Why Hillary Clinton Won't Pay for Disparaging Her Husband's Accusers

That doesn't make it right. But her actions would seem to reflect the impossible situation she faced during her husband's rise (one brought about through no fault of her own) more than her attitudes about sexual misconduct. I imagine when such allegations don't involve her husband, or the political milieu in which he was accused, her reactions are a lot different. Her alleged reaction to Packwood's accusers is perhaps most difficult to forgive. Then again, we only have a second-hand, out-of-context account of how she reacted. Who knows if it's right? 

Then there's the fact that it isn't clear how any of this would bear on her performance as president. Lots of her traits are worrisome: Her record suggests she'd be an unapologetic hawk who can't distinguish between a prudent intervention and a historic folly, and who would casually violate civil liberties. But her bygone reaction to her husband's accusers don't bear on her future. Those who want to cite it as an insight into her character should reflect on whether someone's true character is best judged by how they react to the intern giving their spouse oral sex. 

Perhaps it would make sense to hold Hillary Clinton's behavior against her anyway if we thought it signaled that she wouldn't take sexual harassment or sexual assault seriously as president, but I rather think that she'd take both seriously.

Would electing her be tantamount to giving her a pass for disparaging wronged females, sending the signal that America tolerates that in its leaders? Again, given the context, I don't think forgiving her bad behavior is tantamount to minimizing its seriousness, so much as acknowledging that almost everyone's judgment, perspective and behavior might be skewed upon the discoveries she gradually made. And if signals sent to young women are the metric being judged, electing the first female president would seem to overwhelm every other narrative. 

I suspect voters will see this issue similarly.

If asked to look back on Hillary Clinton's reaction to her husband's sex scandals, I imagine most Americans will be inclined to sympathize with her position and forgive some degree of unfair behavior toward the women involved with her husband. "Were I in her position," these people will think, "I'd have behaved no better." (In fact, the national media often did behave no better, and it had no excuse.) The women who claimed they were victims of harassment or assault are much harder cases. But if Hillary Clinton credibly thought that they were lying, attacking her on these grounds will still seem obtuse, perhaps even mean-spirited—especially since her long public life, with time as a senator and a secretary of state, offer far better material to judge how she'd conduct herself as president. (In my opinion, they suggest she'd engage us in imprudent wars of choice.)

That isn't to say that Clinton should get a free pass no matter what emerges about her behavior. My analysis would change if there's some unknown memo with her signature on it plotting the calculated destruction of a truthful Bill Clinton accuser. But barring new information, I stand by the judgment that the GOP would be foolish to pursue this line of attack, and that if they do, voters will reject it.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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