Tell me the difference between Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton.
One of them is rich, the other one got away with it.
Alright, tell me the difference between Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.
They both look like pigs, however unfair that comparison might be to those intelligent farm animals. Nevertheless, the orange-haired, bipedal politician got away with it. We will take a look at Trump’s behavior in a little bit.
I honestly do not see how former president Clinton’s treatment of women differs in kind from former film producer Weinstein’s treatment of women. Clinton is more handsome than Weinstein, so he might say, “Well I had to fight them off.” Yet that Clintonian response does not work so well. William Jefferson went to the White House, where he conducted what Bret Stephens calls a “consensual dalliance”. I wonder how many of the girls Clinton’s bodyguards brought his way in Little Rock considered themselves participants in a consensual dalliance?
The other guy, the film producer with the bigger paunch, did not rely on his security detail. He had other enablers to bring vulnerable young women to his hotel rooms, presumably to talk about film scripts and the like. Now he sits in prison for rape.
Acting the predator or pig toward women has never been acceptable behavior.
By now you may think, “Times were different in the 1980s and 90s. Enablers and others assumed they would cover for powerful people. Today we understand better how customary reticence affects women.” Gloria Steinem, in an article about Clinton’s so-called indiscretions, would argue, “boys will be skirt chasers, but they also can do a lot of good for women.” Many of her New York Times readers accepted that! You win the day when people like you, think you’re great, identify with you. Bill Clinton had a lot of friends who would speak for him.
In fact, acting the predator or pig toward women has never been acceptable behavior. For sex outside marriage, we have consensual sex. We call that an affair. We also have forcible sex. We call that rape. Between those two poles we have a full range of encounters we call bad dates, sexual assault, or regretted sex. Sometimes those are euphemisms for rape, other times not. Yet sexual assault has always been a crime. It did not become a crime after 2000, when we all woke and realized, “We shouldn’t keep quiet about sexual assault anymore.”
To reverse roles, suppose ugly President Weinstein raped Juanita Broaddrick, and charming, Hollywood Bill Clinton assaulted one of his aspiring actresses. What effects would these assaults have had on their careers? Would Clinton have gone to prison? Would Weinstein have gotten away with calling his victims ‘trailer trash’, as Clinton and his people did with Paula Jones? How, in the end, did President Clinton get away with it?
Suppose ugly President Weinstein raped Juanita Broaddrick, and charming, Hollywood Bill Clinton assaulted one of his aspiring actresses.
Let’s return to President Trump’s example. As with President Clinton, we all knew of his boorish, predatory, not to say criminal behavior toward women before he received enough votes to go to the White House. We might remember as well that Ronan Farrow published his New Yorker piece on Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, nine months after Trump’s inauguration. The article brought Weinstein down, but not Trump. Why do we give presidents, or candidates for president, a pass, when we do not give people in the entertainment industry a pass?
One more example, to consider two entertainers and two politicians, lends balance. Bill Cosby, at age 82 serves a ten-year sentence in Pennsylvania’s state penitentiary for rape. He says he expects to serve the full ten years, as he does not plan to grovel before his parole board. He must have thought, from time to time, that his behavior does not differ substantially from other, equally well-known figures who hold prestigious positions and titles, such as president and former president.
Kings put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning, just like the rest of us.
So we have to ask, why do we give presidents a pass? We know they do not deserve it. As the saying goes, kings and presidents “put their pants on one leg at a time in the morning, just like the rest of us.” Certainly in a republic, we do not owe presidents more respect in these matters than any other citizen subject to law and custom.
We rightly protect presidents from legal proceedings while in office, so their political opponents cannot use judicial indictments to remove them from power. Removal from power must be a political process. Consequently we show no restraint toward presidents in politics, and never have.
By contrast, we look over matters that touch on sexual relations before presidents enter office, or in Clinton’s case, while in office. Our emotional attachment to certain institutions, especially the presidency, signals us to think of our leader as something better than a pig. In that case, the emotional attachment has to go.