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Hillary Clinton’s Refusal to Examine Her Husband’s Abuses of Power Is so Disappointing

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Hillary Clinton talked about sexism in politics, a subject on which she has a unique inside perspective. She was also asked about the affair between her then-president husband and his young intern, Monica Lewinsky, that came to light in 1998. Unfortunately, her perspective on that issue is lacking the kind of self-reflection many of us would wish for.

Lewinsky has rarely spoken about the affair, but last year, she wrote a powerful piece Vanity Fair, re-examining the events of the late 90s through the lens of the #MeToo movement. “Now, at 44, I’m beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern,” she wrote. “I’m beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot. (Although power imbalances—and the ability to abuse them—do exist even when the sex has been consensual.)”

But in that interview with CBS, Clinton refused to acknowledge the validity of that idea. Her terse response to being questioned about ideas of consent and power imbalances was to say, “[Lewinsky] was an adult.”

Yes, of course she was an adult. She made choices and she admits her role in this relationship. “I meet Regret every day,” she wrote in that Vanity Fair essay. But Clinton points to her “adulthood,” and the fact that there was a comprehensive investigation as some sort of proof that Lewinsky–a young woman fresh out of college, in her first job, who was courted into a sexual relationship with a man who was decades her senior, married, and the president of the United States–was treated fairly, that she was somehow an equal player in all of this.

But when asked if she wishes she had done things differently in her personal life and done more to support the women who accused a powerful man of wrongdoing, Clinton says no and points to the impeachment investigation as evidence of why she feels no remorse for her actions. But the investigation into her husband’s potential perjury and obstruction of justice have nothing to do with the mistreatment of Monica Lewinsky, who has since been diagnosed with PTSD stemming from the events of the 90s.

Even worse, Hillary Clinton quickly deflects the question by sidestepping into total whataboutism, asking why there hasn’t been an investigation into the accusations of sexual misconduct and assault made against Donald Trump. Obviously, it’s infuriating that the many women who have accused Trump of such behavior are being ignored by those in power, but there are ways to criticize Trump without dismissing the pain of other women.

In 1998, these weren’t conversations we were having. In general, we as a society weren’t talking seriously about whether an abuse of power regarding a sexual relationship with a young woman in the workplace was grounds for resignation. We weren’t talking about how Clinton came through that impeachment at the expense of Monica Lewinsky, whose character was smeared and whose name was turned into a punchline.

Hillary Clinton was criticized by many for standing by a cheating husband. She wasn’t criticized for standing by a man who abused his power and for ignoring the pain of women with the courage to speak out. But these are conversations we’re having now, and it’s entirely disappointing to see Clinton be so unwilling to catch up.

(image: WIN MCNAMEE/AFP/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.