Why isn’t Hillary outraged?
If Spitzergate is creeping you out, think how Hillary Clinton must feel. Just when she was supposedly “hitting her stride,” along comes a world-class sex scandal that reminds us of the darkest days of her husband’s administration.
For all Democrats, the distraction factor of the downfall of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who endorsed Clinton, is bad enough. But as 99.9% of the world’s population knows, Clinton has some unique baggage when it comes to political sex scandals -- and for her, the potential fallout from Spitzer’s troubles could be radioactive.
Until L’Affaire Spitzer, Clinton’s campaign had done an impressive job of replacing, in the minds of voters, terms like “cigar” and “stained dress” with terms like “commander in chief.” But Spitzer’s misdeeds -- and the sight of his wife Silda’s drawn features -- remind us painfully of Team Clinton’s past woes and make us wonder just what the First Fella will be up to while President Hillary’s taking those important 3 a.m. phone calls.
Sensibly, Clinton’s campaign lost no time deleting an item on Spitzer’s endorsement from her website. But when asked about Spitzer on Monday, Clinton was equivocal: “I don’t have any comment. ... I obviously am sending my best wishes and thoughts to the governor and to his family.”
“Obviously”? No! Hillary, it is not obvious why you’re sending “best wishes” to the governor. To his family, sure. But why does a man busted for buying access to women’s bodies merit the “best wishes” of our first serious female presidential candidate?
This gets to why this scandal has the potential to be more than just distracting and uncomfortable for Clinton. Spitzergate -- and Hillary’s ambivalent response so far -- reminds us that Bill wasn’t the only member of the Clinton family who let women down when he was in the White House.
Remember 1992? Hillary got in hot water for telling “60 Minutes” that “I’m not ... some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.”
But later, as Bill’s career became mired in scandal after scandal, it became all too clear that Hillary was willing to tolerate pretty much anything he did. She seemed content to look away while her husband’s hatchet men sliced and diced the reputations of women who accused Bill of sexual harassment.
When does loyalty turn into complicity? Hillary blamed the “vast right-wing conspiracy” for Monica -- but, at least in public, she never blamed her husband, and she had nothing at all to say about the abuse of power at the heart of his adulterous liaisons.
Many assumed that a post-White House divorce was inevitable. Instead, a Faustian bargain became apparent: Hillary had stood by Bill while “that woman” (and all her predecessors) were turned into tabloid trash. Now it was Bill’s turn to stand by Hillary -- helping to deliver, first, a Senate seat (in a state she barely knew) and then the Democratic presidential nomination. (That was the plan anyway.)
This week, Hillary’s unwillingness to speak out more strongly about Spitzer’s alleged misdeeds suggests she’s sticking to her old playbook: Look the other way when powerful men behave badly to women and hope none of the muck sticks to you.
But there’s plenty of muck in L’Affaire Spitzer -- and Clinton, who spent much of her career as first lady campaigning against sexual violence, global sex trafficking and prostitution, ought to be pointing it out.
We don’t yet know many details about the international prostitution ring with which Spitzer was allegedly involved, but there’s nothing classy about prostitution, however high-priced. In an exchange between two of the prostitution ring employees whose conversations were recorded by the FBI, for instance, we glimpse the threat that hangs over even those sex workers who operate in the most well-appointed hotel rooms: Some women, we learn, consider “Client 9" -- alleged to be Spitzer -- “difficult.” Apparently he’ll “ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe.”
Office sex with young interns is bad enough. Sex with prostitutes is a lot worse. The sex trade is part of a complex edifice built on inequality, violence and economic need. Most sex workers turn to prostitution out of economic desperation, not out of choice -- and the vast majority of prostitutes are, at one time or another, raped or beaten by “clients.”
When Clinton sent Spitzer her “best wishes,” that’s the nastiness she chose not to mention. But there are some truths we ignore at our peril. Enough with “best wishes.” Clinton (and all the rest of us) should unequivocally denounce the type of behavior that landed Spitzer in trouble.
Years ago, First Lady Hillary Clinton vociferously condemned “the heinous practice of buying and selling women ... like commodities.”
I liked that Hillary Clinton. Could she please come back?