Are liberals having a moral awakening? Observing the political contortions of Republicans to defend a candidate accused of sexually molesting teenage young girls, Democrats and liberal pundits happen to be reckoning publicly with their private history of fervid rationalizations with respect to a recent president. But this will be just the start of a painful re-examination.
This new consciousness was glimpsed first in a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, a commentator of stoutly progressive persuasion. “As gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right’s ‘what about Bill Clinton’ stuff is,” he wrote, “it is also authentic that Democrats and the guts left happen to be overdue for a genuine reckoning with the allegations against him.”
Story Continued Below
It was glimpsed in passing found in a New York Times editorial, Ground Zero of conventional liberalism. “Remember former President Bill Clinton, whose recognition endures despite a long string of allegations of sexual misconduct and, in a single case, rape-all of which he has denied,” it said.
David Remnick, editor of the brand new Yorker, where coastal elitism is definitely a badge of honor, acknowledged the elephant on the room in this manner: “That so a lot of women possess summoned the courage to create public their allegations against Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly-or that many attended to reconsider a number of the claims manufactured against Bill Clinton-represents a cultural passage.”
And found in full-throated, unvarnished form, it appeared in a piece Monday found in The Atlantic by the redoubtable Caitlin Flanagan, who’s unbound to any particular ideology. In a piece titled, “Bill Clinton-The Reckoning,” Flanagan pointed never to the Monica Lewinsky tale, nor to Gennifer Flowers, nor to any additional story of consensual patterns, but to a darker series of stories from dating back to 1978.
“It was a pattern of patterns; it included an alleged violent assault; the women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations which may have come to light previously five weeks. But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced,” Flanagan wrote. “Rather, he was rescued by a astonishing force: machine feminism. The activity had by then ossified into a partisan procedure and it was willing-eager-to let this friend of the sisterhood like a little droit de seigneur.”
These allegations have always been a part of the right-wing media’s talking points. Sean Hannity invoked them on an daily basis through the 2016 campaign, plus they were employed by Donald Trump as a defensive shield, to ward off the costs of serial sexual harassment and the boastful confessions of same on the “Access Hollywood” tape. During the 2016 campaign, Trump brought these three women to a Presidential debate, as living, breathing arguments for “whataboutism.”
But from the political centre leftward, those allegations hardly ever reached critical mass. Probably it was the very way that the proper not only seized on the testimonies, but made them part of a much broader, far less credible series of accusations. The past due Rev. Jerry Falwell spent years peddling “the Clinton Chronicles,” a series of clips that charged the Clintons with complicity in any number of murders. A Congressional committee seat employed a rifle and a watermelon to try to exhibit that Whit Hose aide Vince Foster had been murdered, rather than taking his own life; As late as last year, the fever swamps were rife with testimonies of a pedophilic sex trafficking band operating out from the basement of a favorite Washington pizza parlor. Any one of these flights of lunacy acted as the thirteenth stroke of the clock, casting hesitation not only on itself, but on almost every other allegation.
So what changed? Three people: Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
The first factor is obvious. In the fallout from the thermonuclear explosion that was Weinstein, phrases and deeds are now being viewed through a radically unique body. From literary lions to famous political journalists to editors to CEOs, careers have been suddenly, carefully obliterated due to past behavior that is now seen as beyond the pale. And that has designed that the alleged patterns of a one-time legal professional standard, governor and president happen to be no less vulnerable to reexamination.
There’s no better illustration of the way the surface has shifted than to look at Gloria Steinem’s 1998 New York Times op-ed piece, “Why Feminists Support Clinton.” Posted as the Lewinsky tale was on total boil, the piece talked not about that story, but about the costs of harassment leveled by Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey. What she argued was that regardless if the allegations were authentic, they did not amount to harassment. Why not? Because, in the circumstances of of Willey and Jones, he took no for an answer.
“He is accused of experiencing manufactured a gross, dumb and reckless move at a supporter throughout a low stage in her life” Steinem wrote of Willey. “She pushed him away, she stated, and it hardly ever happened again.” In her original tale, Paula Jones essentially stated the same thing. She went to
then-Governor Clinton’s accommodation, where she said he asked her to execute oral sex and even dropped his trousers. She refused, and even she statements that he stated something like, ‘Well, I don’t need to cause you to do whatever you don’t wish to accomplish.’’
“Much like the allegations found in Ms. Willey’s case, Mr. Clinton seems to have manufactured a clumsy sexual move, then recognized rejection,” Steinem wrote by method of excusing him. Possibly 19 years ago, Steinem’s assertion was not received all that very well. It was labeled the “one free grope” theory.
Now restate the tale with today’s body: The governor of circumstances sends his security aspect to summon a $6.35 entry-level employee up to his hotel suite. If we comply with Steinem and admit the allegations, he drops his pants, exposes himself, and asks for oral sex. Would his acceptance of her refusal immunize him-or a Tv set maker, or an actor, or an advertising executive from swift and solid retribution?
What’s also notable about the Steinem essay is definitely that it manufactured no mention of the most serious fee against Clinton: that as legal professional general in 1978, he had persuaded a nursing home operator to invite him to her hotel room-a last minute change of venue-where he place upon her and raped her. Juanita Broaddrick’s story-from which she has deviated only once, falsely repudiating the tale, she said, in order never to be dragged into the Paula Jones lawsuit-has been regular and has the sort of credibility we’ve been taught to identify (a pal saw her soon after the alleged incident and noticed her with bruised lip and torn apparel). This allegation-that Clinton did not consider “no” for an answer-has always unsettled even some of the ex – President’s strongest admirers. (I remember asking a Clinton aide about it on CNN a long time ago and was struck by the fact that there was no push back, no denial.) But in the wake of what Weinstein provides taught us, a number of the gaps in Broaddrick’s tale now seem to be explicable. Of study course she didn’t data file a complaint; he was the principle law enforcement officer of the express. Of study course she denied the tale at one stage; she had no curiosity in learning to be a public figure.
At the height of the Lewinsky impeachment melodrama, Clinton’s defenders constantly argued that the president’s behavior was an exclusive matter. To this day, you will find references to Clinton’s “dalliances” and “peccadilloes.” It is also true that found in each one of these three circumstances, there happen to be grounds for hesitation. Broaddrick changed her tale; Jones could not effectively describe the Presidential bundle; Willey likewise accused Clinton of murdering her hubby, and wished to publish a e book. And all three became ardent political foes of the Clintons. However the fact that some of Weinstein’s accusers decided to stay silent in return for a settlement or even explained that he was innocent of harassment within the settlement deal no more are seen as mitigating Weinstein’s patterns. And in the Weinstein context, the inconsistencies and political involvement of Broaddrick, Jones and Willey is seen just as much as a desire for justified revenge as an alliance with conspiracy-minded extremists.
But there’s another, broad concern that progressives and additional Democrats need to confront, one that reaches beyond Clinton. And it’s an issue triggered by the response on the proper to Donald Trump’s campaign, and (to a lesser extent to guage Roy Moore.: Will be they going to let partisan politics warp their convenience of clear moral judgment?
During 2016, figures in the proper debated over what to do about Donald Trump. His persona, his temperament, his history, his knowledge (or lack thereof) manufactured him as unfit a candidate for President as any inside our history. Various refused to endorse him; some even publicly backed Clinton. But among those that did, one of the most powerful arguments went in this manner: “Yes, he’s incorrect in all types of ways, but if Clinton wins, we will have a liberal federal government judiciary for many years, we will have intrusive health care, and we will have no chance to decrease how big is big government, and in any case, she’s a crook.” If the exit polls happen to be right, a lot of voters bought this argument; crunch the amounts, and as it happens that countless million voters who noticed Trump as neither qualified nor fit for business office voted for him in any case.
We are seeing this same argument about Judge Moore (although his support will seem to be to be slipping by the hour). The Alabama express auditor has stated in thus many words that he will vote for Trump regardless if the charges about molesting a 14-year-old girl are authentic. Conservative writer David Horowitz set it in this manner: “In my view Moore is definitely guilty as accused. But 1) it happened 30 years ago, & 2) he can not be removed from the ballot, & 3) electing a Dem strengthens a celebration that defends these criminals: Obama, the Clintons, Holder, Lynch, Abedin, Cheryl Mills etc. & their crimes happen to be far far worse.”
Now for the very difficult part. How unique is this “transactional” approach to voting not the same as what Clinton’s supporters have in brushing apart the serious questions not really of philandering, but of predatory sexual patterns?
Clinton was a good feminist; he known as a liberal woman to the Supreme Courtroom; he was pro-decision; he put record amounts of ladies in his administration; he fought for child-health care, the earned-income tax credit, environmentally progressive plans. By concentrating on Clinton’s non-public “dalliances,” and by ignoring the more serious allegations, the center-left argued that the removal of Clinton was not simply anti-democratic (overturning an election), but will be a victory for the forces of reaction. (This argument constantly lacked a particular force, given that Al Gore would have replaced Clinton). It also represented a total reversal of a central feminist argument that “the personal is definitely political,” that the patterns of men, and not simply their pronouncements and plans, had to be considered into profile. The brand new version was, “the personal is definitely political unless the person involved embraces my politics.”
Clinton himself raised this argument when he told his cabinet in August of 1998 that his earlier assurances of innocence in the Lewinsky affair were false. His Health and Human Providers Secretary Donna Shalala, upbraided him for his carry out, and noted that got he been a professor at the university she once ran, he would have already been bounced for such carry out.
To which Clinton replied, based on the Washington Content, “that if her logic had prevailed in 1960, Richard M. Nixon would have been elected president instead of John F. Kennedy.”
This is, you may recognize, the mirror image of the argument Trump’s supporters designed to skeptics, and what Moore’s supporters are producing even as their man takes serious incoming fire. The political defense of Moore goes such as this: “If Moore loses, that’s one much less vote for taxes cuts, conservative judges, classic values. (Well, they could need to shelve that one). We can’t let our issues with personal carry out override the tremendous political stakes.”
But Clinton’s reply to Shalala raises one last, highly unsettling concern: Presented today’s terrain, how should we regard the carry out of President John Kennedy? We have known for a number of decades that he was not just a “womanizer” (a word that may should be retired) but a guy of compulsive, reckless, hazardous impulses. A few of his patterns was merely contemptible, telling the 19-year-old White Property staffer he was sleeping with to “be mindful” of his aide and occasional procurer Dave Powers with oral sex.
But some of it carried sharp public outcomes, like bedding the mistress of a powerful Mafia don while his brother was launching an all-out war on organized crime, or frolicking with a suspected East German agent. The actual fact that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had total understanding of JFK’s behavior-expertise he delighted in sharing along with his nemesis Bobby Kennedy-designed that there was no way for President Kennedy to eliminate a racist, politically fanatical director of the FBI. (Disclosure: I worked in Robert Kennedy’s Senate business office and in his presidential campaign in 1967-68.) Additionally, contrary to the myth that the press threw a defensive shield around his patterns, Kennedy in the last weeks of his life had become the target of some severe investigative reporting, most notably by Clark Mollenhoff of the Des Moines Register. It really is at least feasible that had Kennedy resided, his private life would have turn into distinctly un-non-public, jeopardizing his hold on the White Property. We’ll never really know what apologies might have been created to absolve him of those sins, but we are able to well imagine presented the prevailing attitudes of the time.
And yet…there is greater than a little realpolitik force to Clinton’s concern. For all of his recklessness in concerns of sex, Kennedy was a careful, prudent person when it counted most-in his part as Commander-in-Chief. In his refusal to get into Laos in 1961, in his refusal to provide American air go over for the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion, in his carry out through the Cuban Missile Crisis, in his require a thaw in the Chilly War and a Nuclear Check Ban Treaty, and in his raising doubts about Vietnam, there was no signal of recklessness. It may well not be a great deal to say a different President through the Cuban Missile Crisis would have designed the difference between life and death for tens of millions of people.
In the end, though, neither Clinton nor Kennedy can get away the “reckoning” of which Chris Hayes and Caitlin Flanagan refer. Regarding Kennedy, his treatment of women was not simply callous, but jeopardized his presidency. Regarding Clinton, his public plans cannot erase the severe doubts about whether a sexual predator occupied the White Property for eight years. And even measured by partisan problems, Clinton’s behavior materially, perhaps fatally, wounded the promotions of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.
For many folks, it is simple to look at of Weinstein, Trump and Moore as case studies in pathological behavior. Seeking nearer to home is much more painful; additionally it is compulsory. Unless and until partisans across the board stop justifying unconscionable patterns out of political self-interest, the much more likely it is that the pervasive cynicism about the process, and everyone involved with it, will fester and expand.
Jeff Greenfield is a good five-time Emmy-winning network television set analyst and author.