“Abuse of power” occurs when a person exploits the function or resources of his position to procure something to which the job does not entitle him. Had President Clinton told Ms. Lewinsky he would fire her if she didn’t submit—or arranged for the Internal Revenue Service to audit her family—it would have been a gross abuse of power. But employing charm and flaunting success to woo a young lady is the oldest trick in the book. That he was married at the time made his behavior despicable. That he conducted his affair in the White House made it unseemly. That he lied about it under oath constituted a crime. But none of this amounts to exploitation, and it is only because we have so much discomfort articulating moral judgment that we to turn to the law to remedy what are essentially lapses of character.
Dating in the workplace invariably creates liability for employers—especially when the relationship is between a junior employee and her immediate superior. It opens the door to favoritism and conflicts of interest. Employers have a legitimate interest in managing those risks. But none of this renders such dating abusive. Numberless Americans have met and fallen in love at work. And if any of the men who flirted with their future wives at work were foolish enough to think they were cementing their position in a fixed hierarchy, marriage quickly cured them of this notion.
So what does all this matter? Why defend Bill Clinton? Because in the years since his affair with Ms. Lewinsky became public knowledge we’ve created a monster. The harassment-industrial complex—lawyers, human-resources professionals, activists—has installed itself as our collective chaperone, the high priest of courtship, vested with power to decide which advances are kosher. Minions are regularly dispatched to assail those with too much wealth or prominence or unfavorable political opinions.