The last thing Democrats wanted to do in October 2018 was talk about the Clintons.
Bill and Hillary Clinton aren’t just the past of the Democratic Party. The once-enormously-popular two-term president and the party’s 2016 standard-bearer are the living embodiments of two of the Democrats’ biggest problems: hypocrisy about the #MeToo movement, which they believe they can exploit politically, and contempt for the working-class voters who cost the party the last presidential election.
Any mention of the Clintons, whether with respect to Bill Clinton’s predatory personal behavior or Hillary’s insatiable need to relitigate her 2016 defeat and to justify her incompetent presidential campaign, distracts the voters from the topic Democrats want to discuss: President Donald Trump.
And yet, talking heads even on the network shows and cable-news outlets most hostile to Trump have spent a considerable amount of time reacting to the Clintons’ latest foray into the public square. Rationalizing Bill and Hillary is hard duty, yet some on the left are still up to the task, though they seem to be doing it more out of habit than conviction. But even those most inclined to sympathize with the Clintons seem to understand that justifying their latest statements — or even their puzzling decision to take to the road as a duo on a pricey lecture tour — is a counterproductive exercise for those who would rather be expending effort attacking Republicans.
The announcement that Bill and Hillary were launching a speaking tour titled “An Evening With the Clintons” was exactly what Democrats didn’t want to hear last week as they were gearing up to channel the rage of their base — and especially female voters — over Trump and the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Yet just as bad was the pre-tour publicity blitz in which Hillary Clinton made clear that she had neither gotten over her bitterness about her defeat nor come to understand why it happened.
Speaking at The Atlantic Festival earlier in the month, the former secretary of state eagerly made the argument that the 2016 election had been stolen from her thanks to Russian meddling, which she seemed to compare to the 9/11 attacks.
Days later she weighed in on the divisive nature of American politics and came out strongly against civility. “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” Clinton told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again. But until then, the only thing that the Republicans seem to recognize and respect is strength.”
But while, as the Kavanaugh confirmation fight proved, many liberals share Hillary’s lack of belief in civility, she isn’t the right messenger for such sentiments, especially since her contempt for political opponents is nothing new. She memorably dismissed her husband’s critics as being part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” in the 1990s. And she played right into Trump’s hands in 2016 by describing his supporters as fitting into a “basket of deplorables.”
Involving the person Democrats consider guilty of the unforgivable sin of losing to Trump in the current debate isn’t exactly the way to fire up their base, and it has the opposite effect on Republicans, who already were re-energized by the Kavanaugh debate.
But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Clintons’ refusal to leave the stage is the way they undermine the Democratic view that the rise of the #MeToo movement assists their political goals. So long as the Left can keep its voters focused on Trump and the GOP’s defense of Kavanaugh, the issue of sexual harassment and violence can help Democrats mobilize female voters. But the Clintons don’t merely distract the public from what liberals think is wrong with Republican attitudes; they actively undermine the misleading narrative that claims conservatives condone attacks on women.
The announcement of the Clinton tour the same week as the first anniversary of #MeToo — which began with the publication of accusations against movie mogul and longtime Clinton contributor and friend Harvey Weinstein — is more than a case of bad timing. Though they act as if it all has nothing to do with them, the Clintons are the poster children for sexual predators and their enablers.
The former president has taken a much lower profile in the last year, while some former political allies, such as New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have retroactively withdrawn their support for him and said he should have resigned over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Others have been willing to admit that Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of raping her, should have been believed, rather than ignored or dismissed by both the mainstream media and liberal feminists — who now proclaim that women who accuse men of assault must be believed.
But Hillary Clinton is still standing by her man and Bill — unlike others who have been accused of far less grievous offenses but who were summarily dismissed from their jobs and then shunned by the public — has no compunction about putting himself forward as a star lecturer alongside his wife.
The mere fact that the two are going out on the road for a public tour at arenas where they will charge exorbitant prices for the privilege of hearing them “provide a unique perspective on the past, and remarkable insight into where we go from here” — as the copy provided by the concert promoter Live Nation which is staging these events said — is bad enough. But Hillary’s argument that her husband is not a #MeToo offender is a blow to Democrats.
While Republicans who have rationalized President Trump’s scandals are hypocritical, the re-emergence of the Clintons is a reminder that Democrats did the same thing during Bill’s administration.
Hillary Clinton compounded the problem when she said on the CBS News Sunday morning show that she didn’t consider her husband’s dalliance with Lewinsky to be “an abuse of power.” While she tried to deflect the focus onto Trump’s alleged misdeeds, that raised the question of how it is possible for Democrats to weaponize #MeToo when they stood by a man accused of rape and sexual harassment, and who engaged in an exploitive relationship with an intern. That’s also true for Hillary, who may have been the injured party with respect to her husband’s infidelity but whose willingness to attack his accusers marks her as an enabler of a predator rather than a victim.
While Democrats can argue that standards were different in the 1990s and that they would react differently if such accusations arose now, the Clintons attempt to stay relevant makes those talking points sound ridiculous.
Why are the Clintons sabotaging their party in this manner?
Only they can answer that question, but it’s clear that their sense of entitlement is at the heart of their refusal to simply go away, as so much of the country would prefer they do. They remain as clueless about the inappropriateness of the former president’s unrepentant attitude as they were about how Hillary’s deceitful attitude about the email scandal and other key issues cost her the election. Their belief that their self-proclaimed high-minded motives justify anything they do defines them as much today as it did in 1998 or 2016.
But no matter their personal motivation, their persistence in keeping their names in the news is a nightmare for Democrats who wish to put their failures in the rearview mirror — but who can’t seem to escape from their former idols. Until they do, it will hamstring efforts to demonize Republicans for problems that are nowhere near as serious as the ones the Clintons continue to remind us about.