Vox: Democrats were wrong about Bill Clinton and shouldn't make the same mistake with Al Franken

Vox has published another piece today stating rather matter-of-factly that Democrats were wrong to support Bill Clinton in the late 90s and adding that they shouldn’t repeat that mistake with Al Franken.

Reports of harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men have prompted a reevaluation of several other powerful figures who should have been evaluated harshly in the first place. Prominent among these is Bill Clinton, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women, including Juanita Broaddrick, who says Clinton raped her in 1978. Clinton also admitted in 1998 to an affair with Monica Lewinsky…

A boss having sexual contact with an intern puts her at a steep disadvantage — what if she wants to break off the affair? It also harms everyone else in the workplace — can the boss possibly be fair to the other interns if he’s having sex with one of them?…

And yet Democrats, by and large, did not ask these questions when Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky came to light — or until very recently. Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes that in 1998, “my version of a sophisticated high schooler’s take on the matter was that the American media should get over its bourgeois morality hang-ups and be more like the French, where François Mitterrand’s wife and his longtime mistress grieved together at his funeral.” This was a common take at the time, among adults as well as teenagers. As Yglesias notes, the focus should have been on Clinton’s abuse of his power over Lewinsky, not his infidelity. But Democrats in Congress and voters alike decided to treat Clinton like a bad husband answerable to his wife, not a failed leader answerable to the American people.

Democrats in Congress were ready to force Clinton to resign over his relationship with Lewinsky, said William Chafe, a professor emeritus of history at Duke and the author of Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal. But when Hillary Clinton stayed married to Bill and remained supportive of him, Chafe explained, “the people in the country said, if she’s willing to stand with him, then we will too.” Democratic lawmakers stood down, and Clinton eventually finished out his term.

That last graph is important because it makes clear Hillary played a big role in defending Bill. She made his defense possible, just as she made his election possible. When Clinton ran for office in 1992 there were plenty of stories circulating about his affairs with other women. His nickname “Slick Willie” was a not-so-subtle reference to his favorite pastime. But Hillary stood by him and others decided that was good enough for them.

So when the Lewinsky story really broke open with the revelation of the blue dress, the reaction in Washington and everywhere else was that this was believable and also disqualifying. I remember watching one of the Sunday shows a few days later and the consensus of the panel was that Clinton would probably step down within a few days, or maybe it was that he should step down.

And then the left went into defense mode. There was really no arguing the facts, so the arguments were about Republicans’ retrograde sexual morality. Matt Yglesias didn’t come up with that line about François Mitterand on his own. He likely got it from this article which appeared in the Washington Post in Feb. 1998. I’m going to quote a bit of this because this really encapsulates the tone of the defense:

Just two years ago a beautiful, small-boned woman led a remarkable funeral procession to honor a man who had been president of France for 15 years. She was his widow, accompanied to her husband’s grave by her two grown sons. Right behind them was another woman, accompanied by her attractive daughter. All three of the offspring were the children of Francois Mitterrand, a brilliant but flawed man.

Danielle Mitterrand, who was married to him for more than half a century, is an ardent human rights activist. Anne Pingeot, the mother of the pretty college girl, was once Mitterrand’s mistress. At the time of the funeral, it was whispered that what the two women were doing, showing a common front, was simply in accordance with the dead man’s last wishes. But later Mme. Mitterrand would explain that no, the very public display of unity on that sad day was all her own idea.

“I think the French, and indeed many people around the world, have had enough of this hypocrisy of conformity,” she writes in her autobiography. “We must admit that a person is capable of loving someone and loving them passionately. And then as the years pass, loving them differently, perhaps more deeply, but they still fall in love with someone else.” About the limits of that love, she was under absolutely no illusions. “My husband excelled in the art of seducing the girls who came through here.”

I am reminded of Mme. Mitterrand’s simple candor because of the lurid, panting sexual allegations that have been tossed about these past weeks in order to entertain a tabloid nation and ruin a chief of state. Hypocrisy, never far from the surface of American political life, and lust, never far from the surface of human existence, have banded together and, with the help of the media, basically obliterated some of our more decent instincts. Nor is this the first time such an attack has been carried out in this country — to the puzzlement of the rest of the world.

The “hypocrisy of conformity” was a petit bourgeoisie concern which sophisticated Democrats were expected to ignore. The left was more disgusted by the “lurid, panting sexual allegations” made against Clinton than by his actual behavior. Any concern for his victims was brushed off while pointing to the bemused puzzlement of Europe. This is what won the day for Clinton to the amazement of about half the country.

Yes, Clinton was impeached. He settled with one of his accusers and lost his law license, but it was a slap on the wrist and the left didn’t care about any of it at the time or since. Now, suddenly, the entire team at Vox is on board with the idea this was a big mistake. That’s true even though I strongly suspect the article above defending Clinton could have appeared in Vox if they had been around in 1998. It’s a perfect “Well, actually…” story of the kind they love to run. “Actually, cheating chief executives aren’t considered a big deal in Europe, even by their own wives,” is the headline Vox would have gone with.

They fought us tooth and nail on this issue for 19 years. They mocked the right’s concerns and made flaming hypocrites of themselves abandoning their own concerns (sexual harassment, respect for women). Having done all of that, the left is now casually switching sides on the field, like a football team after half-time. As someone who lived through all of this, their sudden, convenient about-face is just astounding to behold. Two decades of their smug, snooty garbage and now it’s just “Okay, you were right all along.”