by Alex Knepper
Sex crime accusations are gut-wrenching to deal with because the gravity of the offense is so heavy — and our tools for sorting truth from falsehood are profoundly and necessarily limited. On the one hand, we want to believe and console those who have been victimized — but we also don’t want to condemn a man as a monster unless we have incontrovertible evidence against him. It is difficult enough to neutrally evaluate sex crime accusations without partisan and ideological concerns getting in the way — but when we apply that political layer to an accusation, it is nearly impossible to have an even-handed discussion, since much is at stake beyond the simple guilt or innocence of the accused. Whether one gives Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt seems to be motivated in almost every instance by partisan concerns, it seems — and I look at myself, too, and recognize that, as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, I want to believe he didn’t do what he’s accused of doing. So I will say here that I cannot state decisively that Bill Clinton is innocent. What I can say is that there are good reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt.
We know that Bill Clinton has a history of being a user and a cheater. We must remember that cheating is not assault, nor is it indicative of a greater likelihood to commit assault. Trump supporters love to sneakily cluster all sexual impropriety under the same umbrella — but while both are examples of bad behavior, only one is a crime. With this in mind, I will not bother addressing anything about Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, or other episodes in which the consensual nature of the affair is not in doubt. There are three primary accusers Republicans point to as evidence that Bill is a sex criminal: Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick.
I cannot decisively say that any of these women are lying. But I can say that there are good reasons to be skeptical of their claims, and that pro-Trump Republicans are exploiting both people’s ignorance about the details of the cases, as well as the popular progressive tendency to insist that we ought to always believe accusers. I do not accept the notion that we must always believe the accuser. We should always take accusations seriously — but from there, we must look at the evidence and only then decide how much weight to assign them. The weight of the evidence shows that there is good reason to give Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt.
1. Hillary Clinton, Not Bill Clinton, Is Running for President
First, let us remember that Bill Clinton is not running for president. It is questionable whether his behavior would withstand scrutiny under today’s standards, when there is heightened sensitivity to women’s issues. But Hillary Clinton, not Bill Clinton, is on the ballot, and, whatever role Bill might end up playing in his wife’s administration, he is not Trump’s opponent. Hillary is not guilty-by-proxy of whatever sins Bill may have committed. We may speculate about why Hillary chose to remain with Bill, but, needless to say, different couples choose to address their issues in different ways. Biographies suggest Hillary sees Bill’s problems as being deep-seated and not due to some fault of hers. She seems to have adopted her mother’s attitude about her marital problems with Hugh Rodham: she decided she married a human being, not a saint, and that marriage is for life. ‘Insider’ accounts also suggest she genuinely believed the presidency had changed Bill; that she was floored by the Lewinsky revelations. She was never more sympathetic to the public than she was during the fallout from the Lewinsky affair. The idea that she is covering up for what she knows to be a pattern of sexual assault is totally at odds with public and private accounts of her perceptions of her marriage. Like so many spouses, she wants to see her husband in the best light possible. She has privately lashed out over some of the women with whom Bill has slept, yes — which is a normal, human reaction by a spurned wife who keeps giving her cheating husband chance after chance. If you’re convinced Hillary is a cold, mechanical monster incapable of processing emotions except power-lust and money-lust, this is unlikely to mean anything, but to everyone else — how can it not?
2. There Are Good Reasons to Not Believe Bill’s Accusers
There is no good reason to rehash the histories of these cases in great depth. It will be fruitful here to summarize the claims and briefly present the evidence against them.
Juanita Broaddrick came forward against Bill Clinton shortly after the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky episodes came to a head, accusing him of having raped her in Little Rock in the late 1970s. The most damning evidence against her claim is that roughly three weeks after the rape allegedly took place, Broaddrick attended a fundraiser for Clinton. She has claimed she was still in denial at that time concerning what had happened to her, but she also claimed she told several friends she was raped right after it happened. (One of the key friends corroborating her story is a woman whose relative was murdered by someone whose sentence was commuted by Clinton when he was governor.) If Broaddrick was left dazed, bloodied, and rushing to tell friends about the incident, then the notion that she was in denial about the incident makes no sense — and therefore it makes no sense that she would have continued to campaign for her rapist. Today, her Twitter account is full of pro-Trump, pro-Republican, anti-Clinton, anti-Kaine messaging, with a pinned message at the top of her account reminding the world that she has accused Clinton of rape. This kind of ostentatious, overtly political behavior is not what you’d expect out of someone who is trying to reconcile and move on. Of course, different women deal with the aftermath of rape in different ways — but you’d think 40 years later, she’d have found a way to deal with this that doesn’t involve both Republican politics and continuing to make this incident the center of her online identity. We can never know whether she’s telling the truth — but we have evidence enough to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt.
Paula Jones sued Clinton during his second term for sexual harassment and settled for nearly one million dollars. Kathleen Willey emerged during the proceedings of the Jones trial and accused Clinton of groping her in 1993. After making her claims, Jones chose to hire not just powerful lawyers — a must — but a separate spokeswoman to the press plucked straight from the conservative media, who argued for Jones on cable TV talk shows. The first judge in the case ruled against Jones, but she appealed, and Clinton eventually agreed to settle — possibly to plug the dam and keep more sexual revelations from emerging. Willey in particular has a history of making false claims, including lying to a boyfriend about being pregnant and having a miscarriage. She has gone on to publish a book with and become a columnist for right-wing fringe website WorldNetDaily — in essence, she became a professional Clinton accuser, firing off deranged conspiracies, like that the Clintons murdered one of her family members. She currently helps run a website dedicated to telling right-wingers what they want to hear about the Clintons. While we can’t put it entirely past Bill Clinton that he’d have exposed himself or groped someone, there is enough evidence pointing to ulterior motives on the parts of these accusers to give him the benefit of the doubt. Jones preferred money to justice, and Willey has shed any pretense of not having political motives against the Clintons. Willey, especially, is anything but a woman who simply wanted to receive justice and then move on. Juanita Broaddrick, at least, did not seek money over her claims — but Jones and Willey have become rich and famous from accusing Clinton and have cultivated deep ties with right-wing media.
3. If We Must Believe Bill Clinton’s Accusers, We Must Believe Trump’s, Too
If you still want to believe Clinton’s accusers, that’s fine — but you can’t reasonably take Clinton’s accusers at face-value and then dismiss Trump’s accusers. In 1989, stories surfaced that Trump’s first ex-wife Ivana confided to friends that Trump aggressively raped her, leaving her crying all night. His lawyer denied it, but also claimed that it’s not legally possible to rape one’s spouse, anyway (it is). Business partners and pageant contestants have described unwanted sexual advances, including groping and moving in to kiss them on the lips. And there’s a lawsuit pending accusing Trump of having raped a 13-year-old girl, too.
Both on this website and on social media, I have steered deliberately clear of bringing up these accusations. I am always skeptical of claims against public figures, especially when money and prestige are on the line. But it is impossible to consistently insist both that Bill Clinton’s accusers are so obviously telling the truth, or that multiple allegations point to a clear pattern of behavior — and also downplay, ignore, or suppress the accusations against Trump. You can say both should be given the benefit of the doubt — but you cannot say Clinton but not Trump is clearly guilty. The respective collections of evidence just do not allow you to condemn one and excuse the other. As for me, again: I have chosen to disregard the claims against both men. But now we have audio of Trump bragging about sexual assault — if the evidence tilts toward one being guilty and not the other, it sure isn’t Clinton who fits the former category. There is absolutely nothing like that in Bill Clinton’s history.
4. Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
Finally, let’s consider the obvious truth that, even if Bill Clinton is guilty of every misdeed he’s ever been accused of committing, this does not justify any misconduct on Trump’s part. Pro-Trump Republicans have spent the last year — some, the last thirty years! — accusing Bill Clinton of being a disgusting, perverted, low-life serial rapist — and now they want to point to him as the standard by which they will judge Trump’s behavior. Trump himself made this fascinating defense in his apology video. His supporters claimed to be outraged at Bill’s behavior — simply appalled! — and yet, it seems that most of them were really just eager to use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card for their own morally empty candidate.
It is a shame that we have candidates with such high-profile problems — and there are legitimate questions about Hillary’s responses to Bill’s bad behavior, including and maybe especially whether she had been too naive, as well as how she squares her professed feminism with the litany of accusations against her husband. I am sure many young feminists would not necessarily like her honest answer — and Trump supporters know this very well, and exploit it. But in the final analysis, there are all the same reasons to give Clinton the same benefits of the doubt he was given in the 1990s. Much of this has been forgotten by many people, and much is also still unknown to younger audiences — and Trump and his supporters are counting on that. This post is not an attempt to exonerate Bill Clinton. It exists simply to show that there are two sides to the story — and that Hillary Clinton’s reactions to the accusations against Bill do not even begin to rise to the level of constituting hypocrisy. She reacted in a human way. Fortune willing, that will come through during the next debate — because Trump is about to go nuclear.