While the GOP race hasn’t been free of accusations of sexism, one comment from Thursday night’s debate went above and beyond — and it came from a moderator, not a candidate. Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo asked Ben Carson whether Bill Clinton’s history of infidelity should affect his wife’s campaign. “Is this a legitimate topic in this election?” Bartiromo asked as the crowd cheered. She followed with, "And what do you think of the notion that Hillary Clinton is 'an enabler' of sexual misconduct?" The question touched on earlier comments from Donald Trump, who has said that Hillary Clinton was not a victim, but rather an "enabler" of her husband's indiscretions. Carson hemmed and hawed over the answer, but commentators reacted with well-deserved outrage.
In domestic heterosexual relationships, when a man cheats, a common refrain is that the woman somehow drove him to it. It's misogynistic victim-blaming to suggest a woman is somehow responsible for a man’s misconduct. In the aftermath of the scandal of her husband’s infidelity, Hillary Clinton made the personal decision that she felt was right for her: to stay in her marriage and work it out. We can’t know what went on behind closed doors, but it was likely a difficult time for the family. Reframing her decision as complicity in her husband’s offenses is not just incorrect, but wrong.
Let’s be clear: When Bill Clinton had extramarital affairs, what he did was wrong on many levels. Besides cheating on his wife, he abused his position of power as an employer and his position of trust as a national leader. Bill Clinton did many things wrong. But his personal issues didn't have any impact on Hillary's career decisions in the '90s, and there is no reason to think that they would affect her ability to be a good president. No matter what you think of her policies, Hillary Clinton has undoubtedly proven her ability to handle the public stage and the demands of political office. She has served two terms in the U.S. Senate, as well as four years as Secretary of State under the Obama administration. Her extensive résumé raises the question: If her husband's affairs reflect so poorly on her ability to hold public office, isn't 20 years enough distance to bring her wits back? From a pragmatic angle, there also remains the fact that for many millennial voters, the scandal was so long ago that it feels like ancient history. Bill Clinton's impeachment trial was back in 1998, the year that 18-year-olds eligible to vote this year were born. For many members of the increasingly crucial youth demographic, it's a "scandal" that they simply don't care about. "There's no question that we should be able to look at any past president, whether they're married to somebody who's running for president or not, in terms of their past behavior," Carson said eventually. But let's not forget that despite the Clintons' position as powerful public figures, at the end of the day, they are individuals with their own actions.