Sexual Politics

The news is when the inevitable happens, when it didn’t seem inevitable at all, to cynics who think the rich and powerful and famous will always get away with whatever nasty stuff they’re up to – which is how most people see life. Everyone knows life isn’t like the movies. Crime actually pays. Why else would there be criminals? Not one banker or hedge fund manager went to jail for what they did to crash the economy and ruin millions in 2008 – they all got richer. Massive fraud pays exceptionally well when the government knows that your institution is, as they say, too big to fail – much can be overlooked to keep the lights on and the banks open. Those who have it all also have immunity from what should be inevitable. Sure, Paris Hilton went to jail for all that stuff about driving drunk and then driving without a license after they took her license from her and then violating probation – but she wasn’t selling worthless mortgage-backed securities, that she had paid folks to rate at wonderful and safe, all over the world, financing everything. She had no immunity. She had only fame. That wouldn’t cut it with the cops.

That was only the cops. Paris Hilton’s fame was of course limited, but it was nicely ironic. No one quite knew why she was famous and she herself often mocked those who thought she was hot stuff – but if they thought that she was fine with that. Let them be stupid. She’d be rich, or even richer. She was immune from analytic criticism. What did it matter? She was rich and famous. The inevitable – someone pointing out that she was utterly talentless and everyone suddenly realizing that was so, and thinking it mattered – was never going to happen. It would be big news if it did. Celebrity means immunity. Everyone knows that. It’s big news when it doesn’t.

Then, on Wednesday, December 30, 2015, it happened. The inevitable happened, when it hadn’t seemed inevitable at all:

Bill Cosby was charged on Wednesday with sexually assaulting a woman after plying her with drugs and alcohol in 2004, the only criminal case against a once-beloved entertainer whose father-figure persona has been marred by dozens of similar misconduct accusations.

A frail-looking Cosby, 78, walking with a cane and accompanied by two lawyers, appeared for his arraignment hours later at a courthouse just outside Philadelphia, where he posted a $1 million bond, turned over his passport and was ordered to avoid any contact with his accuser.

Smiling and politely thanking District Court Judge Elizabeth McHugh at the end of the brief proceeding, Cosby left the Elkins Park courthouse and was driven to a nearby police precinct to be finger-printed and booked. …

Cosby, who personified the model American family man in his long-running hit television show, was charged with aggravated indecent assault, a second-degree felony carrying a maximum penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

This was a surprise and not a surprise at all:

With the earliest alleged incidents allegedly taking place in the mid-1960s, Cosby has been accused by more than 50 women of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/or sexual misconduct. Earlier sexual assault allegations against Cosby became more public after an October 2014 accusation by comedian Hannibal Buress went viral, and many additional claims were made after that date. The dates of the alleged incidents span from 1965 to 2008 across 10 U.S. states and one Canadian province. …

As of November 2015, eight related civil lawsuits are active against Cosby, including two that also target Cosby’s lawyer and one that also implicates his wife and manager Camille Cosby. In a December 11, 2015 interview, Gloria Allred said that she is representing 29 of the alleged victims. Allred also said that there are more alleged victims who have contacted her and that some of those that had contacted her would be coming forward. In July 2015, court records from Andrea Constand’s 2005 civil lawsuit against Cosby were unsealed and released to the public. In his testimony, Cosby admitted to casual sex, involving use of Quaaludes, with a series of young women, including an admission that his use of drugs in the 1970s was illegal.

In the wake of the allegations, numerous organizations have severed ties with the comedian, and previously awarded honors and titles have been revoked. Reruns of The Cosby Show and other shows featuring Cosby have also been pulled from syndication by many organizations. More than a dozen colleges and universities have rescinded his honorary degrees.

The model American family man – the non-threatening black man that white liberals had embraced, to the relief of the black community – had been, all along, a sexist pig. He seems to have been a bit of a serial rapist and it finally caught up with him. The unlikely inevitable actually happened. Look back now at all his work and you see a smug jerk mugging for that camera. His contemporary Richard Pryor was more honest about the black experience. White folks should squirm. Comedy should make you squirm. America had been sold a bill of goods.

Donald Trump probably arranged this, or found it pleasantly convenient, because he has been trying to turn Bill Clinton into Bill Cosby:

Donald Trump escalated the growing conflict over sexual politics between the Clinton and Trump campaigns on Wednesday when he called Bill Clinton “one of the great abusers of the world”.

Referencing Hillary Clinton’s recent claim that Trump is sexist, he said: “And she wants to accuse me of things. And the husband’s one of the great abusers of the world. Give me a break. Give me a break. Give me a break.”

America had been sold a bill of goods about Bill Clinton too, obviously. He wasn’t a master politician and a fine fellow. He was a sexist pig too. The Cosby thing came just at the right time, in the middle of a parallel argument:

The latest escalation kicked off last week after Trump used a crude sexual reference – schlonging – to describe Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama in 2008. In response, Clinton accused Trump of having a “penchant for sexism”.

In recent days, Trump has attacked the Clintons on ethics, performance and sexual innuendo as Clinton routinely draws on her husband’s economic record in campaign speeches.

But it’s Trump’s focus on the sexual realm – playing into an area that many conservative strategists believe could still harm the Clintons, both in terms of Bill Clinton’s history, and Hillary Clinton’s defense of it, that is generating headlines.

On Monday, Trump tweeted: “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!”

And then he kicked it up a notch:

He went further on Tuesday, saying that during Clinton’s political career, “there certainly were a lot of abuse of women, and you look at whether it’s Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones or any of them.” And in his most recent comments late on Wednesday, Trump accused Clinton of “tremendous abuse”.

Trump, thrice married and with partially retracted accusations of marital abuse in his history, conceded that the opening of this new front made it entirely fair for the media or rivals to investigate his background.

“Frankly, Hillary brought up the whole thing with ‘sexist’, and all I did was reverse it on her because she’s got a major problem, happens to be right in her house.”

Bill Clinton has declined to respond to Trump while the Clinton campaign put out a statement saying: “Hillary Clinton won’t be bullied or distracted by attacks he throws at her and former President Clinton.”

This does sound like a parody of a bad daytime soap opera, but with real consequences:

It’s the Clinton campaign that appears to have the most to lose if the plot loses its focus, while thrice-married Trump, who once defended Bill Clinton’s “private life” and grandly promised that “nobody respects women more than Donald Trump” has described his own private life as fair game to reporters.

While consultants note that Clinton’s approval ratings rose after revelations of her husband’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky were made public, it’s also problematic territory for the Democratic frontrunner.

And this may have been inevitable:

Veteran Democratic Party strategist Hank Sheinkopf, who advised Bill Clinton during his 1996 re-election campaign, believes Hillary Clinton made her campaign vulnerable to Trump’s latest line of attack when she accused him of sexism, despite the seeming inevitability of the subject becoming a campaign issue.

“It made no sense to attack him when she could have sent a surrogate or a spokesperson to do it,” he said. By doing so, he added, she inadvertently established him as her equal.

“Engaging with him directly was not the wisest move because he’s on a high and has more credibility with parts of the electorate she needs in the fall,” he said. “He can now pound her all day long, and even if he’s not the nominee, that pounding is going to remain in the public’s mind.”

Sheinkopf says Trump’s attacks present an opportunity for Clinton opponents to remind voters of the seamier aspects of the Clinton presidency that for many pre-dates their political consciousness. Further, some conservatives are believed to be readying the argument that Hillary Clinton played a larger part in defending – or of even enabling – aspects of her husband’s behavior.

Who knows? Next she’ll be defending Bill Cosby:

Earlier this month, a young woman at a rally in New Hampshire asked Clinton if several women who alleged they were sexually harassed by her husband should be believed. “Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence,” Clinton responded.

Should we even be talking about who is the sexist pig here? That depends on who you ask:

In the opinion of Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, both men are relevant: “Trump has smeared women because of their looks,” she wrote. “Clinton has preyed on them.”

In her memoir, Trump’s first wife, Ivana, alleged her husband hit her while recovering from surgery to reduce the bald spot on his scalp. Trump has denied the accusation; his former wife has backed away from her claim.

In an email to the New York Times, Trump countered claims he is a less than ideal ambassador for the issue. He was, he said, “the perfect messenger because I fully understand life and all its wrinkles.”

That leaves the door open to Bill Clinton to reiterate his regret for the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Last year, the former White House intern made news again in Vanity Fair when she gave a TED lecture on bullying.

“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss,” Lewinsky said. “At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.”

Maybe Bill shouldn’t campaign for Hillary:

Sheinkopf warns that the latest attacks could erode his value as a surrogate campaigner for his wife. “It’s almost a generation since he was president. Now he’s just a popular fella. Trump’s strategy is to make Bill Clinton’s campaigning less valuable, to put himself on the same standing as Hillary, and then to begin to try to knock her off her pedestal.”

That is the plan, but Josh Marshall adds this:

Donald Trump is saying that he will make Bill Clinton’s past infidelities and misbehavior a campaign issue (“fair game”) against Hillary Clinton. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a tactic that may work great for Trump in a Republican primary – particularly with the people who make up Trump’s core constituency. But in a general election, with an electorate not driven by the things that drive Trump supporters, having a thrice-married, philandering blowhard like Trump trying to beat up on a woman over her husband’s philandering, about which she is if anything the victim rather than the perpetrator, is almost comically self-destructive on Trump’s part.

To put it in the sales language Trump seems most readily to understand, there’s one product you can sell to agitated and conservative middle aged white men and quite another you can sell to … well, everyone else.

So this may not be much of a problem:

I’m sure Hillary finds this grating and galling on a personal level. But she is if nothing else a realist. And in those terms, I’m sure she’s thinking some version of “Please proceed, Governor.”

Dean Obeidallah at CNN is fine with that:

Now there’s no disputing that Bill had extramarital relations. But that’s not in and of itself sexism. The dictionary definition of sexism is generally two-fold, either discrimination based on gender or “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.”

A dictionary definition, however, can only go so far in grasping what a concept such as sexism actually means. Real world examples tend to be a better teaching tool.

Trump may not want to call Bill Clinton a sexist pig defended by a screeching harridan:

Trump told a female reporter: “I mean, we could say politically correct that look doesn’t matter, but the look obviously matters.” Adding, “Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.” Telling a woman she only got her job because she’s pretty is about as sexist as you get.

Trump about fellow GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: “Carly – look at that face. Would anybody vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” Conversely, saying a women isn’t qualified for a job because she isn’t pretty enough is again textbook sexism.

Trump in April tweeted: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America.”

Trump blames Hillary for her husband’s infidelity because apparently to Trump, the wife is required to satisfy her husband and if she doesn’t, the man will understandably seek satisfaction elsewhere. Behold: Sexism!

After Fox News’ Megyn Kelly challenged Trump’s history of sexist remarks by noting that he had called women, “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” Trump went on CNN and attacked Kelly with the statement: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes… Blood coming out of her wherever.”

Trump deserves an award of some sort for this incident – he responded to charges of being sexist by being even more sexist by claiming that Kelly only asked him challenging questions because she was having her period. Apparently to Trump, female journalists can’t possibly be good reporters unless it’s a certain time of the month.

And there’s the matter of cheating on your wife:

Trump very famously cheated on his wife and the mother of his three children, Ivana, with Marla Maples in 1990. That affair made headlines, which reportedly caused Ivana “to been completely humiliated by Donald through his public association with Marla Maples.”

Obeidallah has links to all this, so it can be verified, and adds this:

Of course, no one is saying that Bill Clinton’s past infidelities are off limits – but how are they Hillary’s responsibility? I get the sense that Trump believes that women are defined by their husbands and are not capable of having their own identity apart from that. If that turns out to be Trump’s point, that would truly be the cherry on Trump’s sexist sundae.

Fine, but Slate’s Michelle Goldberg counters that:

I’m not so sanguine that this can’t hurt Hillary, if only by undermining Bill’s effectiveness as a campaigner and complicating Hillary’s feminist message. That’s because, for the right, the Clinton sex scandals aren’t about infidelity. They’re about sexual harassment and assault. Conservatives are itching to turn the new feminist consensus on sexual violence against the woman who wants to be the first feminist president.

Some things really are inevitable:

Right-wing journalists and operatives have been laying the groundwork for an attack on Bill Clinton’s sexual history for months. In October, former Trump adviser Roger Stone published “The Clintons’ War on Women” with a forward by Kathleen Willey, the former White House volunteer who claims that Bill groped her. Willey – who, according to the independent counsel report on Whitewater, gave false information both in a legal deposition and to the FBI – has launched a website seeking other women willing to publicly accuse Clinton of sexual impropriety. In November, right-wing radio host Aaron Klein landed an interview with the usually press-shy Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of raping her in 1978, when he was Arkansas attorney general. Speaking to Klein, Broaddrick railed against Hillary’s attempt to position herself as a champion of women.

That’s riffing on old news, but Goldberg notes that times have changed:

The cases of [Paula] Jones, Willey, and Broaddrick have been very thoroughly investigated and endlessly chewed over. No evidence against Bill Clinton was ever found, though he did settle Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit for $850,000. But our rules for talking about sexual assault have changed since the 1990s, when these women were last in the news. Today, feminists have repeatedly and convincingly made the case that when women say they’ve been sexually assaulted, we should assume they’re telling the truth. Particularly when it comes to Broaddrick, it’s not easy to square the arguments against believing her with the dominant progressive consensus on trusting victims. This is a tension that people on the right are eager to exploit.

This is complicated:

In 1999, Broaddrick publicly claimed that Bill Clinton had raped her in a hotel room 21 years earlier. She reportedly told a few people about the alleged assault at the time, and right-wing operatives shopped the story during Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Broaddrick refused to talk, however, and she later denied the rape in an affidavit in the Paula Jones case. It was only when she was interviewed by the FBI in the course of Kenneth Starr’s investigation that she changed her story and said the rape had in fact happened. (In the New York Times, she explained the about-face by saying she hadn’t wanted to go public but felt she couldn’t lie to federal investigators.) Shortly afterward, frustrated with rumors that had begun to circulate about her, she gave several high-profile interviews.

We will probably never know the truth of what happened between Broaddrick and Clinton. But today, few feminists would find her shifting story disqualifying. Consider, also, another piece of evidence that was marshaled against Broaddrick in the 1990s: Three weeks after the alleged assault, she attended a fundraiser for Clinton. Speaking to Klein, she says she was traumatized and blamed herself for what happened. “I felt responsible. I don’t know if you know the mentality of women and men at that time. But me letting him come to my room? I accepted full blame.” In any other context, most feminists today would find this credible. …

To be clear: I don’t think for a moment that the people who hope to use Broaddrick against Hillary care about victim blaming. And it would be a profound sexist irony if these accusations, having failed to derail Bill Clinton’s political career, came back to haunt his wife. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why many on the right are giddy at the prospect of a new national conversation about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, and thrilled that Trump is giving them one.

And all of this makes Donald Trump seem very shrewd:

Glenn Kessler, who writes the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, published a piece on Wednesday titled, “A guide to the allegations of Bill Clinton’s womanizing.” It is divided into “Consensual affairs” and “Allegations of an unwanted sexual encounter.” Kessler’s bottom line: “Trump’s claim is a bit too vague for a fact check. In any case, we imagine readers will have widely divergent reactions to this list of admitted affairs and unproven allegations of unwanted sexual encounters. But at least you now know the specific cases that Trump is referencing.”

Trump likely knew what he was doing in getting Kessler to remind us.

And thus, once again, the big news is when the inevitable happens, when it didn’t seem inevitable at all – not to say any of this has anything to do with either candidate’s qualifications for the office. American politics is a strange business, and Bill Cosby is now no more than a sad old man. We could just move on. But inevitably, we can’t.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Sexual Politics

  1. Rick says:

    Here’s Donald Trump, justifying his retort to Hillary Clinton after she accused him of sexism for using the word “schlonging”:

    “Frankly, Hillary brought up the whole thing with ‘sexist’, and all I did was reverse it on her because she’s got a major problem, happens to be right in her house.”

    In fact, whatever Trump thought he was responding to in his reply to Hillary on “sexism” had nothing to do with sexism. It seems that “sexism”, like “racism”, changes its meaning each time some ill-informed blockhead uses it, and its meaning becomes whatever anyone anywhere wants it to mean.

    And yes, I understand the difference between dictionary definitions and real life, but the fact remains that “having sex” is actually not sexism, nor is cheating on your wife, both of which I think Trump has admitted to having at some point done himself, sometimes even bragging about it:

    “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?'”

    Has Hillary, or has even Bill, ever publicly said anything that lounge-lizardy? And he’s going to call those two out for being sexists?

    I could also ask, had this lowlife not become extremely rich, if he ever would have been able to lure any of those “top women in the world” into his bed — but that would not only be actually sexist, it’s also an unseemly way to talk about someone who could possibly become our next president — unless saying something “unseemly” is no longer considered political correct this year. (Yes, it’s true, I’m having a hard time following all of this stuff.)

    The fact is, words do matter, and in this case, it can probably be demonstrated that neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton are “sexists”, while Trump obviously is — and the fact that someone treats women as commodities and inferior to men is probably more important to most voters than any sex they ever had. But add to that the fact that whatever extra-marital sex Bill Clinton got involved in is not something that can be easily pinned on his wife anyway, I have a hard time imagining this becoming an issue in the general election.

    In fact, I’m not even sure that, as Josh Marshall calls them, the “agitated and conservative middle aged white men” that vote in the Republican primaries would even care about any of this so-called “sexist” stuff either. They seem to be more concerned with getting their country back, whatever that means.

    As a matter of fact, if you want to read something that could possibly, if anything can, really get The Donald where he lives — that is, his ego! — then read this:

    In her memoir, Trump’s first wife, Ivana, alleged her husband hit her while recovering from surgery to reduce the bald spot on his scalp. Trump has denied the accusation; his former wife has backed away from her claim.

    No, no, not the allegations that he beat his first wife! I’m talking about this:

    Do Trump’s followers realize he had surgery to reduce that bald spot on his scalp?

    Rick

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