Bill’s be­lated #Metoo mo­ment

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE - ▶ Dowd writes for The New York Times.

Book tours can be bru­tal.

It took 20 years for Bill Clin­ton to be prop­erly pub­licly shamed for the ugly bar­gain at the heart of the Clin­ton op­er­a­tion.

As a politi­cian, the for­mer pres­i­dent was gifted. James Carville liked to say: “Peo­ple are con­fused. They don’t know which one they like more, the peace or the pros­per­ity.”

Even Barack Obama, an­other tal­ented pol, was forced to turn to his for­mer neme­sis to help sell his agenda for his sec­ond term, chris­ten­ing Bill the “Sec­re­tary of Ex­plain­ing Stuff.” And if Hil­lary had lis­tened to Bill’s ur­gent warn­ings about ad­dress­ing the alien­ation of white men in fly­over coun­try in 2016, she’d be pres­i­dent.

Bill Clin­ton was so pop­u­lar that, dur­ing his cas­cad­ing scan­dals with women, some po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts on the left sug­gested that Amer­i­cans should look at a com­man­der in chief in terms of pri­vate char­ac­ter and pub­lic char­ac­ter, dis­re­gard­ing per­sonal pec­ca­dil­loes and giv­ing weight only to pol­icy de­ci­sions. But with the Clin­tons, the pub­lic and pri­vate were al­ways in­ter­twined in an in­ex­tri­ca­ble and un­ap­pe­tiz­ing way.

The de­sire among his sup­port­ers for a lib­eral agenda was held hostage to Bill Clin­ton’s lib­er­tine ap­petites. Let Bill be re­gres­sive and trans­gres­sive with women he was at­tracted to, and he would be pro­gres­sive for all women.

You want en­light­ened poli­cies for women and a record num­ber of women in ex­alted posts? Then you must en­dure — and cover up for — “Satur­day Night Bill,” as the dark side of the pres­i­dent was dubbed.

His wife and other prom­i­nent fem­i­nists backed Bill back then, and he and Hil­lary al­ways had hench­men who were will­ing to smear Bill’s girl­friends and vic­tims as trailer trash, cash-for-trash, nutty and slutty. (Think of how the Clin­ton war room would have Gi­u­liani-ed a Stormy Daniels in those days.)

So it came as a sur­prise to him when he had no more skirts to hide be­hind when Craig Melvin asked on the “To­day” show whether his ac­tions in the ’90s would f ly in the #Metoo era. Bill went to his usual go-to: his ex­cel­lent record on ap­point­ing women. But that Faus­tian deal of do­ing good for all women while be­ing bad with a few was no longer on the ta­ble.

“How would you have ap­proached the ac­cu­sa­tions dif­fer­ently, or would you have?” Melvin asked.

“Well,” he replied, “I don’t think it would be an is­sue be­cause peo­ple would be us­ing the facts, in­stead of the imag­ined facts.”

So here are the facts, which were as clear 20 years ago as they are now. When Mon­ica Lewin­sky came into the Oval Of­fice and f lashed her thong, Bill Clin­ton should have said: “Young lady, go back to your of­fice. I am the pres­i­dent of the United States.” Like Humphrey Bog­art in “Casablanca,” Bill should have been do­ing the think­ing for both of them.

The power dif­fer­en­tial be­tween a 22-yearold in­tern and a 49-year-old boss makes any sex­ual in­ter­ac­tion wrong. And if you throw in the fact that he was pres­i­dent — the coun­try’s par­ent and some­one serv­ing in loco par­en­tis for the youngest White House staffers — it’s an in­ex­cus­able abuse of power. Glo­ria Steinem was off-base when she tried to bol­ster Clin­ton in a Times op-ed as the scan­dal un­spooled, writ­ing that “wel­come sex­ual be­hav­ior is about as rel­e­vant to sex­ual ha­rass­ment as bor­row­ing a car is to steal­ing one.”

It took Lewin­sky her­self 20 years to sort through the trauma and start mov­ing be­yond what she calls her PTSD. As she wrote in an elo­quent March Van­ity Fair piece, “I’m begin­ning to en­ter­tain the no­tion that in such a cir­cum­stance the idea of con­sent might well be ren­dered moot.”

It was Trump-level nar­cis­sism and self­ish­ness on Bill Clin­ton’s part to force the high­rank­ing women in his in­ner cir­cle — Hil­lary, Madeleine Al­bright and Donna Sha­lala — to go be­fore the cam­eras and vouch for him when he knew the truth and could sim­ply have ad­mit­ted it, rather than ly­ing.

Bill Clin­ton tried his usual trick of scape­goat­ing, as he and his co-au­thor, James Pat­ter­son, evoked JFK and LBJ to Melvin. That was an un­pleas­ant echo of Clin­ton aides call­ing around to re­porters dur­ing the 1998 spi­ral to say that JFK had fooled around with young women at the White House. But by 1998, fem­i­nism had been flow­er­ing for 30 years. And JFK was no role model in that re­gard.

Lewin­sky has fi­nally emerged from the capri­cious be­hav­ior of Bill Clin­ton and the smear­ing of Clin­ton­world. And that’s a re­lief. And Bill Clin­ton has learned that his thread­bare rou­tine of maudlin self-pity and cast­ing blame on ev­ery­one but him­self doesn’t work any­more. And that is a re­lief. The def­i­ni­tion of “is” doesn’t de­pend on any­thing. It just is.

maureen dowd

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