Way back in the mid-1990s, when the internet was still in its infancy and people legitimately thought Jerry Maguire was a good movie, an intern gave former President Bill Clinton a blow job in his office. Nearly 20 years later, long after the Lewinsky scandal, another person is still being drawn into the fray, again and again: Hillary.
At the Milwaukee Baptist Church on Tuesday, the topic of Clinton's husband's now-decades-old infidelity came up yet again during a conversation between Clinton and Geneva Ridgefield, the mother of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who died in her jail cell last year after being arrested for a minor traffic violation. In the clip, Ridgefield addresses voters' various critiques of Clinton.
"They say, 'I dunno, how can you vote for Hillary? She lie,'" Ridgefield said. "I say, 'Girl, did she lie to you?' And why you talking about something that happened when her husband was the President, so she was first lady at the time, and she has apologized for those actions."
"And I will tell you, if I was to be held accountable for everything my man did, we'd have a problem."
In the clip, Clinton is seen laughing and slapping her knee in response.
Ridgefield's quotes were immediately aggregated by conservative news websites like the Daily Caller, which gleefully interpreted Clinton's laughter as evidence of her blithe attitude toward her husband's infidelity.
"Hillary let off a cackle as if they were talking about husbands who don't put the toilet seat back down or forgot an anniversary," Doug Powers of MichelleMalkin.com wrote. Powers also juxtaposed Clinton's role as a feminist figurehead with the fact that she stayed in her marriage after her husband's infidelity, sarcastically referring to her as a "role model for strong, independent women everywhere."
By chalking Clinton's laughter up to indifference or callousness, Powers failed to concede the possibility that she might have been laughing out of discomfort, or trying not to appear hurt by the joke. (If a total stranger publicly wisecracked about your cheating husband, you'd probably eke out a chortle or two, even if you were quietly dying inside.) That aside, however, one wonders why Hillary would need to "apologize" or "be accountable for" her husband's transgressions to begin with.
We can talk (and Clinton's opponents have) 'til we're blue in the face about whether or not public figures' personal sex lives are a topic worthy of scrutiny. We can also debate (and have debated) whether the details of said sex lives are any reflection on their ability to hold public office.
But blaming wives' for their husbands' transgressions is not a new trend, nor is it limited to the political sphere. Camille Cosby, wife of Bill Cosby, serves as our culture's most recent example, as she adopts a staunch "stand by your man" stance while the sexual allegations against her husband pile up.
That might be disquieting or abhorrent to those who believe Cosby is guilty. But what doesn't deserve the same critique is that wives like Clinton and Cosby are doormats or willing accomplices to their husbands' crimes, or that their own morality is compromised simply by association.
Setting aside for a minute the fact that it is disingenuous to draw parallels between Clinton and Cosby (for one thing, the extramarital sex Bill Clinton had was consensual), expecting wives to bear the burden of their spouses' indiscretions holds women to an unfair standard, especially since we condemn them regardless of whether they decide to stay or go.
"Husbands act; wives react to them. Husbands behave poorly; people look to wives for explanations of why," Rebecca Traister argued in a piece for The Cut. "Wives... are offered impossible choices: Do they condemn their partners and thereby destroy the legacies and legitimacy they have helped to build, and if they do not, do they become culpable in those partners' misdeeds?"
We can never truly know how Hillary Clinton feels about the fact that her husband put his penis in a 23-year-old girl's mouth on a slow work day in 1996. But we do know that accusing a woman of being morally corrupt or untrustworthy because, at some point, her husband violated her own trust, is so stupid as to not even merit commentary. And so is asking her to take lashing after lashing for her husband's bad behavior.