Since the first time I typed the word “Hillary” next to the word “Clinton” in a column, my inbox and Twitter feed have been filled with queries as to why I’m not writing about her husband’s White House exploits. I would quote a few of the missives, but they’re never printable.
When I answer — and occasionally I do — I say something along the lines of, “Because it’s not 1998, and because Bill isn’t running for president.”
Both are true, but they’re not enough. So here goes:
I’m furious with Bill Clinton, if you want to know the truth.
I’m furious that his late-1990s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which already sucked up close to $40 million and an inordinate amount of our attention, is the first thing some people think of when they see his wife — an ardent champion of women and children’s rights since the ’80s, a two-term U.S. senator, a secretary of state and the first woman to be nominated for president by one of the two major parties.
I’m furious that his infidelity and reputation for womanizing have given cover for people trying to explain away Donald Trump’s highly offensive, dangerous talk of forcing himself on women.
I’m furious that Trump himself had Bill Clinton’s name at the ready when he released his first response to the “Access Hollywood” tape Friday.
I’m furious, as a feminist, that I find myself wondering how to explain Clinton’s behavior — behavior I abhor — because I like his wife and I want her to be our next president. In some ways, their marriage is theirs to work through. But, let’s be honest, it’s also not.
We have a pretty detailed account of what happened with Lewinsky, thanks to Ken Starr and that $40 million. But we’ll likely never know exactly what happened with the other women who’ve accused Bill Clinton of harassing them and worse. Juanita Broaddrick signed an affidavit calling her earlier sexual assault allegation against Bill Clinton “untrue.” But she later recanted that affidavit.
As for whether Hillary Clinton threatened Broaddrick, I have yet to see compelling evidence that happened. As Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote Sunday:
“Even after Broaddrick went public with the rape charges, she initially denied that anyone tried to silence her. ‘Did Bill Clinton or anyone near him ever threaten you, try to intimidate you, do anything to keep you silent?’ Dateline’s Lisa Myers asked her in 1999. ‘No,’ Broaddrick replied.”
A few months later, Goldberg wrote, Broaddrick told the Drudge Report that Hillary Clinton had approached Broaddrick at a fundraiser and “caught me and took my hand and said ‘I am so happy to meet you. I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill.’ ”
“Broaddrick interpreted this as a threat,” Goldberg wrote, “but it sounds like the kind of thing a candidate’s wife at a political event would say to all his supporters. Even in her rendering of Hillary’s words, there is nothing outwardly sinister in them.”
Broaddrick, as you know, appeared alongside Trump on Facebook Live Sunday night, along with Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones and Kathy Shelton — women who’ve all accused Bill Clinton of inappropriate sexual behavior.
And that makes me the most furious of all.
Because Trump — who has a long, well-documented history of harassing women, cheating on his wives and now, as we know, forcing himself on women — somehow convinced these four women that he was their safe space. And that makes my skin crawl. It highlights how adept we are at discarding women who don’t fit the narrative we’re weaving. And how adept we are at happily exploiting them when they do.
I like to think the country has evolved a tiny bit since the ’80s and ’90s, when Bill Clinton’s accusers came forward.
Women outnumber men in college now — doctoral programs, too. Our first lady for the past eight years graduated cum laude from Princeton University and earned her law degree from Harvard.
Strong, feminist voices like Roxane Gay, Lindy West, Jessica Valenti and Rebecca Traister champion women and push back against rape culture. Social media have democratized our culture, forever changing whose stories get told. We all have microphones now.
In Sunday’s New York Times, Richard Perez-Pena talked to men about Trump’s recorded comments about women. Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at Stony Brook University, had this to say:
“This frat house stuff, Army stuff, you might hear athletes and entertainers, these highly entitled people, talk like this, but most guys age out of it. The relationships they develop with real, live women mitigate against it.”
Maybe the same can be true of a nation. Maybe we can age out of it.
Maybe our relationship with real, live women — women who are finally gaining the opportunity to fully participate in policymaking, philanthropy, corporate leadership, law, media and every other public realm — can mitigate future transgressions against women.
A female president, I believe, would help usher in that progress, and Hillary Clinton is highly qualified to be that president. Regardless of her husband’s past.