When Bill Clinton kicked off the press tour this weekend for his book with bestselling author James Patterson, he seemed shocked when he was asked about his thoughts on the #MeToo movement and his handling of the Monica Lewinsky scandal 20 years later.
He was surprised — but unapologetic. "A lot of the facts have been conveniently omitted to make the story work," he said to The Today Show. "I think partly because they're frustrated that they got all these serious allegations against the current occupant of the Oval Office and his voters don't seem to care. I think I did the right thing. I defended the Constitution." He also admitted he’d never personally apologised to Lewinsky.
Clinton then went on to use a bunch of defence mechanisms we’ve seen from the various men accused in the #MeToo era:
He used a statistic that “two-thirds of people” sided with him two decades ago, even though it’s been established time after time in the past eight months that attitudes have, you know, changed in the 20-plus years since then.
He tried to list his track record of promoting women and passing sexual harassment legislation in an Eric Schneiderman-esque move, despite the fact that it’s already been established that you can’t be a true ally to the women’s movement if you treat some women poorly.
He included the classic line that he thought the #MeToo movement was “long overdue” but that he “didn’t agree with” every part of it, whatever that means.
A day after the interview aired, Clinton backtracked, claiming he got “hot under the collar” because of “the way the questions were asked.” Cry me a goddamn river.
Clinton, who was the leader of the free world at the time of the affair, chose to have an inappropriate relationship with an unpaid intern who was more than 25 years his junior. Lewinsky proceeded to receive unending harassment from government officials and the public alike for decades and had suicidal thoughts. In her own words, she was also “cyberbullying’s patient zero,” as the scandal hit right at the moment the internet was gaining popularity, particularly as a place for consuming news. She was virtually blacklisted from society and has only recently — in the mid-2010s — publicly regained some of her footing, while Clinton went on to complete a second term as president, leave office with high approval ratings, and continued to be a public fixture, especially amongst Democrats and in philanthropic circles.
But that’s not the only thing that’s aggravating about this situation. What grinds my gears about Clinton isn’t just the fact that he hasn’t seemed to really learn his lesson; it’s that other people have coddled him so that he really doesn’t have to. In this case, he wrote a book with author James Patterson, and the opening event of the book promotion was at BookCon, a huge gathering where, like many large-scale conventions, a large number of attendees are young people, particularly young women. The move to host Bill Clinton is particularly brash given that the publishing world — and virtually every genre within it — is in the midst of its own #MeToo movement. Last month, Monica Lewinsky was shunned from attending a philanthropy summit hosted by Town & Country because of Clinton, where he introduced another young woman, gun violence activist Emma Gonzalez. The question we have to ask is, why do people keep giving him these gigs? And why are we exposing a new generation of young women to him in this positive light?
I was a child during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of the 1990s, so as someone who wasn’t charmed by Bill Clinton during his tenure as Arkansas governor, his campaign, or his time in office and just sees who he is today post-presidency, I can say that this ongoing parade for this man has gone on far too long. Bill Clinton needs to take all of the seats — and the wide variety of people enabling him with these new public opportunities can take all of the seats, too.
I applaud Craig Melvin for bringing up #MeToo during what was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill book press interview. If Bill Clinton wants to keep showing up in new ways, he’s going to have to keep reckoning with his choices — and in doing that, hopefully people will become more and more okay with making other perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault truly reckon with their decisions, too.
Monica Lewinsky has carried that burden for far too long. It’s time for Clinton to finally shoulder the bulk of it.