As It Happens

Why the left is finally talking about the Bill Clinton sexual assault allegations

Writer Caitlin Flanagan says it's time for Democrats and feminists to have "a reckoning" with how they treated the women who say they were sexually abused by Bill Clinton.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton has long been accused of multiple sexual assaults. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

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Amid a wave of sexual assault allegations against powerful men, writer Caitlin Flanagan says it's time for Democrats and other liberals to have "a reckoning" regarding former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Three women — Kathleen Willey, Leslie Millwee and Juanita Broaddrick — have accused Clinton of sexual assault, with Broaddrick  saying he raped her. A fourth woman, Paula Jones, says Clinton exposed himself to her in a hotel room and tried to stop her from leaving when she rebuffed his advances.

"But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today's accused men have experienced. Rather, he was rescued by a surprising force: machine feminism. The movement had by then ossified into a partisan operation, and it was willing—eager—to let this friend of the sisterhood enjoy a little droit de seigneur," Flanagan wrote in the Atlantic.

As It Happens host Carol off spoke with Flanagan about why Democrats are just now coming to terms with the Clinton allegations. Here is part of that conversation.

In what way do Democrats have to reckon with the way they protected Bill Clinton?

The most prominent feminists and Democrat women in the country, instead of being consistent with the emerging feminist policy about rape and sexual assault .... there was this coalition of very prominent feminists, including Gloria Steinem, who said, "No, these stories aren't true. We think these women made this up."

Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathy Shelton, left to right, sit at the presidential town hall debate between then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

How are the Democrats responding to these women coming forward again?

I don't think that they suddenly started coming forward at this extremely late date. I think what happened is that an American political commentator named Chris Hayes, who has a very popular show down here on MSNBC, he was thinking about some other recent accusations of sexual misconduct by a current Republican candidate for the Senate.

He tweeted out saying, you know, if the Democrats are going to face these sexual allegations against this other man, at some point, the party needs to have some sort of a reckoning with how they treated these women who came out against Bill so long ago.

In other words, that the party somehow lost its credibility.

So it seems to be that once Hillary Clinton had lost and once the entire Clinton dynasty was well and truly over, some Democrat writers were willing to come forward this past week and say we made a big mistake back then and we should probably apologize for it, otherwise we're going to be tainted with this hypocrisy for a very long time.

What role did feminists play in protecting the Democrats from having to come to terms with what happened?

This was very heartbreaking to a lot of women when they found out the feminist movement wasn't just in favour of women's rights no matter who you were, that they were really in favour of sort of Democrat party machine politics. 

To put it in the simplest terms, Bill Clinton was a great champion of abortion rights at a time when there had been a great curtailing of rights just before he came into office.

There were feminists who said in just about so many words: So long as he supports abortion, I'm not going to blame him for these other things.

Caitlin Flannagan says Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate because of her history of protecting and defending her husband against sexual assault allegations. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

What responsibility do you think Hillary Clinton has in the way her husband has been dealt with?

In her election campaign, I think part of why there's this bloodletting now, a lot people felt extremely uncomfortable about this huge vulnerability that she had as a candidate, which Donald Trump ended up exploiting royally.

When the Access Hollywood tape came out where he said that he was going to grab women by their private parts and that he did it all the time, any other candidate but Hillary Clinton would have cut him off at the knees when he said that.

But because she was so vulnerable in this area, and had always protected her husband and defended him against claims of sexual assault, what did Donald Trump do but bring to the next debate and sit in the front row all the women that we've been talking about?

Hillary had to kind of backpedal her attacks on him as being a sexual abuser. So she was a proudly weak candidate at an extremely important time.


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