O, how I yearn for the days when (you should pardon the expression) Senator Rand Paul exits stage right from our national political discourse. These comments, just the latest outrage from the artist whom Charlie Pierce calls Senator Aqua Buddha, assert that President Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions with Monica Lewinski invalidate Democratic critiques of the Republican “War on Women.”
I’ll leave it to Senator Dick Durbin to remind everyone that Clinton’s misbehavior has already been “litigated in the public square for over a decade” (not to mention that it actually happened nearly two decades ago) and pass lightly over, with no substantive additional comment, the plausibly deniable character-assassination-by-association cum victim-blaming neatly wrapped up in Paul’s assertion that “[i]t’s not Hillary’s fault, but it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history…. Sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
No, I will stipulate for the sake of this argument that Bill Clinton was seriously flawed husband, and also at best a horndog and at worst a sexual harasser (though I’ll leave it to others to wonder if "sexual predator" might not be a bit of a stretch), because so stipulating lets us get right to the heart of my problem with this story: In claiming that Clinton’s (stipulated) bad behavior magically exonerates Republicans of any War on Women guilt, Rand conflates individual behavior with public policy principles… and that’s a category error on the order of conflating weather with climate in discussing anthropogenic global climate change (and that never happens, eh?).
I don’t know of any Democrat or liberal who claims every man on “our side” has always personally behaved acceptably toward women. I’m equally sure that one or two Republicans and conservatives might be found whose personal behavior toward women is beyond reproach. But neither of those stipulations has the cubed root of fk all to do with the War on Women, both because the individual, personal behavior of a member of a group does not determine the moral worth of the group as a whole and because the things one does and the principles one advocates are categorically different things.
When we Democrats talk about a Republican War on Women, we're not talking about individual Republicans mistreating their female staffers in some way that would make pointing and crying, "y'all do it too!" a relevant response; instead, we're talking about a coherent set of policy positions on a wide range of issues — abortion, contraception, pay equity, workplace discrimination, and sexual assault law, just to name a bare handful — that each and all tend to disproportionately harm women.
None of this is affected one tiny whit by what a horndog Democratic president did before this year's high school seniors were born. The only question is whether Rand Paul's comments were deliberately disingenuous or cluelessly illogical.
Perhaps both in equal measure?