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Stop using Bill Clinton to hammer on liberals. Sexual harassment is a man problem, not a partisan one

Stop using Bill Clinton to hammer on liberals. Sexual harassment is a man problem, not a partisan one
Women rally at the Minnesota Capitol on Friday in response to sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken and other prominent figures. (Jim Mone / Associated Press)

Listen up, liberals!

This is a pep talk for anyone who feels backed into a corner by bullies who want to convince you that you are a hypocrite because you fervently supported Anita Hill, but had reservations about Paula Jones.

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Or because you called for the head of Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls, but had a more restrained response to the sins of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), whose gross behavior includes putting his hands over the breasts of a sleeping woman in what was supposed to be a “funny” pose.

You’re not hypocrites. You’re being played by the right. Again.

One of the great successes of the current American conservative movement has been rewriting the narrative of the past two decades, starting with the pernicious claim that liberals did not criticize Bill Clinton when he was accused of sexual misconduct.

Clinton came in for criticism by many of his supporters — especially feminists — despite the best efforts of his enemies to claim otherwise.

In 1994, I wrote a column for this very newspaper that was critical: “I have just read the text of Paula Corbin Jones’ complaint of sexual harassment against President Clinton and can honestly say that if it's true, the man is a beast. This is not the tale of a minor indiscretion. The accusations read like a recipe for the sleazy souffle of the year.”

But let’s face it, he was impeached for political reasons. The pretext was that he had lied under oath about his sexual misbehavior. Almost everyone could see he was caught up in a faux morality play. The proof came later, when it emerged that Clinton’s chief tormentor, then House Speaker Newt Gingrich, carried on a long affair, while he was leading the Clinton impeachment. Lying, schmying.

In addition to rewriting the past, conservatives — especially at Fox News, whose founder and biggest star were fired after revelations about their sexual mistreatment of women — have also become experts at misdirection. To avoid talking about the dozen or so women who have leveled sordid accusations of sexual misconduct against President Trump, the network dangles the shiny object of Bill Clinton’s bad behavior in front of its viewers, and Hillary Clinton’s guilt by association.

Liberals shouldn’t take that bait, either.

Our 42nd president is a philanderer who paid $850,000 in a settlement to Paula Jones. Many women on the left who once had doubts have come forward to say they believe that he raped Juanita Broaddrick in 1978. Clinton’s presidency ended 16 years ago; his legacy will be forever tarnished by his mistreatment and abuse of women.

But that does not mean our current president should not be held to account. By Trump’s own admission, he has cavalierly (perhaps criminally) felt free to grab women by the genitals.

Nor does it mean that Hillary Clinton should have to pay any sort of price for her husband’s transgressions. She was a victim, too. Maybe one day she will step forward with an apology for any part she may have played in trying to cover up his misdeeds. And maybe she won’t.

She can do whatever she wants because what happens between two married people, even when they are both public figures, is none of our business. Let Roy Moore’s wife defend him as she sees fit. Let Callista Gingrich, our new ambassador to the Vatican, hold her head high despite the long affair she had with her husband when he was married to his second wife. Let Camille Cosby sit beside her husband and explain away his wrongdoings.

Who cares?

There is nothing partisan about this issue. In the California Legislature, where Democrats have a supermajority, more than 140 women signed a letter decrying constant harassment. The scandal has touched Republican legislators in Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee. What we have here is a man problem, not an ideology problem.

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It’s great that Franken has apologized; it’s appalling that Moore, Trump and Bill Clinton have not. Moore continues to question the veracity of the women who say they were underage when he harassed or assaulted them. Trump has called his accusers “horrible, horrible liars.” And while Clinton apologized for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he didn’t offer contrition to Jones or to Broaddrick.

Instead of engaging in a partisan bickerfest, though, we need to talk about what the hell is going on in a country where in the last six weeks, an entitled and powerful man is accused of sexual misconduct at a rate that seems like once every 60 minutes.

Speaking of “60 Minutes,” the Washington Post reported Monday that at least eight women have accused longtime television host Charlie Rose of making unwanted sexual advances, including “lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas.” (Like Franken, Rose has apologized.)

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Also on Monday, the New York Times said it had suspended one of its White House reporters, Glenn Thrush, after the website Vox published a story in which four young female journalists said he engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.

Good heavens.

Will the last powerful man in America who has not been accused of sexual harassment please turn off the lights?

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For years, the way men mistreated women in the workplace did not even have a name. It was, as as Harvey Weinstein so pitifully put it, “the culture.”

Betty Friedan, in her landmark 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique,” named a problem that begot the modern feminist movement. In 1975, a group of fed-up women at Cornell University did the same with “sexual harassment.” In a “speak out” about the working conditions of women, they coined the phrase that set the stage for a new definition of illegal discrimination. As we see from the onslaught of dispiriting headlines, the odious behavior has continued unchecked.

Until now, thankfully.

Let’s not let ourselves be gulled into defensiveness over whether those of us who support women’s rights have been appropriately critical of badly behaving men because they happen to be political allies.

Sexual harassment is neither a Republican problem nor a Democratic one.

It’s a man problem. Guys, this one’s on you.

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