Former U.S. president, Bill Clinton has been making the rounds this month promoting his new political thriller novel written in collaboration with famed author James Patterson. Between being retired for almost two decades and taking a backseat to his wife publicly the past few years, it seems Clinton is a little rusty when it comes to responding to tough questions from the press. Or, not-so-tough questions like, “Do you owe Monica Lewinsky an apology?”
In a post-Me Too world, all powerful men can be expected to get asked about sexual harassment and how they are going to be allies in stamping it out of society. Especially powerful men who have had VERY public sex scandals in recent memory.
Last week, Bill Clinton was asked about his views on the case of former U.S. senator Al Franken’s misconduct and the former-POTUS did not handle it well. PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff asked Clinton if he thought norms had changed since his time in office and if it is a good thing, citing how Franken was “driven from office” for less “serious” allegations than those against Clinton.
“Well, in general, I think it’s a good thing, yes,” he said. Then things got dicey, “I think the norms have really changed in terms of what you can do to somebody against their will, how much you can crowd their space, make them miserable at work.”
“You don’t have to physically assault somebody to make them, you know, uncomfortable at work or at home or in their other — just walking around. That, I think, is good.”
The comments were poorly worded, but we can kind of tell what he was trying to say — that the definition of “sexual harassment” has broadened recently to include more than rape and people are having to answer for their behaviour. That didn’t stop the internet from going berserk over the phrasing of “norms have really changed in terms of what you can do to somebody against their will.”
Bill Clinton’s statement revealing and VERY troubling. Most of us believed that rape and sexual assault were ALWAYS wrong and illegal. Those were NORMS for the rest of us already. https://t.co/l8XSR4UcvU
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) June 12, 2018
— Rusty Realtor (@investnland) June 13, 2018
Another gem from that scumbag, Bill Clinton: “the norms have changed in terms of what you can to somebody against their will.” He really said it. A serial abuser of women and now we know the thought process behind his actions. Despicable
— Tom Joyce (@TomJoyce222) June 12, 2018
A Clinton spokesperson told CNN that his comment was about “a particular case, period.” She added that “It’s clear from the context he was not suggesting that there was ever a time that it was acceptable to do something against someone’s will. He’s saying that norms have changed in a variety of ways in how we interact with one another, and that’s all for the good.”
This isn’t the first time Clinton has come under fire for comments on Me Too this month. In a Today interview Clinton was asked if the Me Too movement and dialogue surrounding it had changed his view of how he handled the Monica Lewinsky affair. The question was inspired by a March op-ed written by Lewinsky herself about how the movement has changed her own view of the circumstances surrounding her Clinton scandal.
In response, the former-POTUS said, “I think I did the right thing,” and that he apologized to “everybody in the world” at the time. He also played some hard defence, listing progressive-seeming accomplishments like having female chiefs of staff and tabling anti-sexual harassment legislation.
Of course, that immediately sparked mass outrage, but the prez got a do-over the very next day on Stephen Colbert’s show. The host asked Clinton if he understood why people might have thought his comments were “tone-deaf” and gave him an opportunity to respond to the question again. He did a much better job the second time.
“When I saw the [NBC] interview … it looked like I was saying I didn’t apologize and had no intention to and I was mad at me,” Clinton said; “Here’s what I want to say: it wasn’t my finest hour but the thing is, that was very painful for me … and I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, to the American people. I meant it then, I mean it now and I’ve had to live with the consequences every day since.”
He went on to voice support for the Me Too movement and people seemed to accept the clarification.
It’s difficult to grapple with the conflicting images of Bill Clinton — progressive president, Hillary supporter, balloon-lover vs. unfaithful husband, sexual predator, victim-silencer. In light of that, maybe it’s just best Bill leave controversial topics well enough alone.