Bill Clinton In The Era Of #MeToo
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In this era of #MeToo, of reckoning, of televised live confirmation hearings to air allegations of sexual assault, Hillary Clinton reopened a can of worms this week during an interview on "CBS Sunday Morning." She was answering this question about her husband.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS NEWS SUNDAY MORNING")
TONY DOKOUPIL: In retrospect, do you think Bill should've resigned in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?
HILLARY CLINTON: Absolutely not.
DOKOUPIL: It wasn't an abuse of power?
KELLY: Because, she said, Lewinsky, a 22-year-old intern at the time, was an adult. Well, that echoed the position that Bill Clinton took earlier this year when he was asked about the affair on the "Today" show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")
BILL CLINTON: This was litigated years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me.
KELLY: That is true. Two-thirds of Americans at the time said Clinton should not be removed from office, that the charges didn't justify it. Well, would the country feel the same way today? And how does Bill Clinton's sex scandal of two decades ago continue to shape political culture today? Susan Glasser oversaw The Washington Post's coverage of Bill Clinton's impeachment. Now she writes the Letter From Washington column for The New Yorker. Susan Glasser, thanks for coming in.
SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much.
KELLY: You started at The Post one week before the Lewinsky story broke.
GLASSER: One week before the Lewinsky story broke exactly, I was supposed to be the deputy national editor in charge of investigation. So at the time, that was the Clinton fundraising scandal - now mostly forgotten in the annals of history.
KELLY: And when the Lewinsky story broke, how did you all initially think about framing it? I mean, what kind of story was it?
GLASSER: Well, it was a political earthquake. And I remember standing slack-jawed in The Post newsroom along with, you know, hundreds of other journalists when President Clinton came out and said, you know, I did not have sex...
KELLY: Sexual relations with that woman.
GLASSER: ...With that woman. And in hindsight, it seems more clear-cut what the outcome was going to be. But there were certainly moments when we felt along the way that the Clinton presidency was hanging in the balance.
KELLY: I've been going back through some of The Post's coverage of the times and trying to reconcile what you were writing with what I remember feeling. I'm around the same age as Monica Lewinsky. And I'm struck when I look back at how women of my generation didn't rally around her.
GLASSER: The culture has shifted. And, you know, as a woman in many ways, I'm sure, you know, you and I both welcome many of the changes and the revelations of the last year about sexual exploitation of women, harassment of women in the workplace. And this unfortunately was not reflected in either the politics or the culture of that moment. It was a sexist environment in Washington, in some ways that are still true today and some ways that - thank goodness - are not true.
KELLY: That feel really of a different time...
KELLY: ...When we look back at it now. Setting aside the things the Clintons have said in this last year, it was really Donald Trump who played a big role in reinjecting the Clinton sex scandals into the national political debate. At the second presidential debate, he brought Clinton's accusers.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JUANITA BROADDRICK: Hi, I'm Juanita Broaddrick. And I'm here to support Donald Trump. Actions speak louder than words. Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me.
KELLY: Juanita Broaddrick speaking right before walking into that presidential debate to sit in the audience with Paula Jones and other Clinton accusers - Susan Glasser, the read on that was Trump was wheeling out Clinton's accusers in order to deflect from the "Access Hollywood" tape, in order to deflect attention from his own accusers. Did it work?
GLASSER: Well, I think, Trump has learned a lot from how Bill Clinton survived the impeachment scandal and brazening it out and denying or telling the truth slowly. You know, Trump did use the female accusers of Bill Clinton to shield himself against it. He knew correctly that Democrats would be accused of being hypocrites. That has continued to be the case throughout the subsequent #MeToo revelations, which took place after the 2016 campaign. And many people, myself included, believe that part of the sort of national furor over the #MeToo stories has been a response in some ways to the fact that there is another male president in the Oval Office who has been credibly accused of misconduct by numerous women. In Trump's case, I believe it's 19 women.
KELLY: Do you think Bill Clinton would have survived the Lewinsky scandal if it unfolded today?
GLASSER: You know, that is the question. I will say that the Democratic Party has shifted publicly at least more than the Republican Party when it comes to what to do about members in their own ranks who are accused of this kind of wrongdoing. Look at how quickly they abandoned Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota. You know, maybe that would have happened with Bill Clinton - maybe not.
KELLY: Do you think it serves a purpose to reckon with Bill Clinton's legacy at this point? Where does it leave us? Or is it time to let it go?
GLASSER: Well, I do think Donald Trump's continued mentioning of the Clintons at every turn suggests how useful a partisan foil it is at this hyperpartisan time. You know, there's some truth to Bill Clinton's point that we have litigated this issue two decades ago. And to me, the fact that it does keep recurring is largely a reflection of the fact that we are grappling as a country with the unique presidency of Donald Trump and the many allegations of wrongdoing towards him.
KELLY: Susan Glasser, now a columnist at The New Yorker. Thanks so much.
GLASSER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOLANGE'S "COSMIC JOURNEY FT. BILAL [INSTRUMENTAL]")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.