he co-founded 12 years ago. He got on the national radar quickly and was named a blog favorite this year by Time magazine. A well-timed scoop in 2006 about former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and a cancelled hearing earned him more than 6 million hits in a single day.
Clemons, a 48-year-old Bartlesville, Okla., native, has been in Washington 16 years. Before that, he spent 14 years in Los Angeles where he directed the Japan America Society of Southern California.
His philosophy on being openly gay is, “I don’t shy away from it, but I don’t wear it on my sleeve either.”
He and his partner, Andrew Oros, have been together 19 years and live in Dupont Circle with their dog, Oakley, a Weimaraner.
Clemons enjoys blogging, running, biking, fishing, reading and selling small items on eBay in his spare time. (Blade photos by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Since 1992. One of my mentors, Chalmers Johnson, was tough for me but went well. Also my husband’s mom, whose sister was spreading rumors that I was having an affair with Andrew’s mom. Untrue of course — the affair was with her son.
Who’s your gay hero?
Alexander the Great, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, John Maynard Keynes, Frank Kameny, Pedro Zamora, Andrew Tobias
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Nellie’s (Cobalt is close second).
Describe your dream gay wedding.
Had it — eloped and got married on the steps of San Francisco City Hall with a couple of other gay couples in August 2008 and on-looking tourists applauding like crazy when my husband and I kissed. In 1996 had an LTC-BBQ (long-term commitment barbecue at my father-in-law’s. Also very cool.)
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Improving the direction of U.S. foreign policy — getting Israel/Palestine resolved, ending the Afghanistan war, getting Iran on a non-nuclear course, normalizing relations with Cuba, etc.
What historical outcome would you change?
I would have preferred Monica Lewinsky to have an affair with Bill Clinton after he was president rather than during his time in office. We might then have gotten Israel/Palestine two-state solution in place and have resolved the North Korea nuclear mess early. This in turn might have helped Al Gore get elected over Bush, preempted the invasion of Iraq and probably wouldn’t have had the same Iran challenge we have today.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I went as “media” to the HRC dinner featuring President Obama. During “media availability” I met the cast of “Glee” as well as Lady Gaga while waiting to meet Matthew Shepard’s parents. I didn’t know who “Glee” and Lady Gaga were (though in retrospect I had heard Gaga’s music — just didn’t know the name of the singer) and only recognized Jane Lynch from “Julie and Julia.” Now I love Gaga and “Glee” obsessively. Other cool thing is that Darren Star, creater of “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Melrose Place,” and “Sex in the City,” was my best friend in college. Took Darren to the White House Correspondents dinner this year and sat him next to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Denis McDonough and Joshua Marshall. It was really hot when Bradley Cooper, Cynthia Nixon and other Darren discoveries came over to schmooze our table.
On what do you insist?
Active engagement in life and causes. No time for those who wait passively for things to happen.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
@SCClemons — Obama will score very, very big points across the board if DADT passes the Senate tomorrow. This is a big deal. There will be great fanfare and celebration or lots of tears tomorrow.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“America’s Gay Machiavelli”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Stay exactly as I am.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Remember that their job is to eventually put the LGBT business out of business, not become too comfortable with the status quo struggles. We want equality, fairness, an end to discrimination — and we need to keep the pressure up all the time to move our rights forward.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
An end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (ouch, those are hot!), gay marriage in America, saving anyone in Matthew Shepard’s shoes, my friends in need, my husband.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
The notion that gay men are pedophiles or that effeminacy and being gay are in lockstep.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
“Longtime Companion” (“Another Country” comes in close second)
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Wearing ties — can we just get rid of them all?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Any national bass fishing trophy — and maybe a Pulitzer for blogging.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That it was really, really all going to be OK.
Because Washington is the sun around which politicos here and around the world orbit. D.C. is a free trade zone for pursuing any cause — and to get a better world, whether through ending LGBT discrimination or improving America’s foreign policy course, one has to compete effectively in the game here.