We’ve had this story in the headlines today so maybe you already caught it, but I want to memorialize this as another instance of a long-time Washington insider only now coming to grips with Bill Clinton. Richard Cohen, who actually works in New York, has been a reporter since 1968 and a columnist at the post since 1976, so he was an old hand at the paper by the time the Lewinsky scandal broke. And yet, he writes today that he never really dealt with the Broaddrick rape allegation because it was simply too difficult to accept Clinton could do such a thing:
I remember refusing to deal with Broaddrick’s allegation because I simply chose to believe Clinton was not a rapist. Clinton, after all, was one of “us” college-educated, modern, urbane and not some hooded monster preying on strangers. Men like that do not rape. My position has proved naive. Violence can be in the sexual repertoire of any man.
This is a very belated justification for, essentially, failing to pay much attention to a rape allegation. In Cohen’s view, he mentally downplayed this because Clinton was part of his social class. But I think it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s another reason for addressing this now: It doesn’t matter anymore.
Until very, very recently there was a big potential downside to taking Broaddrick’s claim seriously. Back in 1998, Bill Clinton was President. After he left office, he became a beloved ex-president (on the left) and his wife became a Senator, then a candidate for president, then Secretary of State and, finally, a candidate for president again. Dealing with Broaddrick’s claims meant dealing with the Clintons who still had a lot of power. But now they don’t have much power anymore or much prospect of having it again. Now we can finally talk about this credible allegation without it doing any damage to the Democratic Party. In short, now it can be told.
But in Cohen’s view, this isn’t about power or party politics, it’s about a podcast:
Recently, however, I listened to a remarkable podcast. It is called “Slow Burn,” produced by Slate and narrated by its staff writer, Leon Neyfakh. Thus far, “Slow Burn” has covered two political scandals — Watergate and what started out as Whitewater but wound up as L’affaire Lewinsky. For that, Clinton was investigated by an obsessed special prosecutor, Ken Starr, and equally deranged members of the House. (Starr provided “Slow Burn” with a lengthy interview as did, surprisingly, Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded Lewinsky’s private confession of her affair with Clinton. Neither had substantial regrets.)…
Neyfakh began his podcast with an admission that he had “a lasting affection for Clinton — a sense that he had been unfairly hounded and framed by hypocrites.” I felt the same, and, what’s more, I got to like and admire Clinton as a candidate and as president. And yet, again like Neyfakh, rehashing Broaddrick’s charges and hearing her re-interviewed gave me pause.
I know you expect a conclusion so, in all its equivocation, here it is: I am no longer certain that Clinton did not rape Broaddrick. I am, though, hardly certain that he did. My only certainty is that you ought to listen to the “Slow Burn” podcast. I am certain you will find it disturbing.
That’s progress I guess, but Broaddrick’s story hasn’t changed much in 20 years. It’s not suddenly more credible now than it was then. What has changed is the power dynamic. Partly that’s the #MeToo focus on taking allegations like this more seriously than was often the case in the past. But, again, I think the real chang is the fact that the Clintons don’t have the juice they used to have. Put it this way, if Hillary had won the 2016 election, would we be having this belated conversation about Broaddrick’s claims even now. Some of us would, but I very much doubt the left would be taking part in it. How do I know? Because I remember 1998.