Hillary and Bill Clinton have recently been making clear efforts to join the projected Democratic wave and, once again, establish themselves as leaders within their party. But both their actions and public opinion have demonstrated that they do not deserve to retain their former standing.
The Democrats will do better, both in upcoming elections and in the long term, without their (unsolicited) participation. In November 2017, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, occupant of Hillary Clinton’s former seat and noted champion for survivors of sexual assault, was the first prominent Democrat to publicly voice the opinion that Bill Clinton should have resigned because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Her statement was followed by Democratic responses ranging from fervent agreement to ambivalence. Meanwhile, it is likely that, should the Clintons play an active role in the midterm elections and future election cycles, the hypocrisy of a man credibly accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct campaigning for candidates pledging to protect sexual assault survivors will not be lost on voters.
Bill Clinton has been accused of rape and sexual harassment. It is indisputable that, as president, he had a sexual relationship with a White House intern — a relationship that Monica Lewinsky herself says was based on dubious consent due to her comparative lack of power. But Bill Clinton retained a prominent position of power within the Democratic Party as recently as 2016, despite corroborated allegations.
Hillary Clinton is, of course, not to blame for her husband’s acts of sexual misconduct, and it was unfair for her to be targeted for Bill Clinton’s actions while in office. Yet she does bear some responsibility in that she made it possible for Bill to continue his activity in the political world. She defended him through scandal after scandal and continues to defend him to this day. Her continued support has meant that Bill Clinton had the chance to repeat and perpetuate the harm that he had already caused.
In a party struggling to redefine its identity, it is crucial that the vestiges of previous wrongdoings do not retain a place of prominence and influence. My Democratic Party — the Democratic Party that I vote for, that I canvas for, that I phone bank for — is not the party of the Clintons. It is the party of equality. It is the party with a platform based on the principle that, no matter how you were born, no matter what your circumstances today, everyone should be held to the same standard of exercising fairness and equality in their day-to-day lives.
In the 1970s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as litigator and leader for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, took on cases which challenged laws that gave an advantage to men or women, and this strategy was generally acknowledged as wise. This was, on the one hand, due to the fact that gender distinctions in the legal realm harm both genders. But it was also because the feminist cause would gain ground when principled and impartial stances were taken by feminist leaders. The latter point should help guide how we view Bill Clinton; by taking into account his “women-friendly” actions as president, including the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, but recognizing that there is no place for deliberate blindness where sexism is concerned. Not only is such blindness not right, the positive actions taken by Bill and Hillary Clinton while in office do not negate the individual hurt that their actions caused to the women accusing Bill Clinton. But it is poor strategy to exercise such blindness. How can we, the Democrats, argue that women’s rights ought to be brought to the forefront of the nation’s attention and interest if we continue to prop up leaders who ignore these principles when it suits their interests?
When the Democratic Party completely gets behind a platform rooted in social justice, as it is beginning to do, the party will be bigger than its leaders. We will no longer need leaders like the Clintons. Principles, not leaders, should dictate the actions of our elected officials.