A certain gracefully aging man is earning millions from various media ventures. His most recent book, a thriller co-written with the publishing titan James Patterson, spent weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list over the summer. More than a million copies were sold in North America within two months. Showtime is set to turn the novel into a TV series. Soon, this famous man and his equally famous wife will embark on a 13-city tour across the country.
The eminence grise in question is, of course, former President Bill Clinton. And you might say he is on a roll, except for one nagging concern: He faces several credible allegations of sexual assault.
The stories may be decades old, but they are newly relevant in the #MeToo reckoning. As a rising tide of assault and harassment accusations engulfs an ever-longer list of powerful men, more media outlets are revisiting the longstanding allegations against Clinton. His behavior toward women was recently the subject of an entire season of Slate’s hit podcast “Slow Burn.”
There are signs that Democrats may be distancing themselves from the former president. He hasn’t campaigned for candidates running in the midterm elections, and the New Hampshire Democratic Party dropped his name from their annual fall gala.
But the revived speculation hasn’t turned Clinton into persona non grata, either. The top ticket price to “An Evening With the Clintons”? $750.
Democrats need to stop looking the other way simply because Bill Clinton was once a popular president.
Perhaps one reason the renewed scrutiny of 42 hasn’t gained more traction is that a large segment of the American public seems to be under the misconception that all the allegations against Clinton were long ago determined to be false.
Both he and Hillary Clinton have suggested as much. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that her husband survived an “intense, long-lasting, partisan investigation that was conducted in the ’90s.”
But the investigation led by Kenneth W. Starr focused on just one set of allegations: the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. And Starr was concerned primarily with whether Clinton had committed perjury and obstruction of justice in defending himself in that case.
Two other allegations were made public in the 1990s as a result of the Starr investigation and impeachment proceedings. Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer, went public in 1998 with her allegations that Clinton assaulted her in the Oval Office in 1993.
And Juanita Broaddrick, a former nursing home administrator, went public in 1999 accusing Clinton of raping her in a hotel room in 1978, when he was attorney general of Arkansas. (Though accounts of Broaddrick’s claims were initially reported in 1992, during Clinton’s first run for president, she was not identified at that time.)
But for the most part, Broaddrick’s and Willey’s allegations remained outside of Starr’s purview. Broaddrick appeared in the Starr report only as a footnote in an appendix, where she was referred to as “Jane Doe No. 5.”
A fourth accuser, Leslie Millwee, a former television reporter, came forward in 2016 saying Clinton assaulted her three times in 1980 during his first term as governor of Arkansas.
The news media has aired these four allegations repeatedly. There are a number of other allegations that never got much of a media airing. Peter Baker, in his impeachment saga “The Breach” relayed that additional unwelcome advances were described in Starr’s files.
Clinton has adamantly denied all the allegations. And no prominent Democrat has gone on the record calling for a reconsideration.
Politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii have complained that President Trump hasn’t faced repercussions for the allegations of sexual assault brought against him by at least 19 women.
How can Democrats expect Republicans to find the will to hold Trump accountable when Democratic leaders never pushed for a thorough consideration of the allegations against Clinton?
Trump has gotten plenty of mileage out of this double standard. It’s why he invited Broaddrick, Willey and Jones to sit in the audience during his second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.
Trump has even employed the Clinton playbook. Bob Woodward reported in “Fear” that Trump’s mantra in dealing with the allegations against him is “deny, deny, deny.” That phrase reportedly came straight from Clinton’s mouth.
Like Trump, Clinton relied on staffers to slime his alleged victims. As Clinton was revving up his 1992 campaign, his aide Betsey Wright oversaw the defusing of what she termed “bimbo eruptions.” Wright used a law firm to retain San Francisco private investigator and attorney Jack Palladino to discredit women. (Two decades later, Harvey Weinstein used this same fixer to compile dossiers on his accusers.)
About the only crack in the Democratic support for Clinton has been New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has made sexual abuse and harassment a crucial part of her legacy. She remarked about a year ago that Clinton should have resigned from the presidency — but her reasoning was based solely on a consensual affair, albeit one with a much younger subordinate, White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
For more than a year, the public has seen men toppled from their perches of power on the basis of allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Leslie Moonves, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and many others have yet to find a way back to anything like the positions they held in the past.
Bill Clinton may no longer be president, but the #MeToo movement has taught us that we should have no tolerance for unrepentant predators in positions of power in media or politics. The companies that do business with Clinton should care if they are collaborating with a man who may well be a serial predator. And Democrats need to stop looking the other way simply because he was once a popular president.
By holding Clinton to the standard they want Republicans to impose on Trump, Democrats would have a much stronger case for a congressional investigation into the allegations against our current president, should they retake control of the House in the midterm elections.
Joshua Kendall is the author of “First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama.” He is writing a book about how the #MeToo movement will affect our view of presidential history.