The deluge of scandals reflects a rise in moral standards, not a fall

  • New allegations of sexual misconduct are emerging because people take them more seriously than they ever have.
  • Many women now feel some good may come from coming forward.

I thought David Frum made an important point this weekend about the surge in reports of sexual harassment and assault.

“The revelations are occurring – and have power – not because of a decline in behavior but a rise in ethical standards,” he tweeted. “Abuse of the weak by the strong is the most ancient theme of human history.”

Obviously this has been a tumultuous few months of news. But these allegations are coming out now because people take them more seriously than they used to, and are more inclined to believe them.

There are many women who were harassed or abused but didn’t come forward for decades because they figured it would be hugely unpleasant and wouldn’t do any good. Now, it’s still hugely unpleasant, but it may actually do some good.

Which brings me to something MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said:

As Hayes notes, the rape allegations Juanita Broaddrick has made against Clinton echo the ones we’ve heard repeatedly about Harvey Weinstein. As BuzzFeed described last year:

“Clinton told Broaddrick to call his office if she was ever in nearby Little Rock. A few weeks later, she did just that while attending a nursing seminar there. They arranged to meet one morning in the coffee shop in the hotel where the seminar was held. At the last second, Clinton called up to Broaddrick’s room and asked if they could meet there instead, since there were reporters in the lobby below. She said yes. Minutes after entering her room, he tried to kiss her, she says, biting her upper lip, hard.”

Broaddrick was reluctant to speak publicly and lacked signs of political motivation for speaking out when she eventually did so, having been called to testify by Kenneth Starr. So, why have so many people been so reluctant to believe her for so long?

Broaddrick’s accusation was the most serious of many sexual allegations made against Bill Clinton. Some of the allegations were simply of infidelity – and therefore arguably private matters for Bill and Hillary Clinton and the other women with whom he may have been having sex. But others, including his affair with a White House intern, involved what we would recognize today as abuses of power relationships.

There were strong political reasons to deflect or ignore the allegations against Clinton. He was politically successful, and charming, and popular, and Democrats didn’t want to part with him. But in retrospect, the choice to excuse immoral behavior on the grounds of political expediency was a mistake – one that Republicans are making on a grand scale today.

I think the main reckoning that Democrats need to make about Bill Clinton today is to hold politicians accountable for similar behavior going forward – in the other party and also in our own.

Bill Clinton is retired, and a large fraction of our political class was too young to vote when he was nominated, elected, and impeached. We can’t change history. But we can stand up and refuse to elect leaders who are credibly accused of similar – or worse – behavior today.