The Hillary effect: How would #MeToo fare with Clinton in the White House?

Maureen Dowd: Institutional feminism died during the Monica Lewinsky affair

Sexual misdeeds: President Bill Clinton walks to the Rose Garden to apologise in 1999. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/New York Times

Would the war against preying on women be blazing so fiercely had Hillary Clinton been elected? When I interviewed women in Hollywood about the ugly Harvey Weinstein revelations in the New York Times and the New Yorker they told me that feelings of frustration and disgust at having an accused predator in the White House instead of the first woman president had helped give the story velocity.

When I talked to Susan Fowler, after her blog post about sexual harassment at Uber that toppled its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, she said that before Donald Trump's election women in Silicon Valley were speaking up but no one was listening. "I think it was different this year because Trump won and people felt powerless," she said. "I know I did. I felt super powerless. Because I felt, with Obama in the White House, I could just take for granted that good people were in charge."

It is also interesting to speculate: if Hillary were in the Oval Office, would some women have failed to summon the courage to tell their Weinstein horror stories because the producer was also a power behind the Clinton throne? As Janice Min, the former editor of the Hollywood Reporter, told me, when Barack Obama stepped off a stage and into Weinstein's arms for a big hug after giving a $400,000 speech as an ex-president in the spring, it sent a signal that the ogre was in a protected magic circle.

So what if a few women are collateral damage, they might ask again. Wouldn't you rather have Bill and Bill's enabler, Hillary, than Donald?

And, finally, would Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and other liberals still be saying in the past few days that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency over his own sexual misdeeds if he now occupied the first lady’s quarters and reigned over a potent Clinton political machine?


Or would feminists and liberals make the same Faustian bargain they made in 1998: protect Bill on his retrogressive behaviour towards women because the Clintons have progressive policies towards women? So what if a few women are collateral damage, they might ask again. Wouldn’t you rather have Bill and Bill’s enabler, Hillary, than Donald?

Monica Lewinsky: President Bill Clinton prepares to go on the air to acknowledge having had an inappropriate relationship with the White House intern, in 1998. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/New York Times

You may wonder why, in 2017, after so many graphic and scalding national seminars on sexual predation over the past 26 years, we are still trying to come to terms with it. Perhaps because in those earlier traumatic sagas, both the left and the right rushed in to twist them for their own ideological ends. The stench of hypocrisy overpowered the perfume of justice. First, with Clarence Thomas, a feminist lynch mob tried to kill off a conservative nominee to the United States supreme court over sex when the real reason they wanted to get rid of him was politics. Then, with Bill Clinton, a conservative lynch mob tried to kill off a Democratic president over sex when the real reason they wanted to get rid of him was politics.

Institutional feminism died when Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright and other top feminists vouched for President Clinton as he brazenly lied about never having had a sexual relationship with “that woman” Monica Lewinsky. The Clintons and feminists were outraged when Thomas’s supporters painted Anita Hill as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”. Yet that was precisely the Clintonian tack when women spoke up about Bill’s misbehaving.

Time and again Hillary was a party to demonising women as liars, bimbos, trailer trash or troubled souls when it seemed clear they were truthful about her philandering husband

Time and again Hillary was a party to demonising women as liars, bimbos, trailer trash or troubled souls when it seemed clear they were truthful about her philandering husband. She often justified this by thinking of the women as instruments of the right-wing conspiracy.

As I reported in 1998, even some veteran Clinton henchmen felt a little nauseated about the debate inside the White House on a slander strategy for Lewinsky: should they paint her as a friendly fantasist or a malicious stalker? Following the Clintons' lead, Trump dismissed the more than a dozen women who stood up to accuse him of sexual transgressions as politically motivated liars. The president has also politicised the accusations against the Republican Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore and the Democratic senator Al Franken. In the first case, despite heinous reports painting Moore as haunting a mall to cruise for teenage girls, Trump has refused to disavow the Steve Bannon-backed candidate, at one point claiming he didn't know enough about Moore to comment because he does "not watch much television" (!!).

In the case of Franken the president has been happily tweeting his opprobrium and suggesting Franken might have done worse: "The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"

Ivanka Trump said that she has "no reason to doubt the victims' accounts" in the Moore case, but she doesn't feel the same about her dad's accusers. And Bannon dismissed the report of Moore's despicable behaviour by saying that it was, just like Trump's Access Hollywood remarks, first published in the Washington Post – which he calls "part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party".

Are the liberals who now say Bill should have resigned, because they want to clear the decks to better go after Trump, thinking that sex may be a more effective weapon than Russia to bring him down? It’s easy to turn on the Clintons these days and treat them as collateral damage, the way the Clintons treated all those women who got tangled up with Bill.

Once more politics is clouding the issue of sexual harassment. But, with luck, this public trial, which is bringing to the dock men on both sides of the aisle, is too momentous to be diminished by politics. As Franken’s accuser, Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio newscaster, told Jake Tapper of CNN: “When you’re sexually assaulted it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat . . . The affiliation doesn’t matter, right?”

“That’s not,” she correctly concluded, “the point here.” – New York Times