How do you write a primal scream? Because my head is about to explode over the story about alleged sexual harassment on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and her appallingly mild response, then and now.
To recap, while we were still reeling from the report that President Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III last summer, the New York Times posted this: “Hillary Clinton Chose to Shield a Top Adviser Accused of Harassment in 2008.”
According to the Times’ Maggie Haberman and Amy Chozick, Burns Strider, Clinton’s faith adviser — yes, faith adviser, you can’t make this stuff up — was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young woman with whom he shared a campaign office. The Times: “She told a campaign official that Mr. Strider had rubbed her shoulders inappropriately, kissed her on the forehead and sent her a string of suggestive emails.”
The campaign’s response? Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle recommended that Strider be fired. So did Jess O’Connell, the national director of operations, who handled the investigation. And Clinton herself? Not so much, apparently. The young woman, not identified in the story, was moved to a different job. Strider — then married, by the way — was “docked several weeks of pay and ordered to undergo counseling.” Which, predictably, he never attended.
And, even more predictably, when he was hired years later to oversee an independent group backing Clinton’s second presidential campaign, “He was fired after several months for workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide, according to three people close to Correct the Record’s management.”
It’s never just once, people.
This is head-exploding stuff, but there’s worse to come. Because now — now, after Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo and Roy Moore — this was Hillary Clinton’s belated response, in its bland totality: “A story appeared today about something that happened in 2008. I was dismayed when it occurred, but was heartened the young woman came forward, was heard, and had her concerns taken seriously and addressed.”
And, next tweet, “I called her today to tell her how proud I am of her and to make sure she knows what all women should: we deserve to be heard.”
Let’s unpack, shall we? Something that happened in 2008. Yes, back when we didn’t know to take sexual harassment seriously, so long ago it seems tendentious to bring it up now, except we’re not even saying what “something” is.
I was dismayed when it occurred. Dismayed? DISMAYED? Like you would be dismayed if this happened to your daughter? No, you would — well I would, or I would want to, anyway — rip the guy’s head off. But, sure, glad you were “heartened” that the victim “was heard,” although might quibble about that “taken seriously” part. Zero tolerance, much?
Look, I believe that not every bad act deserves the death penalty, and without more details, it’s hard to judge what the consequences should have been here. But the fact that two senior campaign officials thought the behavior was a firing offense, only to be overruled by Clinton, tells you something. It tells you something, too, that not only was Strider not fired — he was also rehired by Clinton allies, in an important new role, where he reportedly did it again.
Granted, Clinton is in an exquisitely awkward place when it comes to determining how to punish sexual harassment in the workplace. You don’t need me to explain why. But it is possible to imagine her thinking process: If I can this guy for doing way less than my own husband did with a subordinate in his workplace, how’s that going to look? Well, Clinton erred in the other direction, and that’s not looking so good now, is it?
And classically, infuriatingly, this episode and its aftermath exposes, once again, the trademark Clinton failure to take personal responsibility; the allergy to owning up to error; the refusal to cede any ground, no less apologize; the incessant double-standarding, with different, more forgiving rules for the Clintons and their loyalists. Imagine a Hillary Clinton who said something like this:
“One of my 2008 campaign advisers behaved inappropriately, possibly even illegally, toward a subordinate. Thankfully, the young woman who was the victim of this unacceptable behavior had the strength to come forward and complain about it. Unfortunately, we failed her. I failed her. When this matter was brought to my attention, I was concerned that something like this could happen on my watch. I made the decision that docking the abuser’s pay and sending him to counseling would be an adequate response. In retrospect, that was the wrong call, and I am sorry for not taking stronger action.
“Many of us have learned anew, with the painful disclosures of the #MeToo movement, about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and the need for stronger action on the part of employers to make sure this behavior does not occur and to punish abusers when it does. That does not excuse my lapse in judgment then, but I hope I would do better now.”
Imagine that Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t exist.