By Marc Jampole
Republicans are very clear that they intend to make Bill Clinton’s past wolfish behavior an issue in the election campaign. Donald Trump and Ben Carson have both said that discussing Bill’s past affairs is fair game, as did the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Both Trump and the Journal compare Bill’s actions and words to Trump’s and declare Trump to be less of a sexist than our ex-President. The Journal even talked about Clinton’s “war on women.”
There are lots of ways that Democrats could argue react to Republican accusations regarding Bill Clinton’s sexual past. They could point out all the strides that women made during the Clinton Administration.
They could remind people that unlike Trump, who believes he is superior to women and has insulted a number of them for their looks or their bodily functions, Bill loves women.
They could reconstruct the two incidents that reflect most poorly on Slick Willie and assert that Paula Jones was a gold-digger and Monica Lewinsky admitted she came to the White House looking to score some presidential booty.
They could explain that many spouses stray and that Bill and Hillary worked out their marital difficulties and didn’t get divorced, unlike Trump, who has been divorced twice, with at least one divorce coming after a torrid love affair with a much younger woman. Perhaps Clinton supporters could play Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” in the background while making this point. This approach might resonate with those who don’t believe in divorce.
They could claim that the extramarital affairs are a private matter that should play no part in the political discussion.
All of these approaches to responding to the Republican’s attempts to dredge up Bill’s past sexual history would be wrong for one reason—all are irrelevant. In fact the entire discussion is irrelevant, simply because: Bill Clinton is not Hillary Clinton.
It is Hillary who is running for office, not Bill. Bill’s past should be of no concern to voters unless someone can prove that Hillary Clinton lied or participated in a cover-up, which they can’t. If Hillary had acted illegally or unethically before, during or after her husband’s several “bimbo eruptions,” the Republicans would have uncovered evidence after more than twenty years of investigating the Clintons’ past for dirt.
In this regard, Bill Clinton plays the role of embarrassing relative—similar to Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, Neil Bush or Bill’s own brother, Roger. The one difference, of course, is that Bill is not an obscure figure, but an extremely popular ex-President.
The decades-old sexual antics of Hillary Clinton’s spouse have absolutely no bearing on Hillary Clinton’s competence or her ability to lead the country, administer the laws, set foreign policy or work with Congress.
But while Bill Clinton’s sexual history is not an issue of substance, Trump’s dismissive attitudes towards women definitely should be open for discussion, again, for one reason only—because the Donald is running for office. His old-fashioned laddie-boy sexism will make it harder for him to work with female members of Congress and foreign leaders. Imagine Trump referring to Nancy Pelosi’s menopausal behavior or disparaging Angela Merkel’s fashion sense. Finding out how Trump really stands on a woman’s right to control her own body is important—sometimes he says he favors abortion, sometimes he says he’s against it. The fact that the Donald wants to defund Planned Parenthood is an issue. Some have characterized Trump as the archetypal “rich man who regularly trades in his wives for younger models.” Trump’s past marriages may turn out to be a character issue for many people.
In short, Trump’s attitudes towards women and women’s issues is of utmost importance in determining his suitability to serve as President of the United States. But whatever Hillary Clinton's husband did two decades ago is nothing more than a sideshow. Of course, sideshows such as Trump, Carson and Cruz are coming to dominate the Republican nominating process.