During Hillary Clinton's long run for president, the Democratic Party didn't really know what to do with Bill. He was part asset and part embarrassment. Honest people knew he'd been a far better politician than she could ever be. Eventually they decided to keep him on the sidelines so that he wouldn't steal the spotlight. Besides, he had one big liability – his history of bad behaviour with women. Of course he's old and enfeebled now, and all that's in the past. But his scandals with women meant that Hillary could never completely seize the high ground against the pussy-grabbing Donald Trump.
The scandals meant that Hillary's feminist credentials were compromised, too. She could scarcely say "I believe the women" when she'd spent so many years working to discredit the women who accused her husband of preying on them.
Then Harvey Weinstein fell. And Louis C.K., and a host of other predatory men. Now some Republican politicians are fighting a rearguard action to protect Roy Moore, the creepy candidate from Alabama whose well-documented taste for teenage girls might end his bid for a Senate seat. The political hypocrisy is so naked that even other Republicans can't swallow it. And that inevitably brings up the behaviour of Bill Clinton – whose alleged crimes and misdemeanours against women have always been the Democratic Party's most undiscussable awkward subject. It's hard to justify your side's outrage over the other side's outrageous misconduct if you're still giving your own guy a pass.
What took the Democrats so long? The question answers itself. Until now, they had a lot to lose. Calling Bill out would have meant betraying Hillary as well. Now that Hillary is finished, the party the Clintons once owned now owes them nothing.
On top of that, the younger generation is inclined to judge him far more harshly than their elders did. "The Democratic Party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected Bill Clinton," wrote Caitlin Flanagan, a lifelong Democrat, on The Atlantic's website. At Vox, liberal commentator Matthew Yglesias argued that the Monica Lewinsky scandal should have cost him his presidency. In The New York Times, the achingly liberal young columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote a piece called "I believe Juanita." The much-derided Juanita Broaddrick is the woman who alleges Mr. Clinton raped her in 1978 when he was Arkansas attorney-general. She is a Trump supporter and a darling of the right-wing media. Despite these partisan connections, her account of what transpired is damning – and highly credible.
Hillary Clinton made her debut on the national stage defending her husband's honour – a duty she was to perform often. It was 1992, when Bill was running for president. Together, they appeared on 60 Minutes to counter tabloid allegations that he'd had a long-running affair with a big-haired blonde named Gennifer Flowers. In the interview, Hillary looks young and fresh and terribly earnest. She nods at her husband trustingly as he explains that the tabloids are spreading money around to tempt women to say nasty things about him. "There's a recession on and times are tough," he says forgivingly. "She said wacky things," Hillary adds in a disconcerting Arkansas accent. "You know, I'm not sittin' here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," she says.
It was as skilled a political performance as I ever saw.
After that, Hillary stood by her man no matter what. The deal was baked into their marriage. Her ambitions were at stake too. Feminists gave her husband's "bimbo eruptions" a pass because he was going to implement their agenda. So what if he was a bit of a pig with women? (After all, JFK and Teddy were no saints either.) When Monica Lewinsky came along, they stood by him once again. They did not think that getting oral sex from a 22-year-old intern in the White House (or lying about it) was grounds for impeachment. Nor, for that matter, did the American people. In a now-infamous opinion piece in The Times, Gloria Steinem defended the president by saying the encounters with Ms. Lewinsky were consensual. She trashed two other women, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, who had accused him of sexual misconduct. She didn't mention Juanita Broaddrick at all.
For feminists of Ms. Steinem's vintage, the overwhelming importance of electing Hillary Clinton forced them to suppress the truth – that her husband was just another predatory male who used his power to go after women who caught his eye. It's hardly rare in politics and, until relatively recently, no one got too fussed about it. The trouble is that the line between womanizing and sexual misconduct (or worse) can get awfully blurry. And if the womanizing gets out of hand, the political costs can be extremely high. The real sting in all the accusations of infidelity levelled against Mr. Clinton was not whether he'd cheated on his wife from time to time. It was whether he was capable of exercising restraint over his sexual appetites and personal conduct. And the answer was clearly no.
So now the day of reckoning has finally come. And liberals who backed the Clintons all these years face a reckoning of their own. They enabled it. It seemed like a reasonable deal at the time. In hindsight, maybe not so much.