Rivalry, Respectability, and Co-optation: Lessons in Social Movements from the Clinton Presidency

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0003-2263-1113
Riley, Gavin, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Milkis, Sidney, Dept of Politics, University of Virginia
Duong, Kevin, Dept of Politics, University of Virginia

Presidents and social movements have complex relationships that can go from constructive to corrosive in a matter of days, yet these ambivalent relationships are the basis for significant state change. Presidents, however, have the advantage of being a single actor while movements are an amalgamation of several different groups with distinct visions of what progress towards their cause looks like. Presidents can influence these intra-movement disputes by interacting with one faction or its leaders over another in service of their own political goals. Using the interactions between the Clinton presidency and the gay rights movement as an illustrative case, I show how presidents elevate moderate and ‘respectable’ factions of social movements through official negotiations and access to the administration. This ultimately forecloses on more transformative political change and opens movement organizations up to partisan co-optation.

MA (Master of Arts)
Social Movements, LGBT Politics, Bill Clinton, Respectability
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