We do. It’s just those who love to Lord it over us like to claim we never do.
There is little doubt that Donald Trump cheerfully boasting about having assaulted women – which when questioned about in the second debate he then denied – was a new low for American politics.
But let us consider the Clintons. Pace disputing the fine details claimed by the women produced by Trump to damage the Clintons, in the broad brushstroke view of history no one could pretend that Bill Clinton was (and for all we know, still is) anything other than what Australians call “a pants man”. Sexually highly active outside of his marriage, which fact he repeatedly denied until he could no longer get away with it.
Whether he is a rapist is more difficult to prove, simply because nothing has ever been proved, and anythign we might say or think, or indeed what anyone might say or think other than a jury hearing evidence, would be pure speculation.
Equally, despite claims to the contrary, no-one has ever proven Hillary’s role in “persecuting” the women seeking retribution for Bill wronging them. Indeed, in the Juanita Broaddrick case the investigators going after Clinton to impeach him specifically found that there had not been pressure on her to retract. Yet she says there has been, over the years.
The truth in the high-profile cases that Trump re-introduced into the debate is even harder to discern, given that some of those now accusing Bill Clinton are clearly partisan, and right wing.
Then again, had they been assaulted or raped, well, they would be very vocal in their opposition to him, and by implication his wife, wouldn’t they? We also know that victims of assault frequently offer confused or contradictory stories of their experiences, reflecting the intense psychological pressure they are under. Any understanding of their testimony needs to take that into account.
What can be said for certain about Bill Clinton is that he used the highest office in the land to seduce an impressionable young woman when the very slightest regard for moral norms should have told him not to. And even having done so, he should have re-considered.
He then denied it until he had no choice but to admit his wrongdoing, using weasel words like “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”. From where we come from, clearly what Lewinsky and Clinton did was “sex”. His attempt to deny her in this wise was reprehensible.
Whatever else Bill Clinton is, he is no gentleman.
Some of the criticisms made of Mrs Clinton are patently ridiculous.
In the very sad case of the rape of the 12 year old girl, Kathy Shelton, Clinton has been repeatedly criticised for “putting her through hell” and “laughing about the case afterwards”. In fact, as can be read here, the truth is very different. After trying to avoid taking the case, Clinton did her job as a court-appointed defender for a thoroughly unpleasant offender, and her laughter was regarding the unreliability of polygraph testing.
People conveniently forget that in the adversarial court system employed in the States Clinton had a legal responsibility to mount the strongest possible defence for her client, or face sanctions herself. That the defending counsel in rape cases often have to blacken – or at least question – the character of rape and assault victims is a crying shame in many jurisdictions in the world. Nevertheless, Clinton was only doing her job.
A fact the victim acknowledged publicly: Shelton told a Newsday reporter in 2007 that she bore no ill will toward Clinton. “I have to understand that she was representing Taylor,” she said. “I’m sure Hillary was just doing her job.” Later, she changed her mind, having heard the tape of Clinton discussing the case.
Meanwhile, sexual scandals in America (and elsewhere) are a fact of life, crossing all political boundaries. Former Vice president Al Gore is now accused of demanding sexual favours from massage therapists – so-called “happy endings”. This interesting Wikipedia article shows just how common sex scandals – straight and gay – in the Federal political sphere in America are. And it’s not like the rest of the world is any different.
The list is long and miserable. So what is really going on here?
Let us try and take the politics out of this, for a moment.
There is little doubt, as has often been claimed, that power is an aphrodisiac. People in powerful positions – in business and in politics especially – are undoubtedly sexual targets for many people, just as a seemingly inevitable expression of their powerful character and position may be their own sexual wanton-ness.
The number of stories one hears whispered sotto voce from “the corridors of power” of the enthusiastic sexual excess or adultery of men and women of all kinds far outweigh whatever stories actually become public. In many cases, journalists actively connive in keeping the tales private, because they consider them to be nobody’s business but the participants, except when the behaviour has other implications. (Like the Profumo affair, for example.) And in many cases, journalists keep the stories “spiked” because they are participants.
The cliche of the “boss” sleeping with their personal assistant is a cliche simply because it happens so often. And an air of sexual innuendo and availability permeates political parties, in particular, and has been the cause of many women bemoaning the fact that their advancement seems to rely on being willing sexual partners to men whose advances they have no interest in receiving.
Mix both situations with alcohol – or being in a location away from home – and the effect is magnified.
Or to put it another way, it seems hardly surprising that sexual scandal seems the norm, rather than the exception, especially in an era when the ties of marriage seem somewhat looser than in the past.
But if sexual hi-jinks are the “new normal”, then what are the rules governing that brave new world?
It is surely clear that the first and primary focus of everyone must be on confirmed assent. And because many women, in particular, feel pressured into sexual behaviour that they are not entirely comfortable with – or at all comfortable with – then the nature of that consent needs to be explicit and unambiguous.
At its most simple, men simply have to ask, out loud, “Is it OK with you if I/we do this?”, and also to be aware that apparent consent (such as a bashful or embarrassed “Yes”) may in fact be a sign of really being a “No”, as may be physical body-language indicators such as looking down or away, physical rigidity, and so on.
Even more complex is that sexual activity is a continuum, not a moment in time, and what might have been acceptable at one point in the exchange becomes unacceptable further on because one of the partners changes their mind.
It sounds like a minefield, and it is, but after all – if both parties to a sexual tryst are jointly and equally excited about the prospect, it’s pretty damned obvious, isn’t it? So at any given moment, if a man senses no matter how fleetingly that the woman may be unhappy with the situation, and we are talking primarily about male-female sex here, they are surely duty bound to articulate the question above, and listen hard to the answer, on all levels, even if it’s been asked previously. Similarly, one episode of sexual consent does not necessarily predicate a future one.
So far so good. None of which, though, would have applied in the case of Monica Lewinksy and Bill Clinton, where Lewinsky was clearly infatuated with the older man.
Lewinsky candidly said:
“I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year-old sort of a way,” she told a summit organised by the business magazine Forbes. “But my boss was the President of the United States. In 1995 we started an affair that lasted, on and off, for two years. And at that time, it was my everything. That, I guess you could say, was the golden bubble part for me; the nice part. The nasty part was that it became public.”
Should Bill Clinton have resisted the charms of Ms Lewinsky, as they were a betrayal of his marriage, his office, and also taking advantage of her naivitee? Undoubtedly. On the other hand, they were both consenting adults, and until the matter became public, contentedly so.
But Lewinsky also went on to say, in May this year, responding to a partial transcript of a late-1990s phone conversation in which Mrs Clinton called her a “narcissistic loony toon”, “Hillary Clinton wanted it on record that she was lashing out at her husband’s mistress. She may have faulted her husband for being inappropriate, but I find her impulse to blame the Woman – not only me, but herself – troubling.”
We agree. Clinton could choose to excuse or defend or overlook her husband’s infidelities – many marriages survive infidelity for all sorts of reasons, indeed, some become stronger – but without demeaning the character of his lover.
Anyhow: taken all in all, it is a sorry history. No side comes out of it with any honour.
Perhaps all we can hope for is that current and future generations will eschew power-oriented sexual behaviour entirely, and become much more adept at handling sexual matters in a more equal and sensible manner. Starting right now, we hope.
And as for the Clintons? No, they’re not perfect. In our experience all our idols have feet of clay, and how much clay goes to make up their lower limbs determines whether or not we feel we can support them despite their flaws.
They may well fail some or all of the “character” test, but in all probability so do many around them, including their opponents. Politics is a murky and unpleasant business some of the time, and certainly it is currently. Uneasy voters are left trying to parse which candidate’s program they feel more comfortable with, while holding their nose and voting for one or the other. We could devoutly wish that future choices will be more edifying.
And as for sexual assault and rape? If proved, the perpetrator should be punished, whoever they are.
But the key word in that sentence is “proved”. “There’s no smoke without fire” might well be true, and we will all make judgements based on what we think we know in any given situation, but it’s not a basis on which we can or should conduct public life.
The public life of anyone. Even the Clintons.