One Anonymous Feminist's Call For A Clinton Resignation (Or Impeachment)
January 11, 1999
When an unreconstructed, knee-jerk, dyed-in-the-wool, "60's liberal" starts giving standing ovations to archconservatives whenever they trash our Democratic president, something painfully significant is happening. While there's no danger of me turning my back on 24 years of feminist activism to become a Conservative Republican, the fact that I recently renounced a nearly 30 year membership in the Democratic party to re-register as an "Independent" ought to give pause to those who celebrated the recent election results as proof that the effects of "Zippergate" are both minimal and at an end. The damage still being done by the continued presidency of Bill Clinton to the Democratic party, the feminist movement, and the country will be much greater in the long run than any of his supporters imagine as they gleefully look forward to another two years of their "hero" in office. Because Presidents DO symbolize the nation and its values, some incredibly damaging things are being taught, especially to grade schoolers whose first lessons about politics or the status of women in America have been given by Bill Clinton and his apologists. If I were 40 years younger, I'd have learned many things since January, none of which would make me more likely to become a responsible adult. And if I were a Radical Rightist, I'd be elated that a member of the opposition's recklessness, selfishness, and continuing lack of concern for any human being other than himself would help me give daily reinforcement to every carefully-crafted negative stereotype of feminists, Democrats, and liberals I'd been trying to promote.
BUTTON PUSHER IN CHIEF?
Somewhere in town exists the world's easiest job. All that's required is to watch as products come out of the shipping department, and push one button to send them to loading dock #1, or push the other button and route them to loading dock #2. Apparently, some people believe that the Presidency is pretty much like this job: A "good" President, and one worth spending one's honor and credibility defending, signs the bills I like, and vetoes the ones I don't. End of job description and qualifications. So hold your nose, adjust your blinders, and either shut up, or defend the sleazy jerk because he's OUR sleazy jerk. Well, I refuse. First of all, this implies that there can be no objective standards by which to judge a President, because what's a "good" bill to one person is often an atrocity to another. Should there be no distinction between our President and any of the tens of thousands of two-bit, special interest politicians spawned by the most corrupt political systems in the country? A President should be more, and most have been much more. Whether future Presidents are better - or even worse - than this one depends on the signals we send now, and what's far more discouraging than the inexcusable behavior of one sex addict in the White House is the eagerness with which a majority of the public has gradually and deliberately "lowered the moral bar" into the mud so that Bill Clinton can slither over it.
AN EQUALITARIAN "DOUBLE STANDARD"
Like anyone who fervently believes in equality, I despise setting different behavioral standards or expectations for people based on gender, race, or any other condition of birth. But one kind of "double standard" is both healthy and objectively justifiable: "The higher the rank, the higher the standards." If a convenience store clerk named "Bill Clinton" engages in disgraceful activities, it brings shame upon himself, his immediate family, and damages those he's victimized. But if President Bill Clinton does equally offensive things, the consequences are infinitely worse. No one was ever "drafted" into the White House. Everyone who fought to win the highest honor the country can give knew going into the job that they had a special responsibility in regard to personal as well as public behavior. As the country's most visible citizen, and the only celebrity who must regularly receive nationwide endorsement and validation, Presidents know that they ARE powerful role models, and that whatever they do will directly reflect not just on themselves and a small circle of family members and friends, but on all their fellow citizens. "Character" and "standards of common decency" are not obscene phrases to be avoided in polite company, or surrendered to the Radical Right. And Bill Clinton's behavior has fallen so far below even the minimal standard of decency (much less any form of "higher standard") that he has forfeited the privilege to represent the nation for which he has shown such repeated disrespect.
IF INNOCENCE IS NOT AN ISSUE, CREDIBILITY IS NOT AN OPTION
Until Thursday, September 24th, I'd felt only a vague unease about the low profile of feminist organizations in regard to Clinton's misbehavior. But on that day, I was confronted with the fact that support for Bill Clinton by many otherwise reputable feminists was not based on an honorable belief that an accused is "innocent until proven guilty", or ambivalence about the credibility of his accusers. In the most shameful moments of a press conference that was an inherently agonizing exercise in feminist self- humiliation, it was made quite clear that even if all the accusations about the President were true, he still deserved to stay in the White House, and that women should vigorously work to keep him there. Well, let's recount those accusations, and understand what constitutes "insufficient" grounds for feminists to abandon him: Apparently, a governor who sends a state trooper to procure a low level state employee, exposes himself, makes an obscene request, and begins to fondle her against her will, is not showing quite enough disrespect for women. A President who commits what N.O.W. President Patricia Ireland calls "a sexual assault" on a loyal supporter who comes to see him in a moment of personal distress is still a man with too much compassion and self-control for the nation to lose. And a married, middle-aged boss, who on a dozen different occasions has a 21 year-old employee "service" him in the Oval Office of the White House, then asks his spouse, closest advisors, and friends to put their own credibility on the line to defend a series of outright, arguably perjurious lies, is apparently still showing too much character for any sort of meaningful punishment, and should not even be urged to perform the most obvious act of true contrition by resigning.
Over the past ten months, the campaign to salvage the Clinton presidency has shown even less shame, and more recklessness than the man himself. Among the mantras that are repeatedly chanted are "It's just sex." "Everyone cheats, everyone lies." and "All the presidents had affairs."
Oh, really? Is the feminist movement really comfortable promoting the idea that sex is an inherently trivial act, requiring no respect or concern for one's partner, and that all women should adopt the attitude of teenage boys that sex and love are totally separate things, which may, occasionally, coincide? Does "everyone" commit adultery? Or do all serial adulterers see the Clinton scandal as a wonderful way to excuse their own lack of maturity? And if "all" presidents are like Bill Clinton, what were the names of the interns who were "servicing" Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office? Who was Jimmy Carter's or Gerald Ford's mistress? To those who promote the trivialization of sex, the acceptance of adultery, and the trashing of all former presidents in order to drag them down to the present occupant's level, I demand: Either give me proof beyond a reasonable doubt that these recent presidents were adulterers, or apologize to those you've slandered.
The idea that feminist credibility and real political power can result from staunchly supporting a man who, as Patricia Ireland says, "treats women like tissue paper", is ridiculous and insulting on its face. Though every form of bigotry and discrimination has a different history and motivation, all share one common attitude: "People like me don't need to treat people like them with the same dignity, respect, or consideration that I want for myself, because they are my inferiors". As feminists, we cannot continue to give the appearance of sanctioning Clinton's long-standing pattern of blatant and total disrespect toward women unless we want others to follow his example. We must act with the same outrage toward those who demean women as we do to those who practice racism, antisemitism, or any other form of bigotry. To see just how offensive and inappropriate the feminist establishment's support for Clinton is, imagine this scenario: A President of the United States is in deep political trouble because of a repeated series of racially offensive acts or statements. One day you turn on your TV set, and there you see a number of high-ranking Civil Rights leaders saying: "Yes, the man is incurably racist, and when not in public, tends to treat African-Americans in an exploitive, insulting and contemptuous manner. But he's better than some others, has made a few good appointments, and does support civil rights legislation, so we're giving him our total loyalty." I can't see that happening. After centuries of effort, we now have a society where any disrespect toward people of color by our legislators is considered unforgivable and intolerable. Why should women settle for less in regard to his sexist attitude that a few women (like Madeleine Albright, Janet Reno, and Donna Shalala) are to be respected, but the rest are not?
CENTURY OF STAGNATION
In 1898, when feminists were marking a half century of struggle toward equality, rules about sex and marriage were quite simple, and unapologetically patriarchal. A woman was expected to be celibate until marriage, and faithful thereafter. A man was expected to be "experienced" before marriage, and to be discreet about his mistress, and/or visits to prostitutes afterwards. In marriage, 100% of the responsibility for maintaining the relationship was the woman's. She was expected to show total loyalty to her husband in regard to all things, while his loyalty could be "conditional" or "optional". A hundred years later, there are echoes of all that in the "Zippergate" scandal.
Though I would never dream of trying to guess what kind of "arrangement" exists between the Clintons, or make any recommendations about what Hillary should say or do, there are troubling messages being inadvertently sent. When you can't tell the difference between how Hillary Rodham Clinton, Marabel "Total Doormat" Morgan, and Phyllis Schlafly would handle infidelity and betrayal, that's a problem. So I hope at some point we'll see an indication that Hillary can become a 21st century role model, rather than project subtle signals that any 19th century Victorian would be quite comfortable receiving.
That Clinton's potential for greatness ended in January, 1998 is a simple fact. Yes, he still sits in the office, and retains the power to sign or veto bills. But the true essence of the presidency is gone. He can never again use words like "character", "morality", or "decency" in a speech trying to rally the nation in even the most noble cause. He has few "chips" to cash in when lobbying for any feminist issue, because so many must be spent in an attempt to negotiate the upcoming "plea bargain". If the alternative to a Clinton presidency was a "Radical Right" regime, even I might momentarily hesitate to call for his exit. But the alternative to the present administration is not to "overturn the 1996 election", and somehow install Bob Dole, or the new Speaker of the House. The alternative is to have Al Gore in the White House: A man whose values and goals were so close to his own that Clinton picked him as his designated successor, and who received precisely the same number of votes as his running-mate. Al Gore (and thanks to the 25th Amendment, his possibly female Vice President) would begin his administration in January, 1999 with a full compliment of respect, dignity, possibilities, and undiluted raw power. But instead of trying to facilitate the transition, some dig in, and cozy up to Bill Clinton: A "Larry Flynt" with speaking skills and charisma. Feminist groups must not waste two years defending the indefensible, and make themselves vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy for decades to come. Not so long ago, I felt incredibly proud when feminists rose to the occasion, put principle before politics, and demanded the expulsion of Bob Packwood. Even our worst enemies had to express some admiration for our stand: We would not sacrifice individual women to powerful men in the hope that these men might in turn help women in general. We did not accept a "compartmentalization" that allows someone to be considered an "honorable man" and "valuable ally" as long as his single flaw is that he demeans "only" women. We realized that the true nature of a person is defined off-camera, or as California's Democratic Governor-Elect Gray Davis once said in regard to an opponent, "Character means doing the right thing when no one is looking."
THE FAULT LIES NOT IN OUR "STARRS", BUT IN OUR PRESIDENT
It's time to remember that despite the sophisticated propaganda put out by Clinton's "enablers", apologists, and spin doctors, this is not about a president heroically defending the right of Americans to have private, consensual sex. Ken Starr has always had many extremely serious ideological flaws from a feminist perspective. Like everyone else - ourselves included - he also has political beliefs, and innate, partisan instincts to deal with. But despite a relentless and incredibly successful campaign to caricature him, the evidence does not show him as a reincarnation of Anthony Comstock and Joe Mc Carthy off on some self-appointed crusade to put video cameras in all our bedrooms, and conduct a sexual inquisition of private citizens. He was asked by Congress to investigate serious crimes, and very near the end of this probe was given permission by Janet Reno (another member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy") to look into the Lewinsky affair. The investigation is not about determining what President Clinton does, or doesn't do, with Hillary in their private quarters. But one part of it IS - and should be - about what he did in an office, during working hours, with a troubled young intern in his employ, and his lies about that affair (and possible attempts to cover it up) in sworn statements, and before the American public. It is about whether we want a federal law designed to assure equal opportunity in the workplace vigorously enforced, or whether we think employees who are sexually attractive and/or compliant to their bosses should be given preferential treatment (such as a day of "job shopping" with Vernon Jordan) while others who have better job skills than sexual skills are not so lavishly rewarded. And it is certainly about a need for equal treatment of criminal offenses that when committed by "common perjurers", and "ordinary citizens", have been prosecuted in court by the Clinton administration itself.
FEMINISM'S POST-CLINTON LEGACY
Bill Clinton probably can't help acting on his compulsions, and I sincerely hope that once he is no longer burdened by the duties of his office, he can get some long-overdue help, and eventually make some contribution to his country that will partially make up for the potential that was squandered during what might have been a second term of great accomplishment. But as feminists, we DO have control over our behavior. We CAN act rationally, and with foresight, and start thinking about not just the next two years, but the next century of our struggle for equality. And like it or not, powerful messages destructive to both the ideals of feminism and to the country as a whole are sent whenever Bill Clinton appears on television getting a round of applause from supporters, or meets with a foreign leader as a "respected statesman". The message that powerful men are naturally "entitled" to a lesser standard of behavior than others, especially in regard to women, and that high popularity requires a gentler, and more flexible standard of justice is something we cannot silently assent to, and certainly not appear to promote for the next two years. Most feminist organizations are too enmeshed in the political establishment to put principle over politics. But individually, (anonymously if necessary, to avoid lifelong "excommunication" from the feminist community over an issue that will automatically resolve itself on January 20, 2001), we can express our disgust for an apparently ingrained and continuing pattern of arrogantly misogynistic behavior and lawbreaking in the only appropriate way we can: By calling for the resignation - or impeachment - of Bill Clinton. We can vow never to support any future pseudo-feminist candidate who fails to treat women as equals in ANY area of life. Then, with a clear, consistent message, and our credibility restored, we can get on with the business of winning equality - and demanding respect - for all women.
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