Hillary Clinton is the latest politician embroiled in a #MeToo sexual-harassment scandal. The New York Times reported earlier this week that she shielded a top adviser from allegations of sexual misconduct against a subordinate.
During the 2008 campaign, a young woman accused Clinton’s faith adviser, Burns Strider, of harassment. Clinton’s campaign manager recommended that Strider be fired, but Clinton refused, instead docking his pay and requiring him to attend counseling. In 2016, Strider rallied to Hillary’s side again, this time to head up the pro-Clinton group Correct the Record, from which he was later fired for . . . sexually harassing a female subordinate.
I called her today to tell her how proud I am of her and to make sure she knows what all women should: we deserve to be heard.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 27, 2018
The most important work of my life has been to support and empower women. I’ve tried to do so here at home, around the world, and in the organizations I’ve run. I started in my twenties, and four decades later I’m nowhere near being done. I’m proud that it’s the work I’m most associated with, and it remains what I’m most dedicated to.
This line of defense rings rather hollow given from whom it’s coming — a woman who covered for her husband’s serial sexual abuse, to the point of publicly smearing his victims. The moral of the Burns Strider tale, however, is not that Clinton botched her handling of the incident at the time — although she may have — and therefore is a failed feminist.
Much more important is how her weak response — both in 2008 and in this week’s protracted equivocations — illustrates left-wing politicians’ willingness to wield the language of the #MeToo movement when it serves them and discard it when it does not. Anyone can demand zero tolerance until that same demanding standard is leveled against themselves and their allies.
Take, for example, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was grilled about the Strider story on The View earlier this week by host Meghan McCain. After urging Republicans to hold former RNC finance chairman Steve Wynn and President Trump accountable for allegations of sexual misconduct — and repeatedly insisting that enforcing zero-tolerance policies should not be a partisan issue — Gillibrand swiftly changed her tune when McCain pressed her to answer for her mentor Hillary Clinton.
“You need transparency and accountability, and no one is above criticism. But, in [the Strider] case, I don’t know all the details,” Gillibrand hedged, before devolving into further generalities. Here’s the rest of their exchange:
McCain: Senator, you have dedicated your political career to this fight, obviously. That’s why a lot of people were really surprised that it took you 20 years to say that Bill Clinton should’ve resigned over the Lewinsky scandal. So what do you say to that?
Gillibrand: I think this moment of time we’re in is very different. I don’t think we had the same conversation back then, the same lens. We didn’t hold people accountable in the same way that this moment is demanding today. And I think all of us, many of us, did not have that same lens, myself included. But today, we are having a very different conversation, and there is a moment in time where we can actually do the right thing or fixate on one president.
McCain: Can I ask you, do you regret campaigning with him, though?
Gillibrand: It’s not about any one president, and it’s not about any one industry. And if we reduce it to that, we are missing the opportunity to allow women to be heard, to allow women to have accountability and transparency, and to allow women to have justice.
This kind of empty moralizing is not unique to Gillibrand, though her particular brand of hypocrisy is uniquely irritating. When the Harvey Weinstein story broke last fall — the story that catapulted us headlong into the #MeToo movement — public figures on the left largely stayed silent, evidently unsure how to deal with the fact that an ally and top donor had been implicated in something so distasteful.
When Minnesota senator Al Franken and Michigan congressman John Conyers were entangled in sexual-assault allegations of their own, top Democrats kept their lips sealed for weeks. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she had “zero tolerance” for harassment but appeared on Meet the Press to defend Conyers, calling him “an icon,” praising him for his support of women’s rights, and intimating that his accusers might not be credible.
Democratic senators side-stepped the Franken accusations for two weeks. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders suggested that Franken might not need to retire because he was popular in his home state. Gillibrand herself repeatedly dodged press questions on the subject, saying it was Franken’s decision whether he ought to resign. It wasn’t until public outcry built that these vacillators abandoned him en masse, as the price of disregarding his behavior outweighed their fear of disowning a loyal brother in arms.
Of course, reluctance or refusal to hold allies accountable isn’t a purely Democratic ailment; there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around, on both sides of the aisle. Consider the way top Republicans brushed aside the Access Hollywood tape, and factions of the GOP embraced Roy Moore despite credible allegations that he assaulted minors.
But left-wing politicians have spent decades asking us to believe that they’re the real allies of American women, that the Right ignores sexual assault, that conservatives are waging a “War on Women.” Like Clinton, they promise that they can’t possibly be complicit because they’ve campaigned against female oppression for decades.
Until they’re ready to stop covering for the misdeeds of political allies — or simply their employees — these hypocrites have forfeited the right to point the finger of zero tolerance at enemies.
– Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism with the National Review Institute.