–Al Franken’s Situation Highlights The Much Bigger Issue Of Bill Clinton: Years Ago, Liberals Were Willing To Grant Clinton Special Dispensation For His Actions. Now, They’re Having Second Thoughts
By Kelly McParland, with permission of the author
At least a few more U.S. liberals are beginning to feel a bit sheepish about the deluge of reports of sexual abuse in high places.
Not that they sympathize with the powerful people being accused. It’s just that it’s getting ever-more difficult to pretend that men viewed as “progressives” are any less crude, predatory and self-serving than the so-much-easier-to-despise conservatives like creepy Judge Roy Moore. They’re feeling bad that they didn’t condemn grubby “progressives” for pushing themselves on women when they had the chance, the way they’re now eager to vilify grubby conservatives.
Sen. Al Franken, the compellingly unfunny former comic who now sits as a Democratic senator for Minnesota, joined the list of alleged abusers when he was accused last week of groping a Los Angeles radio host. He apologized, sort of, saying he recalled things differently, but, you know, there’s a photo and everything. A second woman came forward on Monday, claiming he grabbed her bum at a state fair in 2010. Now wonks are debating whether he should resign.
Now wonks are debating whether Franken should resign.
And Franken’s situation served to highlight anew the much bigger issue of Bill Clinton, the former predator-in-chief, who managed to (barely) survive the lengthy saga of sexual misconduct he amassed in the decades up to and including his years in the White House.
The names on the Clinton rap sheet are well known — Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey — as are the lies and denials, evasions and obstruction, as well as the marital and political discord that accompanied it. What’s changed is the question of whether “progressives” should recant for giving Clinton a pass on it all while registering justifiable disgust over the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore, not to mention Trump, who not only has been accused by multiple women of assault, but has boasted about it as well.
That liberals, feminists and their political allies were willing to grant Clinton special dispensation for his actions is not in question. Despite all the evidence — the semen-stained blue dress, the televised lies (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”), the US$850,000 payoff to Paula Jones — Clinton was able to finish out his term and was subsequently elevated to iconic status in his post-presidential years.
The continued veneration of the Clintons within Democratic ranks is what gave Hillary Clinton the clout to garner the Democratic presidential nomination in the face of all her many flaws. Her husband might be a dirty old rogue, but Democrats and their supporters were willing to set aside their principles given that he backed many of their causes. In particular, he said the right things, took the right stances and condemned the same people they condemned. He might have forced himself on a few unfortunate bimbos now and again, but he was a powerful proponent of abortion rights and the other things that, to them, really counted.
In the nineties, liberals were willing to grant Bill special dispensation for his actions.
Now, 16 years later, they’re having second thoughts. New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Thursday Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky scandal. The New York Times, spiritual guide to all things “progressive,” was veritably stuffed with angst-ridden soul-searching in the wake of the Franken revelations. “What if Ken Starr was right?” wondered one columnist, referring to the special counsel who so enraged Clinton World with his dogged investigations.
Liberals “had an opportunity, with Al Gore waiting in the wings, to show a predator the door and establish some moral common ground for a polarizing country,” but instead they turned the party into “an accessory to Clinton’s appetites, shamelessly abandoning feminist principle, smearing victims and blithely ignoring his most credible accuser.”
“What about Bill?” asked another, noting that Clinton’s accusers were vilified, marginalized and mocked after coming forward with their stories. “They’re all over Roy Moore, but they had nothing to say about Bill Clinton when he was accused of doing what he was accused of doing,” said Kathleen Willey, who claimed Clinton grabbed her breast and tried to force himself on her in the Oval Office during his first term.
Not everyone is overcome with remorse. Gloria Steinem, who defended Clinton at the time, is standing by the former president. Leon Panetta, his former chief of staff, maintains Clinton “more than paid the price” for his behaviour, having been subject to a Senate trial and presumably yelled at by his wife.
But Hillary Clinton, who worked so hard to discredit his accusers, isn’t wavering. “It was investigated in full, it was addressed at the time, he was held accountable,” she said Friday.
Despite changing attitudes, it is unlikely Bill has much to worry about
Bill’s remaining defenders argue that Lewinsky couldn’t have been a “victim,” because she was a willing participant, ignoring the sad reality that powerful men are often able to use their authority and trappings of office to get what they want from impressionable or frightened young things. Steinem wrote in 1998 that Clinton might have been foolish, but he didn’t press any further when the women rejected his advances. Of course, you could say the same of Moore, not that it excuses him of his behaviour. Clinton was for all the right liberal causes; Moore claims to be a God-fearing Christian. Neither absolves them of repeatedly preying on the vulnerable.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that the sudden willingness to reassess the past comes just as the Clintons are a weakening force in liberal circles. Hillary’s bumbling campaign and subsequent loss to Trump shattered the Clinton mystique. New elements are vying for dominance on the left, with the Clintons serving as an example to be avoided. Hillary’s defence of her husband in his moment of crisis may have looked heroic at one time, but Kayla Moore, Roy’s wife, is saying many of the same things about her husband today, with just about as much credibility.
Despite the changing attitude it’s probably unlikely that Bill has much to worry about in terms of reputation or stature. Too many people would have to admit too much culpability to bring about a real reckoning.
But until liberals can bring themselves to admit the truth about Bill Clinton, they’ll have no right to ask why people like Trump get away with what they do. Because the answer is that people like Trump are just like people like Clinton!
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