In THE WAKE OF THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN ALLEGATIONS, sexual misconduct has finally come to the forefront in the media and with it, newfound awareness. More and more women are speaking out about their experiences, and many of the people being accused have something in common — being in a position of power.
In addition to celebrities such as Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., politicians make up a large portion of the people who have been accused. GOP Senate Candidate Roy Moore, Democratic Senator Al Franken, and of course, President Donald Trump, have all been accused of sexual misconduct.
These accusations have put these politicians and their colleagues in hot water. Though Roy Moore and Donald Trump vehemently deny the allegations against them and continue to support each other, many other prominent Republicans have called on Roy Moore to step down, including Senator John McCain and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. On the other side, Democrats have done the same, condemning Franken and calling for an ethics investigation.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been one of these Democrats, and has been a vocal figure against stopping sexual assault with legislation to prevent sexual assault in the military and on college campuses, and most recently to prevent sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill with the “Me Too” Act. After condemning Franken, when asked if Clinton should have stepped down after his affair with Monica Lewinsky in a New York Times interview, she paused before replying“Yes, I believe that is the appropriate response”.
Gillibrand went on to clarify that she believed that the social and political environment has changed since the 1990’s, and it is under the current circumstances that the reaction to Bill Clinton’s affair should have been stronger.
After her comments, Gillibrand has been under fire, with many saying she only made those comments for political gain, and that Clinton faced his punishment after his impeachment. Many are accusing Gillibrand of trying to distance herself from the Clintons giving Hillary’s loss and Bill’s scandal coming back into the picture. Phillippe Reines, a former advisor to Hillary Clinton, blasted Gillibrand for taking “the Clinton’s endorsements, money and seat”, and being a hypocrite attempting to get on the Democratic radar for “the 2020 primaries”. He also called special prosecutor Ken Starr’s investigation “70 million” on a consensual relationship, and reminded Gillibrand Clinton had been impeached, though not removed from office.
Call Gillibrand’s comment a maneuver, but she isn’t in the wrong — if anything, she is standing her ground instead of letting her relationship and potential political gain the Clintons give her. Her response is the moral response all Democrats should be having.
Bill Clinton’s affair with then White House intern Monica Lewinsky was more than just a careless relationship. The fact that a man who seemed to be a pillar of morality had broken the vows of his marriage is a problem in itself, but in the end one could say that the Clinton’s marriage is not the business of the American public, nor should it be when there are much more pressing issues.
But Clinton’s infidelity was more than his private business. It’s important to remember that this came out as a result of other ongoing investigations into Whitewater and the allegations by Paula Jones — who accused Clinton of sexual assault, and is one of three women who has done so. He went on to blatantly lie to the American public, in the infamous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky” video. He went on to continue lying, perjuring himself about the affair, and playing around with the definition of “sexual relations” after the blue dress with evidence of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky was discovered.
Though he eventually admitted after a long and drawn out process to having an “improper physical relationship” with Monica Lewinsky, his administration distanced themselves from her nonetheless, letting the media drag her through the mud, which Lewinsky wrote about as making her “suicidal”. This is a classic example of a politician or person in power using their position to scapegoat. Lewinsky made it clear that the relationship was consensual, but nonetheless, a powerful man tried to get out of the mess he held equal responsibility in by allowing the media to use her as a girl who was trying to sleep her way to the top. His administration did not immediately admit wrongdoing, and before and after they eventually did, not once did they acknowledge it takes two and or tell the public she did not deserve the treatment she did. After both had admitted to it, he still tried to get his way out of it and distance himself from Lewinsky. She detailed in an essay she wrote in Vogue that she struggled to move on with her life and get a job, all while Bill Clinton was seen making speeches on college campuses, or most recently, playing with balloons at the Democratic National Convention. People will always refer to Clinton’s infidelity as “the Lewinsky Scandal”, with her name being attached to the wrongdoing.
These actions certainly justified his impeachment, in modern day particularly but should have also been the case in the 1990’s when this occurred. Though he did face consequences with his impeachment, Clinton should not have tried to outplay the process and lie to the people that he promised to serve nor let the blame fall on Lewinsky. Particularly with the current climate, resigning would have shown that he acknowledged that he had done wrong and understood that the scandal as a whole — from cheating on his wife, to lying about it repeatedly, to letting the woman he had a relationship with alone to be prey for the American public and media — evidently showed that he should not be the leader of the free world, regardless of his policy. It could have prevented years years of trials, lies, scapegoating, and a distraction from the actual politics. It would be an acknowledgment that he had indeed had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, and could’ve have eased her for the rest of the life instead of making her America’s mistress. It could have decreased the gravity of his abuse of power and shown the slightest bit of remorse.
It’s also important to remember in addition to his affair, three women have accused Clinton of sexual assault — Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick — and one of these allegations paved the way to discovering Clinton had an affair with Lewinsky and lied about it multiple times. Though a lot of Democrats believe that Clinton couldn’t possibly have done something so horrendous and it is true some of the accusers changed their story, every allegation needs to be taken seriously. Clinton’s allegations have been discredited by extremely powerful figures, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem and The View co-host Joy Behar — both of whom are prominent liberal figures. If we want Roy Moore and Donald Trump’s allegations to be taken seriously, liberals cannot continue to defend Bill Clinton, though it is important to look through every allegation individually and understand not all forms sexual misconduct can be grouped into the same level of severity. The affair and scandal is one abuse of power in itself, but sexual misconduct is a whole other — if there are women who are saying Clinton sexually assaulted them, these allegations should be looked into.
Now, this is all not to say Clinton didn’t face any consequences for his actions. He did become only one of two presidents in American history to be impeached. And he too faced targets from the public and media, though not to the extent that Monica Lewinsky did. And his wife, a figure looking to institute change was heavily criticized for staying with him, which is an unfortunate situation since she also would have been insulted for leaving him. His own daughter couldn’t speak at a college campus without being asked about his extramarital affairs. His Vice President would have to deal with the fallout when he ran for President. And ultimately, his legacy would forever not be about policy, but an affair.
Clinton’s affair coming back into the fray should not be used to fill up all the news networks or allow both parties to focus on Clinton so much so that the new allegations coming to light are ignored. The significance of Gillibrand, a sitting Senator and longtime Clinton supporter, saying Clinton should resign if his scandal was happening in the present shows that we are finally acknowledging we can not let these types of behavior, particularly by powerful men, to be tolerated anymore. Clinton may only have admitted to extramarital affairs — which are certainly less horrendous than sexual misconduct, though he has multiple accusers of that as well — but it is undeniable he abused his power of President to skirt his way out of it and let the blame fall on Monica Lewinsky.
We cannot go back in time and make Clinton resign or make the politicians who voted against his impeachment change their vote. What we can do is make sure that we do not let a culture that tolerates abuses of power continue. With the American public learning about sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against people they admired or trusted, we are increasingly understanding that this is not a small issue, but one that is impacting people everywhere. With this new awareness, it is essential that we do not let people, whether a famous politician, actor, or person in a restaurant continue to sexually assault and harass thousands and thousands of people. This includes them all: Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, and our 45th President. Our 45th President, who has 16 women accusing him of sexual assault and harassment, has asked what we expected when men and women are put together in the military and had a disgusting tape bragging about sexual assault.
Sexual misconduct is not a partisan issue, it is a human rights issue. Now is the is the time to put the future of our society on a path that does not let such a gross violation of human rights slide, but a path that condemns the abusers, lets the victims be heard, and stops the appalling abuses of power that happen on a daily basis.
And yes, that includes the man currently in the oval office.