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Kamala Harris and Bill Clinton touting girls' empowerment together is a bad joke

Why can’t the Democratic Party quit the former president? If the party is truly going to welcome women, it has to get rid of the political millstone around its neck.
Image: Bill Clinton
From nearly the moment Bill Clinton set foot on the national political stage, he has faced accusations of impropriety from women.Mark Kauzlarich / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Donald Trump’s sexual misbehavior was a boon to Democrats, as the GOP lost the confidence of women of all ages and hemorrhaged female voters. Many of those same Democrats spent four years rallying around the #MeToo hashtag so sexual predators would be punished and women would be treated with equality and respect. Now that a new day has dawned in Washington, what are female Democratic heavyweights — including the vice president herself — going to do?

Sometimes an idea is so tone-deaf you wonder — like someone in the Twitterverse did Wednesday — how the news didn’t come from The Onion.

Hold an event with Bill Clinton. On empowering women and girls. Sometimes an idea is so tone-deaf you wonder — like someone in the Twitterverse did Wednesday — how the news didn’t come from The Onion.

Why can’t the Democratic Party quit Bill Clinton? He’s a political millstone around its neck. If the party is going to be truly welcoming to women, and benefit from their energy and leadership, it’s got to let him go.

The event Friday, which Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to co-host with him as part of a Clinton Foundation Global Initiative gathering, is a good place to start. The conversation the two are holding at her alma mater, Howard University, is supposed to discuss “empowering women and girls in the U.S. and around the world” as they bring students together to “take action on pressing challenges in their communities.”

Their exchange is supposed to lift up young women. But if you want to truly celebrate and inspire women’s leadership, you don’t put a man in such a prominent role, particularly one with such a checkered past. And this tone-deafness is particularly acute because Clinton continues to think of himself as a victim, not a predator, and has shown little remorse about his behavior.

From nearly the moment Clinton set foot on the national political stage, he has faced accusations of impropriety from women. The charges were not taken as seriously as they should have been in the 1990s, when a largely male coterie of journalists often downplayed this type of misconduct, while many women defended him.

Then came Monica Lewinsky, the 22-year-old intern with whom Clinton had sexual relations, leading to his impeachment (though not removal from office). Yet she was the one roundly pilloried by a sexist media. (The Washington Post called Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky an “indiscreet dalliance.”)

Years later, Lewinsky wrote about how difficult that period had been, rethinking what had happened with a far better understanding of the power dynamics in the relationship: “He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college.”

Although the times have changed, Clinton’s 2018 “TODAY” show interview showed he’d engaged in no similar self-reflection or reached any more insight into the inappropriateness of his conduct. Indeed, he refused to take responsibility for his actions or to even try to re-imagine how it could have played out in the context of the #MeToo movement, which he said he supports. He continued to consider himself the victim, asserting that “two-thirds of the American people sided with me.”

“Nobody believes that I got out of that for free,” he said then. “I left the White House $16 million in debt.” Asked if he had ever reached out to Lewinsky and told her he was sorry, he grew even angrier, even as he ultimately acknowledged he hadn’t offered her a personal apology.

While the Clinton Global Initiative’s conference isn’t even a Democratic confab, it’s easy to conflate the two, particularly when Clinton himself takes such a high-profile role, and especially when he presumes to discuss female empowerment with the first female vice president.

Hillary Clinton has decided to stay with her husband for reasons I don’t understand, but it’s none of my business. For far too long, though, the Democratic Party has shown the same misguided loyalty. Bill Clinton is not going to change. So it’s up to Democrats to show that in the era of #MeToo, Clinton’s past misconduct is no longer something that can be rationalized. Even naming Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court shouldn’t get him a seat at the table anymore.