The Bill Clinton Problem
During the triggering, traumatizing tragedy that was the Kavanaugh hearing and confirmation, I found myself thinking about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, understandably. But I also found myself reflecting darkly on how myself and other Democrats have treated the extensive allegations of sexual impropriety, assault and harassment against President Clinton when he was running for office, when he was president, and today.
I am not proud to admit that I viewed the charges against Clinton pretty much the same way Republicans and other fierce partisans have viewed Dr. Ford and the other women who came forward at great danger to their safety, lives, reputations and careers with charges against Kavanaugh. We Democrats overwhelmingly saw the charges as politically motivated. We viewed them as minor and irrelevant compared to our man’s boundless political ambition and potential for doing great good for our side, our cause, our interests. We dismissed them as nothing more than gossip and rumors, character assassination cynically designed to destroy someone’s career just as they approached a place of supreme political power and significance. We slut-shamed the victims, deriding them as sleazy and trashy, mere pawns to the Clintons’ many enemies, being trotted out like show ponies before the cameras by powerful forces that despised Bill and Hillary for their own political ends. We rationalized Bill’s actions as the inevitable philandering of an aggressive womanizer with a more than healthy libido and nothing more.
In other words, we were wrong. And predictable. I’d like to think that it was a different time and place and that we’ve learned an extraordinary amount since then and that our consciousness about issues like sexual assault have been raised, particularly in the aftermath of the #Metoo and #TimesUp movement but I’m not sure that’s true.
I’m not sure how much Bill Clinton in particular has learned, or grown or evolved as a human being or as a political figure. He should have been a huge political asset for Hillary Clinton during her 2016 campaign, a popular two-term president with a common touch and flair for populist political theatrics that put Donald Trump’s to shame.
Yet over the course of the campaign, the former President’s formerly infallible political instincts failed him big time. He came off as entitled and tone-deaf, a sort of Unfrozen Caveman Politician who didn’t understand the newfangled ways of Black Lives Matter or trans rights or the need to get young people off the Youtube with the Myspace and Pokemon go to the polls and elect the first woman president.
Bill’s long history as a philandering, dishonest sexual predator at best and a rapist at worst made it hard for Hillary Clinton to hit Donald Trump on his own appalling history as a probable sex criminal as she otherwise could have.
Hillary Clinton should not be held responsible for her husband’s actions. But Bill Clinton most assuredly should be held responsible for how he has treated women. With some notable exceptions, Bill Clinton’s own party did not hold him accountable when he was accused of sexual harassment and assault. They did not take the allegations seriously or insist they be investigated. We victim and slut-shamed and rallied around Bill Clinton because he was our guy so surely what he did couldn’t be that bad.
That’s why we must hold Bill Clinton accountable now and confront our own complicity in encouraging allegations of sexual crimes to be snidely laughed away or written off as cheap partisan stunts with no bearing on the accused’s character or sense of ethics. I know that I was wrong then. I’d like to think that I’ve learned and grown since then. I’d also like to think that’s true of the Democratic party as whole but I think now in particular would be a terrible time for us to start patting ourselves on the back for our moral growth, what with the world seemingly in flames and all.
We can do better than Bill Clinton. We have to. We must.
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