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A Re-Evaluation Of Bill Clinton's Behavior After The Harvey Weinstein Scandal


Yesterday on the show we did a segment about women and sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood. And I said that we're in a moment where women are telling their stories. A listener wrote to say this is actually much bigger than a moment. This week, several writers looked back in time at the men who would have suffered more consequences had today's standards applied. And one name that kept coming up was Bill Clinton. A writer in The Atlantic said Bill Clinton needs to be held accountable by the Democratic Party for allegations against him that include sexual harassment, groping and rape. Yesterday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who holds Hillary Clinton's former seat, said Bill Clinton should have resigned after his relationship with an intern while he was president.

Vox also had that position earlier in the week. Ezra Klein is the editor-at-large and founder of Vox, and he's with us now. Welcome.


MCEVERS: Bill Clinton should have resigned. That is the thing that Vox said this week, that more people are saying. But it's an easy thing to say now, right? He's not in power.

KLEIN: It is and it isn't. So a couple things here. One, I want to say that this piece was written by my colleague, Matthew Yglesias, but this is also a position I hold and have held for quite a while. I think people underestimate how strange for younger people looking back on the Clinton allegations actually is. Generational mores have changed. And for people who were a bit younger at that time it is pretty astonishing how much power he abused. And that's to say nothing of the other allegations against him by women like Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones. So there's a lot here.

MCEVERS: Let's talk about those other allegations against Bill Clinton for a moment, some before he was president and one when he was president. Juanita Broaddrick says she was raped by Bill Clinton in the late '70s, Paula Jones says he exposed himself to her in the '90s, and Kathleen Willey says he groped her when he was president. Now, these allegations, of course, have been weaponized by Clinton's opponents. But does that mean they shouldn't be taken seriously?

KLEIN: No, I think at least some of them very much should be taken seriously. So I want to say here I'm not an expert on Clinton allegations, but I've tried to do my reading on this and tried to understand it. And of them, I think the one that really needs to be taken seriously is Juanita Broaddrick. It has never been refuted. In a world where you're saying believe women, there is not a bar that Juanita Broaddrick's allegations don't clear there.

MCEVERS: One thing that your colleague, Matt Yglesias, wrote for Vox was that after Clinton's encounter with Monica Lewinsky while he was president, which both parties said was consensual, the Clintons were able to cast it as a private affair, a family affair. Why is that not so? I mean, why could this be considered a public affair?

KLEIN: It's adults who - one of them was the single most powerful human being in the entire world and a 21-year-old intern. There is so much wrong with that that it is hard to know what the language of consent really means in that case. It's a terrible, terrible abuse of power and lapse in judgment. And, yes, it is consensual. I'm not saying he should have gone to jail for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. But the standards of being president are higher than doing stuff you should not go to jail for.

MCEVERS: Bill Clinton is, of course, head of a major foundation. He gives high-paid speeches. He helps with fundraising for the Democratic Party. He's - you know, shows up on the campaign trail for different Democratic candidates. What should the Democratic Party do with that? Should he not appear on their behalf anymore?

KLEIN: Look; if I were a Democratic candidate I probably would not have Bill Clinton appear at - for me. I think that we are trying to understand what the proper zone of punishment is. One zone of punishment is you lose your job. But Bill Cohen does not have a job to lose save for the Clinton Global Initiative, which he controls, to my knowledge. So then there's this question of should he not be part of political society, right? Not be part of the political process.

And then I think there is a question, as you're saying, of, you know, should a Democratic Party that is trying to say it does take women seriously - should they have Bill Clinton as an honored, sort of present part of that party not as a past president who they appreciate things he did on the economy and others, but as a current campaigner? But I also think that we are not in a place as a society where we have a process and a way these judgments get made. And so it's a little bit hard for people to say, what is the boundary of it? When is payment exacted and when isn't it?

MCEVERS: Ezra Klein of Fox, thank you so much.

KLEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.