No kumbaya for Clinton (Updated)

Update, January 8, 2016: At the time I originally wrote this entry, I was unaware of Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that Bill Clinton had raped her.[1] As Silpa Kovvali puts it,

I personally don’t give a damn about Hillary and Bill Clinton’s marital arrangement, or about Bill Clinton’s “sex life.” But allegations of rape and harassment do not fall into that category. Rape is not an “affair.” Harassment is not “infidelity.” The terminology employed by political commentators and progressive icons alike suggests otherwise.[2]

Of course, I agree with Kovvali completely on this. It elevates the concern I express (and which Kovvali also expresses[3]) in the second paragraph of the following entry that Hillary has in effect been complicit in her husband’s (criminal) abuse of power in order to advance her own career. It might also be appropriate to further consider Hillary’s aggressive defense in 1975 of a man accused of rape, a defense which effectively prosecuted his accuser.[4]

Kovvali is concerned that Hillary “has made her stance on sexual assault a part of her campaign, tweeting a link to her policy proposals along with the claim that ‘Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.’”[5] Which is to say, in effect, that Hillary appears to be an egregious hypocrite on a very important issue which I hesitate to diminish as a “women’s issue.”

That makes the topic of this entry all the more paradoxical. It does indeed increasingly appear that candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will be seizing on Bill’s past. In doing so, they perhaps pay more attention to an issue than those who most often express concern about it and an issue that, in light of a fuller description of these allegations,[6] I should not have dismissed. Kovvali’s article is here and my original entry follows:


Let’s begin with a stipulation that Donald Trump’s recent attacks on Bill Clinton are illegitimate against Hillary.[7] Yes, many of us may privately question her decision to remain with him despite his philandering, but whatever their (and I don’t just mean his) infidelities, this is indeed something for them to work out. As some conservatives acknowledge,[8] it’s their marriage, their business, and its relevance to governance is dubious at best. I would add that if one values marriage in the way that some conservatives claim they do, then perhaps the Clintons should be praised for sticking it out and sticking together.

I would also, however, tack on a concern about the power relationships between Bill Clinton and these ‘other’ women and the appearance that Hillary may be acquiescing to abusive power relationships of ‘other’ women by remaining married to Bill in order to advance her own political career.

Trump’s attack is, of course, an allusion perhaps most prominently to then-President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, and an old sexual harassment allegation made by Paula Jones against then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton (the same Bill Clinton). Bill made things worse for himself with dubious denials that such an affair occurred, which I wrote off at the time as the gentlemanly thing to do, an apparent effort to cover up the affair, and then some rather more dubious parsing about what constituted sexual activity.[9] In some eyes, most importantly Kenneth Starr’s, this amounted to “provid[ing] perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and . . . obstruct[ing] justice through an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence related to the Jones case.”[10] I felt and I think in the country as a whole there was a widely shared perception that the only results a long-running and expensive investigation could show had been the exposure of a blow job.

Kenneth Starr was the most prominent investigator in the Whitewater case which was originally about a land deal in Arkansas.[11] I remain somewhat mystified about the detour this investigation took into sexual peccadillos (few expressed concern about possibly abusive power relationships) but apparently the votes for investigation and impeachment of Bill Clinton and the Senate’s failure to convict largely fell along partisan lines.[12] The investigation took six years and cost $50 million,[13] suggesting that for Republicans, fiscal responsibility was of substantially less concern than the opportunity to harass a (white) Democratic president. In my dissertation (forthcoming), I point to this matter in suggesting that racism against current president Barack Obama[14] is probably only a partial explanation for the extreme antipathy we have seen directed against Obama during his presidency.

All that said, I still think Trump’s attack is important, more for what it illustrates about the state of politics in the United States and Hillary Clinton’s prospects than on its own merits. It’s been fifteen years since the investigation ended, as Bill was in his final months in office, and some younger voters may not even remember the Whitewater investigation or the polarization that elevated a blow job into an impeachment trial. Now, Hillary is widely expected to win the Democratic Party nomination for president.

Yes, “it’s red meat for Republican primary voters, who have so far been dazzled by Trump’s willingness to tread where few others dare to go.”[15] But in reminding us of Whitewater, Trump effectively warns us that the antipathy directed at the Clintons during Bill Clinton’s presidency and that the antipathy directed at Barack Obama during his presidency would not dissolve into any kumbaya moment for a Hillary presidency.

Do we really want four or eight more years of the extreme polarization that has bedeviled the last two Democratic presidents? Really?

  1. [1]Karen Tumulty and Frances Stead Sellers, “For Hillary Clinton, old news or new troubles?” Washington Post, January 6, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-bill-clinton-scandal-machine-revs-up-and-takes-aim-at-his-wife/2016/01/06/a08cf550-b4be-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html
  2. [2]Silpa Kovvali, “Bill, Hillary and the women: Should millennials care about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals?” Salon, January 8, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/08/bill_hillary_and_the_women_should_millennials_care_about_bill_clintons_sex_scandals/
  3. [3]Silpa Kovvali, “Bill, Hillary and the women: Should millennials care about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals?” Salon, January 8, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/08/bill_hillary_and_the_women_should_millennials_care_about_bill_clintons_sex_scandals/
  4. [4]Alana Goodman, “The Hillary Tapes,” Washington Free Beacon, June 15, 2014, http://freebeacon.com/politics/the-hillary-tapes/
  5. [5]Silpa Kovvali, “Bill, Hillary and the women: Should millennials care about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals?” Salon, January 8, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/08/bill_hillary_and_the_women_should_millennials_care_about_bill_clintons_sex_scandals/
  6. [6]Silpa Kovvali, “Bill, Hillary and the women: Should millennials care about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals?” Salon, January 8, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/08/bill_hillary_and_the_women_should_millennials_care_about_bill_clintons_sex_scandals/
  7. [7]Jonathan Easley, “Trump’s new attack on Hillary: Her husband’s infidelities,” Hill, December 28, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/264351-trump-attacks-clinton-on-husbands-infidelities
  8. [8]Jonathan Easley, “Trump’s new attack on Hillary: Her husband’s infidelities,” Hill, December 28, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/264351-trump-attacks-clinton-on-husbands-infidelities
  9. [9]Douglas O. Linder, “The Impeachment Trial of President William Clinton,” University of Missouri, Kansas City, 2005, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/clinton/clintontrialaccount.html; Rutgers University, “The Impeachment of President Clinton,” n.d. http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/research/americanhistory/ap_clintonimpeach.php
  10. [10]Rutgers University, “The Impeachment of President Clinton,” n.d. http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/research/americanhistory/ap_clintonimpeach.php
  11. [11]CBS News, “Whitewater: Case Closed,” September 20, 2000, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/whitewater-case-closed/
  12. [12]Douglas O. Linder, “The Impeachment Trial of President William Clinton,” University of Missouri, Kansas City, 2005, http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/clinton/clintontrialaccount.html
  13. [13]CBS News, “Whitewater: Case Closed,” September 20, 2000, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/whitewater-case-closed/
  14. [14]Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Obama’s Twitter Debut, @POTUS, Attracts Hate-Filled Posts,” New York Times, May 21, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/us/politics/obamas-twitter-debut-potus-attracts-hate-filled-posts.html; Morris Dees, “Attorney General Holder is right: Racial animus plays role in Obama opposition,” Southern Poverty Law Center, July 16, 2014, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/attorney-general-holder-is-right-racial-animus-plays-role-in-obama-opposition; Ginger Gibson, “Powell: GOP has ‘a dark vein of intolerance’,” Politico, January 13, 2013, http://www.politico.com/blogs/politico-live/2013/01/powell-gop-has-a-dark-vein-of-intolerance-154019.html; Alex Koppelman, “Now Bill Cosby weighs in on Carter’s side of race issue,” Salon, September 16, 2009, http://www.salon.com/2009/09/16/cosby_race/; Ewen MacAskill, “Jimmy Carter: Animosity towards Barack Obama is due to racism,” Guardian, September 16, 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/16/jimmy-carter-racism-barack-obama; New York Times, “A New Phase in Anti-Obama Attacks,” April 11, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/a-new-phase-in-anti-obama-attacks.html; Tony Pugh, “There’s no denying Obama’s race plays a role in protests,” McClatchy, January 12, 2012, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/09/18/75694/theres-no-denying-obamas-race.html; Joan Walsh, “Angry right gets mad when you accuse it of race-baiting!” Salon, October 2, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/10/02/angry_right_gets_mad_when_you_accuse_it_of_race_baiting/; Gary Younge, “Obama and the Decline of White America,” Nation 289, no. 13 (October 26, 2009): 10.
  15. [15]Jonathan Easley, “Trump’s new attack on Hillary: Her husband’s infidelities,” Hill, December 28, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/264351-trump-attacks-clinton-on-husbands-infidelities

3 thoughts on “No kumbaya for Clinton (Updated)

  • December 29, 2015 at 12:10 pm
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    It’s very hard how abstraction layers are covering any issue. So you are discussing about “polarization”. Fine. This is what I call “divorce from reality”. The problem in a government is not “polarization”. It is a non-existent issue. You don’t even have a tool to measure how “polarized” is your country.So you say “country is polarized”, I say “no it is not”, and there is no way to check facts.
    The issue in a government maybe “public schools, taxes, finance, transportation, foreign affairs”, whatever (there is plenty of that). But, discussing about “polarization” remembers me of Byzantium: discussing the sex of angels, while the enemy was under the walls.
    So, a discussion about “polarization” is something I would file under the chapter “rich people’s problems”.

    Reply
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