Patti Solis Doyle: Sexual harassment news makes me wonder if I've talked to my children enough about its implications
She writes: Bill Clinton backers must reckon with his actions; all need to drop the partisanship that protects abusers
Editor’s Note: Patti Solis Doyle served as chief scheduler for Hillary Clinton during the Clinton-Gore Campaign in 1992. She served in the White House as a senior adviser to then-first lady Hillary Clinton, was chief of staff on Clinton’s 2000 and 2006 Senate campaigns, and was Clinton’s presidential campaign manager in 2007 and early 2008. She currently is president of Solis Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm. Follow her on Twitter @pattisolisdoyle. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
This commentary contains graphic language.
Like most women (and, I hope, most men), I have read the recent torrent of sexual harassment and abuse stories with horror and dismay. The graphic detail of each incident shocks and infuriates me. I usually can’t get through an article in one sitting. It’s like watching a horror movie: I instinctively cover my eyes at the scary scenes. Sadly, after 25 years in politics, the “movie” is quite familiar.
Each time I stop reading, my thoughts turn first to my children. I have a 19-year old daughter and a 15-year old son. I ask myself if I’ve done enough to give my daughter the strength and confidence to know what to do if a colleague, a boss, a boyfriend, or anyone ever assaults or harasses her.
Have we told her enough times that her father and I will support her and be prepared to fight alongside her (or just kick his ass)? Have I told my son enough times that he should never, ever force a girl into doing anything that she is uncomfortable doing? That he should step in if he sees anyone attempting to assault another person? Have my husband and I explained enough times that he should ask permission to kiss or even hold a girl’s hand? Does he understand that sexual assault is really about power, not sex?
Have we told them all this enough?
My worry for my kids soon turns to anger at these powerful men. As I read, I see my younger self in the victim’s stories. Certainly, any woman over 40 probably has her own “Me Too” story. Not all of us have stories of assault or rape. But, I believe we each have a story of a time we were sexually demeaned or humiliated by a superior. And like these women who have come forward, I remember every detail of those incidents. Incidents that are decades old stick in your brain, which is why I believe the women.
I am profoundly grateful to the brave women who have told their stories. They have changed the way that we, as a society and culture, look at sexual harassment. Powerful men have been fired, ostracized and ruined. They are finally paying a price for, in some instances, decades of abuse. Yes, you can feel the sea change.
As more politicians face allegations, we cannot apply traditional partisanship in our reactions to their stories. I cannot read the stories about Roy Moore and John Conyers (both accused of accused of sexual harassment; both deny it) and react as anything other than a mother. To truly hear these women – to honor their courage – I have to put my partisan hat far, far away.
The response from the White House on Roy Moore is tragic. Sarah Sanders argues the difference between Sen. Al Franken and Donald Trump is that “Franken admitted to wrongdoing and the President hasn’t.” Sanders reminds me of Roy Moore’s comments to one of his alleged victims, Beverly Young Nelson. After allegedly assaulting her in his car, Nelson said that Moore told her: “You’re just a child. … I am the district attorney of Etowah County and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.”
Later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway argued that a vote against Roy Moore is a vote against tax reform – saying, in essence, that by standing up for an alleged child molester, Republicans in Alabama can help deliver the political win Republicans need for the 2018 midterms.
The President embraced both arguments on Tuesday. Trump disregarded the allegations from eight women who say Moore engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior toward them – and the accounts of dozens of other witnesses – by asserting, “he denies it … and by the way, he totally denies it.” In true Trump fashion, he followed with a ludicrous attack on Doug Jones, a career prosecutor, as soft on crime.
We are truly in a bad place when the President of the United States would rather elect a man accused by two credible women of allegedly assaulting them sexually when they were young teenagers than lose another legislative battle before the 2018 midterms. Note to Trump: Write a tax bill that actually helps the middle class, and you won’t need the alleged child molester.
Of course, putting away my partisan hat means I have to acknowledge my own decisions over the years. I worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 campaigns and in the Clinton White House. Like every Clinton White House staffer I know, I’m proud of my service and President Clinton’s record. Like every Clinton White House staffer I know, I never took the allegations against him lightly. But that doesn’t mean I took them seriously enough.
I lumped Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky in with partisan attacks about Whitewater and crazy Vince Foster murder plots. I saw Clinton as “the Comeback Kid” and our White House as a continuation of the famous “war room” that elected him. When it’s all “us” vs. “them” polarization, you lose perspective.
Each of us who defended President Clinton by dismissing his accusers needs to reckon with it.
I’m not sure what there is to do about Bill Clinton now. He paid a steep price, was impeached, humiliated his family, and tarnished an otherwise impressive legacy. He is not on any ballot, nor will he ever be again.
One thing we can do is drop the nonsense of minimizing his relationship with Monica Lewinsky as a “consensual blow job.” The issue, then and now, is not sex. It is power. That is the common factor in all these allegations of sexual harassment by men in high places, including President Clinton and President Trump.
Sexual harassment is not a political issue. It’s not about Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about the victim. The stories of the victims are horrifying, scary, and disgusting. We need to listen. We need to believe them. We need to talk to our daughters and our sons about them. We, as a society, need to do better.