How long will Democrats keep on letting Hillary Clinton dominate the party?

Hillary Clinton's clueless comments about her husband's alleged sexual misconduct are tarnishing her legacy

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published October 17, 2018 7:00AM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton waves after addressing the delegates during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Hillary Clinton waves after addressing the delegates during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of actress Alyssa Milano asking sexual assault and harassment survivors to share their stories online under the hashtag #MeToo, a movement first started by activist Tarana Burke a decade before. Dozens of powerful people across nearly every industry have been outed and held accountable for their abusive behavior in the year since. So it was incredibly frustrating to watch Hillary Clinton somehow hijack the news cycle with a bizarre defense of her husband

In a wildly tone-deaf interview on Sunday, Clinton demonstrated why she remains, according to public opinion polling, the only political figure in America less popular than President Trump. Asked by CBS’ Tony Dokoupil about #MeToo and whether such a movement should have forced her husband to step down as president after his affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, Clinton made clear she doesn’t get it, and has lost the ability to be an effective leader in this era.

“Absolutely not,” she declaratively stated.

Dokoupil pushed back, asking whether Bill Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky was "an abuse of power.”

“No. No,” Hillary insisted. “She was an adult.”

Technically this is true, but it reflects an unwillingness to consider the larger context and the way social and cultural perceptions have shifted. Lewinsky was 22 years old at the time of the affair, and has always maintained that her relationship with Bill Clinton was consensual. She has also said that in later years she has reflected on the inherent power imbalance between a White House intern and the president of the United States. A year into #MeToo, that's a self-evident truth that takes considerable effort not to see. Perhaps the Clintons have been in powerful positions in America for so long that self-reflection has become impossible. 

It’s unfair, not to mention profoundly sexist, that Hillary Clinton has had to endure two decades of questions about her husband’s behavior. But the way she chooses to respond to the multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Bill Clinton warrants scrutiny, and her unapologetic attitude is hardly the way to move on.

She has every right to believe that her husband should not have been forced to resign over a personal failing -- that's certainly what most Americans thought at the time. But the fact that Hillary Clinton refuses to evaluate the incident from a new perspective, however, undermines her credibility in speaking about anything related to #MeToo. It doesn’t help that she also denied that she had ever “criticized the character of Bill’s accusers.”

"But let me ask you this," Clinton continued in the CBS interview. "Where's the investigation of the current incumbent [president], against whom numerous allegations have been made and which he dismisses, denies and ridicules?"

While she clearly has a valid point in saying Trump should be investigated for his numerous alleged instances of sexual misconduct, such overt what-about-ism is contemptible. Instead of jumping through hoops that only reinforce her negative image, Clinton has options: She could deal with questions about her husband's infidelity in a tactful manner that leaves her more relatable. She could maintain that it’s a private matter in her marriage and that she's not accountable for Bill's behavior (although the questions about her treatment of his accusers is another matter). Or she could harness the transformative politics of #MeToo by acknowledging the damage done and her own supporting role in it. As it is now, she’s only a liability for Democrats.

Nearly two years after Clinton lost her second run for the White House and only weeks before the pivotal midterm elections, Democrats are somehow saddled once again with a series of problematic comments made by one of the Clintons. (Republicans are even running attack ads featuring her recent comments about civility in politics.) Although her continued presence at the center of political discourse could threaten her party’s chances of retaking the House and Senate next month, Clinton doesn’t seem interested in backing away.

Although neither she nor her husband have current books to promote, the two are set to start a 13-city tour of “one-of-a-kind conversations" about "the most impactful moments in modern history" next month. Seats for the Las Vegas show begin at $72, and cost up to $228, while seats in Boston go for $120 and $745, according to Yahoo News. Sure, Clinton still has a constituency, but the timing of this tour seems awfully suspicious -- in direct competition with the first book tour of former first lady Michelle Obama. After Hillary’s defeat, the Clintons could have allowed the Obamas to continue as unifying figures atop the party, untainted in the era of #MeToo. Instead, the Clintons seem determined to continue haunting the Democratic Party, a glass house from which it's impossible to throw stones at Donald Trump.

When Christiane Amanpour recently asked Clinton what the difference is between what her husband did and what Trump is accused of doing, Hillary replied, “the intense, long lasting, partisan investigation in the ’90s.”

How does Hillary Clinton understand there is a decades-long right-wing conspiracy against her, yet not understand that they’ve won? Without any sense of accountability, Clinton’s impressive résumé as first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state and Democratic presidential nominee may forever be marred with an asterisk.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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