We will never know the truth behind Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that Bill Clinton raped her in a Little Rock hotel room in l978. The most you can say about it, which is also the least you can say about it, is that her story is credible–even if it was pushed into the open by Paula Jones, legitimized by a footnote in the Starr report, promoted on the Internet by the Hillary-killed-Vince-Foster set and forced into the mainstream media by Matt Drudge, Fox News and other practitioners of right-wing sleaze. True, when summoned by Jones’s lawyers, Broaddrick signed an affidavit denying the story she is now telling; true, Kenneth Starr and the FBI found her account inconclusive, as they would many other twenty-one-year-old accounts. But investigations by NBC News and reporting from the Washington Post poked no major holes in it. She has as much corroboration as Anita Hill–friends who say she told them about the assault at the time, one of whom says she saw her immediately after with a bruised and swollen lip. So far as we know, Broaddrick has no motive to lie. Of course, the President’s men are right to say you can’t disprove an ancient charge like this. But the best Clinton’s defenders can come up with is that rape doesn’t fit his “MO”–as if, after all the backing and filling and prevaricating and outright lying, we know what this man’s MO really is.
Now that the impeachment trial is over, it’s time for progressives to get back to their drawing boards and let Bill Clinton clean up his own mess. If, as NOW president Patricia Ireland said, “There’s no way that Bill Clinton can look into the cameras and deny it and have anybody believe it,” that is a problem entirely of the President’s own making, and it would be a grave mistake for feminists, environmentalists, trade unionists and civil rights and civil liberties advocates to lend him a penny more of their moral capital. For six years too many progressives have given Clinton the benefit of the doubt, whether it was their ill-founded hope that he wouldn’t sign the Personal Responsibility Act or the equally ill-founded skepticism about the existence in an unlaundered state of a certain blue dress. We’ve seen Jesse Jackson hailing “our President” as the bombs were falling on Iraq and Barney Frank defending–wittily, tirelessly–the man who signed the Defense of Marriage Act. As the anti-impeachment slogan put it, enough is enough.
Feminists in particular have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by rallying to the President in this matter. It’s one thing to distinguish carefully between sexual harassment and sexual hi-jinks in the Oval Office; rape is something else again. What feminists should do now is to stop playing to Bill Clinton’s agenda and step up the pressure for our own. Women should turn up the heat for mandatory health insurance coverage of contraception, swift passage of the Violence Against Women Act II and, above all, justice for Clinton’s other victims–the women and children pushed off public assistance by welfare reform. Perhaps the Republicans who called Anita Hill an erotomaniac with “proclivities” would like to prove the genuineness of their sudden conversion to the anti-violence-against-women movement by joining in.