Yesterday, in a post called “The Farce of Bill Clinton’s Reckoning,” I discussed the intellectual dishonesty of the many Democrats and feminists who defended Clinton from highly credible (and in at least one case admitted) charges of sexual misconduct. I rejected the defense to this hypocrisy that, when Clinton’s offenses were “litigated” more than 20 years ago, the problem of sexual harassment wasn’t taken nearly as seriously as it is today. The furor caused in 1991 by Anita Hill’s charges against Clarence Thomas demonstrates the falsity of this evasion.
Yet, feminists and Democrats continue to make the argument. For cite one absurd example, last night a “Democratic strategist” who, from the look of it, was a toddler during the Thomas-Hill showdown, informed Tucker Carlson that “the times” were different in the early 1990s.
To overcome feminist amnesia (or in the case of the “strategist,” ignorance), let’s revisit the Thomas controversy. First, let’s compare the allegations against Thomas with those against Bill Clinton.
Was Thomas accused of rape, as Clinton was by Juanita Broaddrick? No. Was he accused of attempted rape? No.
Was he accused of groping Anita Hill? No. Did he try to steal a kiss from her? No.
Was any sex act performed, as with Clinton and Lewinsky? No. Nor was there any cigar play.
Here is how, at the time, Newsweek summarized Hill’s allegations against Thomas, all of which were denied by the nominee and none of which was ever corroborated:
[Hill] described Thomas as a boss who pestered her for dates and spoke graphically about pornography, bestiality, rape and his skills as a lover. “He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts,” she testified.
The “oddest episode,” Hill said, occurred when he was drinking a Coke in his EEOC office. “He got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, ‘Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”‘
These allegation paint an unsavory picture and, if the alleged comments were made more than sporadically, they would meet the legal definition of sexual harassment (if true). However, they pale in comparison to the allegations that soon emerged against Bill Clinton.
Moreover, the allegations against Thomas were stale. The comments were alleged to have been made nearly a decade earlier. Hill had never complained. To the contrary, she maintained a friendly relationship with Thomas long after he ceased to be her boss.
Yet, Democrats and Republicans treated the allegations against Thomas as disqualifying, if true. And every feminist I heard speak during the ensuing national debate — other than those who knew Clarence Thomas personally — believed they were true.
To be sure, a majority of Americans believed Thomas. This was due mainly to (1) the late and last minute nature of Hill’s allegations (she made them years after “the fact,” just before the Judiciary Committee was set to vote), (2) the powerful and convincing quality of Thomas’ denials, and (3) the lack of testimony from other women that Thomas behaved as Hill claimed he did.
However, feminists uniformly believed Hill, as did most liberals, and considered her allegations disqualifying.
Compare this to the Clinton saga: (1) the allegations regarding Monica Lewinsky were fresh and the allegations made by Kathleen Willey were from earlier in his presidency, (2) Clinton admitted the improper relationship with Lewinsky, and (3) there was no shortage of women who alleged improper sexual behavior on his part.
Yet, feminists disbelieved all allegations against Clinton that he did not admit, and shrugged off his undisputed misconduct with Lewinsky.
The dispute over Hill’s allegations, which played out on national television in the form of high stakes Senate hearings, riveted the nation. “He said, she said” entered our vocabulary to stay. As noted, feminists and most liberals believed what “she” said.
Sexual harassment was already recognized as a serious societal concern before the Thomas-Hill controversy. According to the Huffington Post, in 1991 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported 3,349 charges filed alleging this form of discrimination. That’s more than 10 per EEOC business day.
In April 1992, BNA Books published Sexual Harassment in Employment Law by Barbara Lindeman and David Kadue, a case book to which I contributed a chapter. I believe the book was already in the works when, in the Fall of 1991, Anita Hill leveled her accusations.
In the introduction to the book, Judge Alex Kozinski, a conservative appointed by President Reagan, wrote:
It is a sobering revelation that every — every woman — who has spent substantial time in the work force in the last two decades can tell at least one story about being the object of sexual harassment.
Kozinski may have been exaggerating, but no serious observer on either side of the political spectrum denied that sexual harassment was widespread and to be taken seriously. This was widely acknowledged before the Hill allegations, and almost universally acknowledged afterwards, whatever position one took about her particular claims.
In 1992, the year after the Thomas-Hill hearings, the number of sex harassment charges presented to the EEOC jumped by around 70 percent. Some of my clients were already offering training to employees on the subject. Others would soon begin doing so.
This was the state of play when “Slick Willie” Clinton’s presidency commenced in 1993. Feminists were on high alert and strongly predisposed to believe allegations of sexual harassment.
Non-feminists who were paying attention, though unwilling to prejudge individual claims, understood that given the prevalence of sexual harassment, such claims had to be taken seriously. They could not be laughed off as fantasy or dismissed as inconsequential. Nor was it sufficient to portray the alleged victim as a “bimbo” or as “trailer trash.”
Yet this is how the multiple claims of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, including rape, were treated by feminists and liberals.
Given the history I’ve just described, the argument that feminists and Democrats shrugged off claims of sexual misconduct against Clinton because of “the times” is unsustainable. The argument that, if Bill Clinton were president today, feminists and Democrats would believe Clinton’s accuser, or even just treat them with a modicum of respect, is unpersuasive.
The claims against Clinton were brought at a time of intense consciousness of the problem of sexual harassment. If anything, that consciousness subsided after Clinton’s presidency, thanks to the unwillingness of feminists and liberals to take his sexual misconduct seriously.
That unwillingness cannot be defended on the theory that times were different.