What if Bill Clinton were a rapist?
It’s a thought that no liberal would ever want to consider, and I doubt many conservatives have spent much time with it, either.
We all know that America’s 42nd president is a serial philanderer—after all, we spent a full year forcing him to say so under oath—but we have always been able to console ourselves with the fact that, hey, at least it was consensual. His relationships with Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers, however tawdry, were each the work of two willing participants, even if one of them was president of the United States.
True, Paula Jones famously accused Clinton of making unwanted sexual advances toward her while he was governor of Arkansas, but a judge subsequently ruled that she had failed to prove her case, thereby allowing us to safely move on with our lives and go back to admiring Clinton as the political wunderkind and all-around good-old-boy that he is. No harm, no foul.
Would that it were true.
Unfortunately, in the long, ridiculous saga of Bill Clinton’s sexual adventures with women who are not his wife, there is one woman in particular whose story, if true, would force us to reassess our whole perspective of this man who, 14 years removed from the presidency, is still arguably the most beloved living American politician, both here and abroad.
The woman’s name is Juanita Broaddrick. In 1998, she asserted on Dateline NBC that in 1978—when she worked at a nursing home and Clinton was Arkansas’s attorney general—Clinton got her alone in a hotel room, held her down on the bed against her will and raped her.
This 1998 interview was the first time Broaddrick publicly accused Clinton of sexual assault, although several friends of hers knew about the alleged incident at the time. The case never went to trial, and when Broaddrick attempted to sue the president for key documents, the case was thrown out by a judge.
While there was some coverage of this story when it first broke, Broaddrick was largely drowned out by the far juicier bombshell surrounding Monica Lewinsky, which was commanding the nation’s attention at roughly the same time. As well, it certainly didn’t help that Broaddrick’s account contained inconsistencies that likely would have doomed her had she ever managed to drag the president into court.
And yet, to this day, Broaddrick has never recanted her story, Clinton hasn’t said a word in his defense except through his lawyers, and there is no conclusive evidence that Broaddrick’s allegation is false. To the contrary, all available public records indicate that both she and Clinton were in the same town at the time of the alleged rape, and that Clinton had no official business on that day. If there are any documents that would make Broaddrick’s story impossible, the Clinton camp hasn’t bothered to release them.
In summary: A woman has accused Bill Clinton of rape and we have no definitive reason to doubt her.
The question, then, is why doesn’t anyone care? Or, for that matter, why doesn’t anyone even know?
In this of all years, you’d think someone might be interested in the fact that one of the most powerful and adored men in politics might—just might—be a sexual predator.
After all, we are still smarting from the seemingly endless procession of women who claim—credibly—to have been sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, himself formerly the most revered of figures in the worlds of television and stand-up comedy.
As a culture, we have decided that it is no longer fashionable for a rich and powerful man to drug, assault or otherwise prey upon vulnerable women, and that when he is found to have done so, it is our duty to publicly shun him until the wheels of justice begin to churn or, failing that, until he’s dead.
And so I wonder: Does this principle apply to all rich and powerful men, or just to Bill Cosby?
I understand that being accused of rape by 35 women is not the same as being accused by one. There are only so many hours in the day for us to pillory America’s most serious sexual criminals, and priority must be given to those whose behavior is outright pathological.
On the other hand, if our underlying premises are that a) rape is bad, and b) rape by the powerful unto the weak is even worse, then by what possible rationale could we continue to pretend Juanita Broaddrick doesn’t exist and her accusation was never made?
Apart from their sheer size, what legitimacy do Cosby’s accusers possess that Clinton’s does not? Why should we listen to the former but not the latter? Do we only care about rape victims when they present as a group, rather than as individuals? Or is it simply that we like Bill Clinton too much to entertain the notion that he might secretly be a monster?
On the whole, I suspect that most of us simply haven’t been aware of this story these past 17 years, just as most of us had no idea about the allegations against Cosby until a fellow comedian, Hannibal Buress, brought them to our attention. While this fact is, itself, a major concern for anyone who wishes to protect victims of sexual assault, the far more troubling prospect is that a certain number of us were in the know about Clinton and have simply kept quiet.
You tell me: What allows us to justify our silence in the face of compelling, if circumstantial, evidence?
Sure, we could simply assume that Broaddrick is lying. That she is crazy, deluded or nursing some kind of grudge against Clinton for God knows what.
Historically, that’s what we’re accustomed to: Blaming the victim, turning the accusation on its head, brushing off any rumors of impropriety against our political and cultural idols on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly be guilty, because what would that say about us?
We could ask why, if the rape really happened, Broaddrick waited two decades to say so publicly. Except that, in today’s culture, the question answers itself. If and when an unsuspecting, private person is sexually mistreated by a respected public figure—someone who, in this case, was the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official—would she not be right to assume that no one would believe her story, and that her life might be irreparably harmed by the ensuing media ruckus?
In any case, that’s what Broaddrick claimed at the time. In light of how the Clintons have treated women who we know were telling the truth—calling them liars, stalkers and publicity hounds—it’s hard to argue with her logic.
Really, though, our problem is that we just don’t want it to be true.
We like our heroes as virtuous, two-dimensional demigods. We don’t want to reckon with the fact that the people we admire are just as complicated as the rest of us, and even though we know, deep down, that they are—of course they are!—we cling to our illusions of perfection for as long as we possibly can. And when it is suggested that these kings and queens of American culture are not just flawed, but criminally flawed, that’s when we stick our fingers in our ears and sing, “La, la, la, la, la!”
With Clinton, we have just enough reasonable doubt to keep our uneasiness at bay, plodding along as if everything is just fine. Because, hey, maybe it is.
We had better hope so, for the sake of him, Broaddrick and the country at large.
But should we wake up one day and find that a certified liar and adulterer is also a sexual assailant—nearly two decades after the possibility was first floated—we would have no right to be surprised.
We have turned on backs on Cosby. Are we prepared to do the same for Clinton? Or do we need 34 more women to come forward before it dawns on us that something might be wrong?