The Democrats’ #MeToo hypocrisy

October 29, 2018

Leela Yellesetty shines a spotlight on the double standards of Democratic Party politicians who shield their own when they are accused of sexual assault.

“SHE WAS an adult.”

With these words, Hillary dismissed a question about whether Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was an abuse of power in an interview with CBS. From there, she immediately pivoted to talking about the numerous accusations of sexual harassment against Trump.

At age 22, Lewinsky was indeed an adult at the time of the affair, though that still made her 27 years younger than Bill Clinton. Not to mention she was an intern, and he was arguably the most powerful person on the planet — and also her boss.

While Lewinsky maintained at the time that the affair was consensual, in the wake of #MeToo, she has begun to reassess what that really meant, writing in Vanity Fair earlier this year:

I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. The road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station and privilege.

Bill Clinton and Al Franken at a rally during Barack Obama's 2008 campaign
Bill Clinton and Al Franken at a rally during Barack Obama's 2008 campaign

Following Hillary Clinton’s interview, activist and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke put an even sharper point on Lewinsky’s reassessment:

You’re talking about an age dynamic, but you’re also talking about the president of the United States. The amount of power, the amount of accumulated power that is in that position alone, versus an intern, it’s absolutely an abuse of power.

OF COURSE, the question of Lewinsky’s consent wasn’t the main concern at the time. The criticisms of Clinton were mostly a hypocritical right-wing campaign in the guise of “family values.”

But even if one accepts that the Lewinsky affair was consensual, the other accusations against Clinton are not so easy to dismiss in this way — and together add up to a pattern far too disturbing to dismiss.

In fact, during the 2016 presidential campaign in 2016, Trump appeared live with three different women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault — Kathleen Wiley, Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick. While none of these allegations have been definitively proven, all are credible, especially that of Broaddrick, who didn’t appear to have any motive for fabricating her claim that Clinton held her down in a hotel room and raped her, bruising her lip in the process.

During the 2016 presidential debates, Hillary Clinton’s reply was similar to her recent interview: focus back on the allegations against Trump, as though his own (predictable) hypocrisy somehow excused her own.

Obviously, Hillary Clinton should not be held responsible for her husband’s actions, but she should be held accountable for defending him — and in the case of Broaddrick, possibly even actively pressuring her to stay silent.

Indeed, as Caitlyn Flanagan noted in the Atlantic, if in the age of #MeToo Bill Clinton is finally due for a reckoning, this will necessarily also implicate the many prominent feminists who supported him:

The notorious 1998 New York Times op-ed by Gloria Steinem must surely stand as one of the most regretted public actions of her life. It slut-shamed, victim-blamed and age-shamed; it urged compassion for and gratitude to the man the women accused. Moreover (never write an op-ed in a hurry; you’ll accidentally say what you really believe), it characterized contemporary feminism as a weaponized auxiliary of the Democratic Party.

BILL CLINTON isn’t the only Democratic predator to benefit from a feminist defense. Earlier this year, four women came forward with their stories of being physically and emotionally abused by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

One of them explained to the New Yorker that “she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose.”

Indeed, at the same time he was hitting and choking women in private, Schneiderman fashioned himself an advocate for #MeToo in public — leading up the Weinstein investigations and garnering awards from feminist organizations.

We saw similar defenses of liberal darlings Al Franken, John Conyers and Keith Ellison, based mainly on the premise that certain actions could be excused if they were the responsibility of one of ours. And besides, what was the alternative?: Probably an even worse Republican abuser. Wendy Kaminer put it most bluntly in her defense of Franken, stating:

The Franken purge is intended to broadcast their heightened sensitivity to the harassment and abuse of women, but this show of moral superiority will cost them — and the women they aim to protect.

Franken’s formerly safe Senate seat, which he would have occupied until 2020, will now be up for grabs by Republicans in a special election in 2018, along with 25 other seats in the Democratic caucus. The Democratic hope of taking back the Senate next year was already exceedingly unrealistic. Now it seems a mere fantasy, while an increase in Republican seats seems even more likely.

Consolidating Republican control of the Senate until 2020 can enable conservative Republican domination of the federal judiciary for at least a generation. If that’s a victory for women, it’s hard to imagine defeat.

They may not always put it so clearly, but this is the Democratic argument laid bare: We must protect Democratic order to protect women from abuse. (It’s a similar refrain to the argument by Bernie Sanders that we must elect anti-choice politicians in order to defend choice.)

THERE IS, in fact, no principle which the Democrats won’t sacrifice on the altar of winning.

Even by its own twisted logic, tolerating abusers within their own ranks makes it incredibly difficult for Democrats to confront Republicans with those same charges — which Trump fully used to his advantage during the debates, effectively defusing what should have been a fatal revelation with the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about assaulting women.

This hesitance to fully take a stand for survivors also explains why Senate Democrats failed to directly take on the issue during the Kavanaugh hearings. As Ben Mathis-Lilley and Mark Joseph Stern argued in Slate:

Democrats could have played their hand strategically. They could have allowed a handful of senators to ask all their questions, much like Republican senators brought in an outside prosecutor to question Ford. They could have coordinated their queries so that each senator focused on one area where Kavanaugh’s credibility is dubious. Or they could have carefully examined the accusations and asked piercing questions that might force Kavanaugh to provide something other than a flat denial.

But they did none of that. Instead, the Democrats fixated on objections to the process — most notably, the lack of an FBI investigation into Ford’s claims — and repeated the same bad questions over and over again. It was a wasted opportunity that let Kavanaugh walk away without clarifying the major problems with his side of the story.

Of course, the Republicans were willing to go to any length necessary to get Kavanaugh confirmed — indeed, they were banking on this to help them in the upcoming elections.

So the Democrats weren’t the only “fixated” party in Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But at the same time, the idea that we can count on the Democratic Party to do the right thing when they have the chance was just betrayed again when Senate Democrats agreed to expedite approval of 15 federal judges.

Why did they agree to pass through these conservative Trump appointees to lifetime positions without scrutiny? You guessed it: in order to get back to campaigning for the midterms.

We can’t afford to trust Democrats to stand up for survivors — not when they continue to protect powerful predators.

Right now, Bill Clinton is touring across North America, raking in six figures in speaker’s fees. Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky was blacklisted from her career, harassed and hounded, and suffers from ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder. But her words offer us hope for the way ahead:

For many, the Reckoning has also been a re-triggering. Sadly, what I see with every new allegation, and with every posting of “#MeToo,” is another person who may have to cope with the re-emergence of trauma. My hope is that through Time’s Up (or, perhaps, another organization) we can begin to meet the need for the resources that are required for the kind of trauma therapy vital for survival and recovery. Regrettably, it’s often only the privileged who can afford the time and the money to get the help they deserve.

Through all of this, during the past several months, I have been repeatedly reminded of a powerful Mexican proverb: “They tried to bury us; they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Spring has finally sprung.

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