Wonder why we didn’t have this “I believe the women” moment 25 years ago? You’re not alone. After a generation-long bout with amnesia, some media outlets have finally begun reckoning with Bill Clinton and the women casually dismissed by those who supposedly championed their interests — feminists. The Atlantic’s Caitlyn Flanagan writes that women began to come forward in the late 1980s and early 1990s to expose sexual harassment and worse in the workplace, and momentum had built up for a cultural paradigm shift.
“But then Bubba came along and blew up the tracks,” Flanagan writes — and he had help in the demolition:
Yet let us not forget the sex crimes of which the younger, stronger Bill Clinton was very credibly accused in the 1990s. Juanita Broaddrick reported that when she was a volunteer on one of his gubernatorial campaigns, she had arranged to meet him in a hotel coffee shop. At the last minute, he had changed the location to her room in the hotel, where she says he very violently raped her. She said she fought against Clinton throughout a rape that left her bloodied. At a different Arkansas hotel, he caught sight of a minor state employee named Paula Jones, and, Jones says, he sent a couple of state troopers to invite her to his suite, where he exposed his penis to her and told her to kiss it. Kathleen Willey said that she met him in the Oval Office for personal and professional advice and that he groped her, rubbed his erect penis on her, and pushed her hand to his crotch.
It was a pattern of behavior; it included an alleged violent assault; the women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations that have come to light in the past five weeks. But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today’s accused men have experienced. Rather, he was rescued by a surprising force: machine feminism. The movement had by then ossified into a partisan operation and it was willing—eager—to let this friend of the sisterhood enjoy a little droit de seigneur.
And the chief villain of this tale was feminism’s most celebrated figure, Flanagan concludes:
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.
Called “Feminists and the Clinton Question,” it was written in March of 1998, when Paula Jones’s harassment claim was working its way through court. It was printed seven days after Kathleen Willey’s blockbuster 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley. If all the various allegations were true, wrote Steinem, Bill Clinton was “a candidate for sex addiction therapy.” To her mind, the most “credible” accusations were those of Willey, whom she noted was “old enough to be Monica Lewinsky’s mother.” And then she wrote the fatal sentences that invalidated the new understanding of workplace sexual harassment as a moral and legal wrong: “Even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb, and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took ‘no’ for an answer.”
Steinem said the same was true of Paula Jones. These were not crimes; they were “passes.” Broaddrick was left out by Steinem, who revealed herself as a combination John and Bobby Kennedy of the feminist movement: the fair-haired girl and the bareknuckle fixer.
That taught a lesson to an entire generation of sexual predators, Flanagan argues. Contribute to the Democratic Party, and it becomes an indulgence in the Church of Feminism:
The widespread liberal response to the sex crime accusations against Bill Clinton found their natural consequence 20 years later in the behavior of Harvey Weinstein: Stay loudly and publicly and extravagantly on the side of signal leftist causes and you can do what you want in the privacy of your offices and hotel rooms.
In her search for villains among self-professed feminists, Flanagan missed Nina Burleigh, who wrote with so much outrage last week about the “Garden of D****” in men’s minds and in workplaces everywhere, and put the blame on Donald Trump and his voters. Almost twenty years ago, Burleigh laughed off allegations against Clinton, claiming that his lechery made her feel “incandescent” and “riveting.” Burleigh wrote that “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”
Guess who barely gets a mention in Burleigh’s “Garden of D*****”?
You know who we don’t hear much about in this Garden of Dicks? Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton won office twice while facing complaints about his own behavior, including some women (Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey) who claimed he’d assaulted them, and another (Paula Jones) who claimed he’d come close to doing so. The only mention Burleigh makes of Clinton is that he was caught “seducing an intern in 1996,” but then only to juxtapose it with another allegation against Trump. Burleigh doesn’t even note that Clinton committed perjury in a deposition in the Jones case and ended up losing his law license over it in an attempt to get out from under Jones’ lawsuit for harassment and defamation. We also never hear about Clinton’s escapades with Jeffrey Epstein, who was later prosecuted for underage prostitution.
You know who else we don’t hear about at all? Hillary Clinton, who attacked her husband’s accusers while claiming that all women should be believed. She invented the “vast right-wing conspiracy” argument to rebut the fact that Clinton had been “seducing an intern” at all, and to this day keeps applying the same double standard when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. And while Burleigh mentions Harvey Weinstein a number of times, she never gets around to discussing his two-decade connections to both Bill and Hillary Clinton, including during their White House years.
But now that the Clintons appear washed up, it suddenly appears that it’s open season on the Big Dog. Even the New York Times has gotten in on the act, running an op-ed piece titled “I Believe Juanita,” coming out in support of Clinton accuser Juanita Broaddrick. Even then, Michelle Goldberg decries how Broaddrick’s accusations got “weaponized” against the Clintons:
Of the Clinton accusers, the one who haunts me is Broaddrick. The story she tells about Clinton recalls those we’ve heard about Weinstein. She claimed they had plans to meet in a hotel coffee shop, but at the last minute he asked to come up to her hotel room instead, where he raped her. Five witnesses said she confided in them about the assault right after it happened. It’s true that she denied the rape in an affidavit to Paula Jones’s lawyers, before changing her story when talking to federal investigators. But her explanation, that she didn’t want to go public but couldn’t lie to the F.B.I., makes sense. Put simply, I believe her.
What to do with that belief? Contemplating this history is excruciating in part because of the way it has been weaponized against Hillary Clinton. Broaddrick sees her as complicit, interpreting something Hillary once said to her at a political event — “I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill” — as a veiled threat instead of a rote greeting. This seems wildly unlikely; Broaddrick was decades away from going public, and most reporting about the Clinton marriage shows Bill going to great lengths to hide his betrayals. Nevertheless, one of the sick ironies of the 2016 campaign was that it was Hillary who had to pay the political price for Bill’s misdeeds, as they were trotted out to deflect attention from Trump’s well-documented transgressions.
And now they’re being trotted out again. It’s fair to conclude that because of Broaddrick’s allegations, Bill Clinton no longer has a place in decent society. But we should remember that it’s not simply partisan tribalism that led liberals to doubt her. Discerning what might be true in a blizzard of lies isn’t easy, and the people who spread those lies don’t get to claim the moral high ground. We should err on the side of believing women, but sometimes, that belief will be used against us.
Gee, I don’t know — maybe they got “weaponized” in the same way Anita Hill’s much-milder allegations against Clarence Thomas got “weaponized” by partisans during his confirmation hearing. Feminists had no trouble getting past that to believing Hill and others, as long as the “weaponization” suited their own political purposes. When it didn’t, the accusers got smeared as “a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty,” exactly how Goldberg treats Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey in this very column.
Isn’t it much more likely that these accusers ended up with the allies they had by default — because so-called feminists wanted nothing to do with accusations against their own preferred politician? They saw an opening to tell their stories of victimization and assumed feminists would rally to their side. Instead, they got thrown under the bus in exchange for “incandescent” attention from the Oval Office.
That’s precisely what Flanagan diagnoses in her column. Of course it was partisan tribalism that led feminists to give the Clintons a massive pass and to reject Bill’s accusers. They wanted access to power through a friendly administration and set back women for a full generation.
Now, of course, Bill Clinton serves no useful purpose to progressives and feminists, so he can be served up on a platter. One wonders whether this introspection would have ever taken place at all if Hillary Clinton had won the election — and whether even Harvey Weinstein would still be in place to victimize more women with the protective indulgences of his own liberal tribalism.
This post originally appeared on Hot Air