‘In my world, you don’t abandon a guy over sex. You stick with him.”
— James Carville, former adviser to President Bill Clinton, Stickin’: The Case for Loyalty (2000)
The revelations of sexual predation by Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and others have spurred cries that good men need stop turning a blind eye to the predatory, harassing, or creepy behavior of their male peers and coworkers. But it wasn’t that long ago that prominent liberal voices sang a very different tune.
The brief progressive reevaluation of Bill Clinton’s scandals in late 2017 — epitomized by Michelle Goldberg’s “I Believe Juanita” column in the New York Times and Matt Yglesias’s “Bill Clinton should have resigned” column at Vox — was surprising and long-overdue. James Carville’s forgotten tome, Stickin’: The Case for Loyalty, is a useful illustration of just how invested Democrats once were in the argument that Bill Clinton could sexually pursue anyone he wanted, whenever he wanted, in whatever manner he wanted, without significant consequence. By the time Stickin’ was published in early 2000, Carville had already established himself as eager to smear any woman who accused the president of wrongdoing, declaring of Paula Jones in 1997, “Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there’s no telling what you’ll find.” The book performs a neat trick of moral jiu-jitsu, arguing that Carville and other Democrats who defended the president throughout impeachment were true ethical leaders, while those Democrats who were repulsed by the Lewinsky scandal were “unprincipled backstabbers.”
Unsurprisingly, the names of Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey do not appear anywhere in Stickin’. Discussion of Clinton’s misbehavior is confined to the Lewinsky scandal, which is minimized as a “brouhaha,” an instance of a grown man “acting stupid with a grown woman,” or simply “SEX.”
One aspect of the scandal that received comparably little attention at the time was whether Clinton unethically took advantage of a subordinate employee. Yes, the affair was consensual, but arguments about sexual relationships in the workplace in the years since have raised fair questions about just how equitable a relationship between a chief executive and a 20-something staffer can be. If your boss makes advances toward you, are you comfortable telling him no? If you’re romantically involved with him, how confident are you that he won’t let his feelings affect how he treats you professionally? Doesn’t that put all of the other employees in a difficult and uncomfortable position? How fairly can anyone else evaluate the professional performance of the boss’s mistress?
The president has enormous power over staffing decisions, and ultimately Clinton asked super-connected Washington businessman Vernon Jordan to help out Lewinsky. Jordan called three companies, had lunch and three other meetings with her, and spoke to her on the phone seven times in a month. Jordan’s call to the chairman of Revlon helped her get a job. Ultimately, Clinton used Jordan to ensure his mistress got a good job, right when he needed her to stay silent about the affair. On what planet is this not an abuse of presidential power?
Whether or not we care to admit it, there is a lengthy list of modern men who we suspect operated by Carville’s creed of “never abandoning a guy over sex” — or at least not a sufficiently powerful one. How many Hollywood stars, partners, financiers, and fellow producers heard the stories about Harvey Weinstein and worked with him anyway? How many collected a paycheck as part of his army of enablers? How many colleagues of Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer looked the other way? How many congressional staffers averted their eyes from improper behavior by their bosses? When such misbehavior is revealed, it is too often said to have been “an open secret.” This can only persist if no one around the perpetrator dares object — if everyone staunchly adheres to Carville’s code of silence.
Did Democrats of yesteryear really believe that “you don’t abandon a guy over sex” as Carville proclaims? They didn’t seem to extend such sympathy and understanding when discussing the sex scandals of Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, and other Republican figures. They contended, quite plausibly, that the sexual impropriety of men who made political hay touting their commitment to “family values” was hypocrisy of the worst kind. Then they turned around and defended Bill Clinton for the same behavior, rationalizing the irony when they didn’t ignore it altogether.
One can’t help but wonder how many powerful men believed that their peers would stick with them in perpetuity. It’s taken a long time, but their reckoning finally seems to have arrived — no thanks to Carville and his fellow Clinton apologists.
When Liberals Defended Clinton