Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has been fighting some rearguard defensive action in an attempt to counter claims from the Democratic Party that the GOP is waging a “war on women” in their legislative efforts.
Dredging up the memory of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Paul took to NBC’s “Meet The Press” to make the slightly odd argument that the Democrats have no right to call out the GOP for their retrograde attitude towards women’s equality and freedom because a former Democratic president abused his position of power and treated certain specific women disrespectfully.
Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that Democrats and those in the media criticizing Republicans for a so-called “War on Women” give a free pass to former-President Bill Clinton’s “predatory behavior” against Monica Lewinsky.
“The Democrats — one of their big issues is they’ve concocted this, ‘Republicans are committing a war on women,'” Kentucky Republican said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “One of the work place laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn’t prey on young interns in their office. I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20-years-old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that and that is predatory behavior.”
“It should be something we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl. This isn’t having an affair — this isn’t me saying, ‘Oh, he’s had an affair. We shouldn’t talk to him.’ Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office — I mean really, and then they have the gall to stand up and say that Republicans are having a war on women? So yes, I think it’s a factor. Now it’s not Hillary’s fault. But it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history.”
Senator Paul is absolutely right to call out Bill Clinton’s behaviour for what it was – an abuse of his presidential power and symptomatic of a predatory attitude toward women. What makes this different from what the Republican Party has been doing, however, is the fact that the Lewinsky affair was a private indiscretion, and the harm done to women took place in the course of interpersonal relationships between those people directly involved. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has sought to push for legislative outcomes – around contraception, abortion and equal pay to name a few – that would impact all women in the United States. Private action vs. public legislative action. False equivalence.
When it comes to Republicans and standards of personal behaviour, it is all too often a case of “do as we say, not as we do”. Rand Paul now seems to be trying to change this motto into “don’t do as the Democrats say, because of what Bill Clinton did”. It is a flimsy argument, because the uncomfortable truth is that large swathes of the Republican Party have not been marching under the banner of gender equality, even in 2014. And I suspect that it will take more than rushing Rand Paul out on stage to remind us of Bill Clinton’s wandering hands to divert attention from the Repubican Party’s manifold shortcomings in this area.
I find a lot to admire in Rand Paul, who I find infinitely preferable to the GOP’s other main rising star in the US Senate, Ted Cruz. Where Cruz is abrasive and haughty, Rand Paul seems somewhat more collegiate, able to press even his more strident causes (such as his lengthy filibuster against the US policy of drone strikes and targeted assassination of US citizens without trial) without ruffling too many feathers or unduly making enemies. However, by making this false equivalence between the actions of a politician in his private life and the legislative goals of a whole political party, Paul is doing himself, and us a disservice.
Democrats have what Sen. Paul calls “the gall” to accuse Republicans of waging a war on women because unfortunately, a lot of them are. For every tirade by Rush Limbaugh accusing women of being sluts for daring to want birth control to be covered by their health insurance, there is an elected Republican legislator or governor diligently working to actively chip away at women’s rights in slightly more palatable, legislative language.
And so for as long as the Republican Party remains in thrall to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and his unenlightened attitude toward gender equality, they will likely continue to be perceived as “warriors against women”. If Rand Paul is unhappy with this reality it is within his power to do something about it. He has a bully pulpit, and his words command attention. But it is some of his own colleagues that he will need to publicly disown; not Bill Clinton.