It's the harassment, stupid. Hillary should be asked about that, not Bill's adultery

Consider this scenario: You’re a young woman working at a low-level job in a powerful man’s office. You want to get ahead, make a contribution, start climbing the career ladder. But you learn that one other low-level staffer is having an affair with the exec. You ask yourself: Is that what it will take for my work to be noticed?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is one reason why sexual relationships between bosses and their employees are problematic, to say the least. The harassment isn’t just about those involved in the affair, consensual or not. It’s about all the workers under the exec and whether they need to be thinking of enhancing their performance by getting closer to him.

Hillary Clinton, with her talk of the GOP war on women and her embracing of women’s issues, surely understands this. So do feminists everywhere. But several articles and commentators on the topic of whether former President Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes are fair game for campaign discussion don’t seem to get this aspect of his history. The current discussion shouldn’t be about whether Clinton’s — or Donald Trump’s — infidelities are fair game for campaign smack talk. The questions we should be asking are these: When her husband was accused of sexual harassment and worse, did First Lady Hillary Clinton go beyond being the Good Wife in her attempts to protect her husband? Did she unnecessarily smear the women who attacked him? Does she now regret that? If she had to do it again, would she act the same way?

Those questions are fair game when you’re running on a platform that includes strong support for women’s issues.

It surprises me how commentators and reporters on the left and right don’t get this. Just this morning I watched a discussion on Fox News about the Bill Clinton sexual history, and the sense seemed to be among the women debating it that it was old news, and whatever you think or thought of Bill, it’s not an issue with relevance today.  Over at the terrific blog Powerline, Paul Mirengoff argues that folks weren’t all that upset with Bill’s behavior when the stories were fresh, so why think that has changed when it’s better to attack Hillary on more important issues where she’s more vulnerable. I paraphrase — you can read his piece here.  On an MSNBC news report the other day, a reporter conflated Bill Clinton’s harassment history with adultery alone, suggesting that GOP candidate Donald Trump might not want to throw the infidelity stone from his own glass house.

To repeat: the Bill Clinton scandal wasn’t about adultery. It was about harassment. It was about alleged sexual assault (in at least the case of Juanita Broaddrick).

Lots of jokes were made about Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits over the years, but to the women he allegedly harassed or assaulted, it was no laughing matter. And, eventually even for him, it became serious enough that he settled the Paula Jones harassment case out of court and lost his law license because of untruths under oath. Those who treat his behavior with a wink and a nod now need to remember that. If that includes his wife, Hillary, reporters and commentators shouldn’t be enabling her bad behavior, either, especially when she positions herself as a champion of women. Sure, go after her on other issues, too, but don’t give her a pass on this one.

The Wall Street Journal has a good analysis of the Clinton sexual scandals in their editorial, “The Clinton War on Women,” here. The editorialists make excellent points about his behavior:

Mr. Clinton was a genuine sexual harasser in the classic definition of exploiting his power as a workplace superior, and the Clinton entourage worked hard to smear and discredit his many women accusers.

Now, on the campaign trail, Hillary says that women who’ve survived sexual assault have the “right to be heard,” “the right to be believed.” At the same time, she’s taking her husband, whose victims she not only didn’t believe but allowed to be smeared in the public eye (sometimes by advisers she still relies on) out on the campaign trail with her.

So, yes, Bill Clinton’s history is fair game in this campaign. Stop making that history about adultery, commentators and reporters. It’s his history as a harasser, not as an adulterer, that’s fair game.

Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist.