I’ve reached my fill after just two pieces, that Michelle Goldberg piece that Ed wrote about yesterday and now this new one from Matt Yglesias at Vox. I don’t deny that part of the impulse behind them is virtuous. If left and right together can inculcate an ethic against men abusing their power over women at work by making an example of their own worst offenders, better late than never. If nothing else, the “we should have been tougher on Bill” pieces can be cited later to invoke zero tolerance the next time a powerful Democrat is accused of sexual misconduct. Because there will be a next time, just as there’ll be a next time for powerful Republicans.
But the stench of opportunism is so thick, it’s suffocating. Only now, 20 years later, with the Clintons at the nadir of their political influence and a storm of sexual misconduct allegations in the media raging against left- and right-wingers alike to provide cover — only now is it safe to say, “Yeah, in hindsight, that wasn’t very woke of us”? Democrats had an opportunity just 18 months ago to reckon with Bill’s behavior and Hillary’s enabling of it by denying her their party’s nomination and they punted again. There’s not a right-winger from coast to coast who believes this sudden moment of candor about Bill’s scumbaggery would be nearly as candid if he and Hillary were in the White House today, assuming the moment came at all. Despite proudly proclaiming themselves the party of feminism, most Democrats would have approached it the same way most Republican voters approached the sexual assault allegations against Trump and the same way most Alabama Republican voters will approach the allegations against Roy Moore — the party simply has too much invested in this particular person to believe the accusations against him, no matter how credible. The women are lying because they have to be lying. Our hold on power depends upon it.
But now that Democrats’ investment in Bill and Hillary has tanked and a reappraisal of Bill’s character is costless, it’s a free-fire zone. In fact, reappraising Bill is better than costless for them. It reclaims some moral ground from which they can rightly pressure Trump about his own accusers. At last, the moment when Bill Clinton’s degeneracy is something of an asset to the left has arrived. Yglesias, at least, tries to find grounds for the reassessment in his own personal maturation:
As a married 30-something father, I’ve come around to a less “worldly” view of infidelity. As a co-founder of Vox, I’d never in a million years want us to be the kind of place where men in senior roles can get away with the kind of misconduct that we’ve seen is all too common in our industry and in so many others.
Most of all, as a citizen I’ve come to see that the scandal was never about infidelity or perjury — or at least, it shouldn’t have been. It was about power in the workplace and its use. The policy case that Democrats needed Clinton in office was weak, and the message that driving him from office would have sent would have been profound and welcome. That this view was not commonplace at the time shows that we did not, as a society, give the most important part of the story the weight it deserved.
That’s nice, but even Yglesias allows for the possibility that having a VP who’s problematic in policy terms waiting in the wings might be good reason to continue looking the other way at the president’s misbehavior. In fact, he says, Dems would have good cause to look the other way at Bob Menendez’s behavior (at least for awhile) knowing that Republican Chris Christie would appoint his replacement if he resigned over his bribery scandal anytime soon.
I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands no more. Neither can Ben Shapiro:
Ygelsias says that Republicans shouldn’t have bothered going after Clinton for perjury. Instead, they should have used the feminist line that Lewinsky had been cudgeled into her affair – they should have said that Clinton’s seduction of Lewinsky was “morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.” Which, of course, wouldn’t have worked, since the Left at the time suggested that Monica was a slut who wanted Bill, not a victimized innocent pressured by the most powerful man on earth. Had the Right suggested that Bill used his superior position to get Lewinsky to service him, the Left immediately would have called them sexist for depriving Lewinsky of “agency.” That’s the beautiful convenience of Leftist sexual morality: it’s utterly malleable to the political needs of the moment.
Can we please agree to end the “Bill was wrong” op-ed genre before it gets rolling? It has its uses, like helping to drive consensus on the impropriety of harassment (hopefully there’s already consensus about the impropriety of rape), but the belatedness and opportunism involved does more to alienate right-wingers than to help find common ground, I think. Semi-dignified silence and making Bill scarce at party conventions going forward are preferable. The best thing both sides can do to reinforce cultural consensus on zero tolerance of predation is to purge their own ranks when they have the chance. Republicans whiffed on that with Trump but the congressional leadership is trying to bounce Roy Moore right now, at great risk to their own party. Although even that raises a question: If Moore weren’t so unpalatable to the leadership for *policy* reasons, if he weren’t so personally hostile to Mitch McConnell, if there wasn’t a struggle for the direction of the party between establishmentarians like McConnell and populists like Steve Bannon with Moore’s fate hanging in the balance, would Senate Republicans be shoving Moore towards the exit for allegedly having assaulted a teenaged girl? I wonder.