There is something almost Kafkaesque about Hillary Clinton’s Republican opponents chastising her about sexism. Especially when the main attacker is Donald Trump and the criticism isn’t even about something she did, or thinks, or said, but about her husband.
Yes, the billionaire Republican front-runner, who depicts women he doesn’t like as “slob” and “pig,” derides a fellow Republican female candidate’s face and quips of a debate moderator on Fox News who challenges him that she has blood coming out of her “whatever,” is now going after Hillary. Over Bill’s dalliances. Since he cheated on her, the reasoning seems to go, that makes her culpable as an enabler.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t need anyone’s help defending herself; she’s had enough practice. And judging from an inspired presentation in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, she’s not letting it get under her skin. But let’s consider the implications of Trump’s extraordinary argument.
This is the Trump who rhapsodized about the value of having “a young and beautiful piece of ass” at home and who married three times, most likely in pursuit of that. He once denounced the impeachment effort against Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinsky, saying in 2008: “Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense.” He donated to one of Hillary’s campaigns and boasted that got them to attend his wedding.
For Trump — who has observed of his own daughter’s body, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her” — what’s really disgusting is a woman like Hillary Clinton needing to use the bathroom.
If there’s one person we don’t need to be lectured by on what’s good for women, it would be Donald Trump. But as he repeatedly demonstrates, he’ll use any tactic to rebut a criticism.
This line of attack began after Clinton called Trump’s remark that she’d been “schlonged” by Barack Obama in 2008 sexist. Since schlong is a Yiddish word for penis, and Trump was alluding to an encounter Hillary had with Obama in an unpleasant way, the implication was either of rape or of women lacking the all-powerful male organ, or both.
Trump then declared he was going after the former president when Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife because he’s “one of the great women abusers.”
Even if that were true, why hold Hillary responsible? Wasn’t it Trump who once said the secret to a man’s success is having a wife at home who supports you, “not someone who is always griping and bitching”?
It’s one thing to wonder why a woman would stay with a man who’s been unfaithful to her, and in the case of the Clintons, that territory was thoroughly examined in the 1990s after the Lewinsky story broke. Enough people wondered that when Hillary ran for Senate that she addressed it in an interview with Talk magazine.
She didn’t minimize how much it hurt her or how angry she has been. “I don’t believe in denying things, I believe in working through it,” she said. “Is he ashamed? Yes. Is he sorry? Yes. But does this negate everything he has done as a husband, a father, a president?”
Her conclusion was that it didn’t, and whatever any of us may think, it’s hard to judge another couple’s marriage. Surely candidates who want to appeal to conservative Christians would support her choice in staying married.
We all know of Bill’s womanizing, but he has never been found guilty of abuse. And he’s not running for president. His wife is. But Ben Carson said on Fox News that Trump’s attacks were fair game. And Carly Fiorina, who had called Trump out for attacking her appearance, demurred on this, saying it was OK to use Bill’s sexual history to knock Hillary.
And Rand Paul weighed in on CNN with, “If she’s for workplace equality and if she’s for changing the laws to make it better for women, then she needs to — there is going to be this distinction brought up or this problem or irony brought up that her husband seemed to be a great abuser of women in the workplace.”
What a load of hypocrisy.
Pressed recently by CNN on his earlier support for both Clintons, Trump as much as admitted to being an opportunist whose main objective was to personally profit. “I needed all of these people on my side. I needed their votes to get things done.”
That lack of backbone, consistency or putting the country first might disqualify some from the presidency. But here we are less than a month away from the caucuses, and he’s leading in the polls everywhere but in Iowa. And he’s tied with the pope for Gallup’s second most admired man, after Obama.
Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman.
These sure are strange times we live in. It takes special chutzpah to accuse someone who has been a vocal crusader for women all her adult life, and now stands closer than any woman has to being elected president, of being bad for women. A good indicator would be to ask all the candidates where they stand on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Pay bill, paid family leave, subsidized child care and funding for Planned Parenthood. Then let’s talk about what being good for women means.
Rekha Basu: firstname.lastname@example.org