I Believed Juanita Back When

I Believed Juanita Back When

When I watched Lisa Meyers’ NBC interview with Juanita Broaddrick, back when President Bill Clinton had just survived an impeachment vote in the Senate, I called myself a “Clinton Democrat.” Why then would I bother to watch a TV program where, as I’d heard, damaging accusations would be made against the very President I’d been fervently supporting for many months?

Two reasons. First, I always keep back a portion of trust regarding The Official Story. I don’t have an alternative story. Probably it’s true enough. Everyone I know says so. But who knows? Maybe it’s not true.

Second, to me “feminism” is an ”ism” that stands for sympathy for other women. What did this grown woman have to tell?

That the President of the United States, when he was the Attorney General of Arkansas, raped her.   What she described was a criminal rape. Not date rape. Not a situation where two people in a drunken haze “go too far.” No, not anything like that.

She was a business woman.  As Attorney General, he had authority to license her business. Some concern related to her work made it appropriate to consult him. She and her husband were Democratic Party contributors. Clinton said it would be more efficient to have their meeting in her hotel room where the interruptions of the press could be avoided.

I have met with colleagues in hotel rooms, mine and theirs. Some were peers. Some were Department chairs, hence potential employers. For working people, male or female, it is not a racy or suggestive thing to do. It does not lead to sex.

Once they were in her hotel room, he walked over to her, began to kiss her and – when she objected – sank his teeth into her upper lip.  What would you do? Get your face torn? Or submit?

Her roommate and her son confirmed that her upper lip was swollen and blackened after the encounter. Her assailant was “the law” in Little Rock and the rest of the state.

This experience, which she hadn’t chosen to reveal publicly, came to light in the course of the impeachment investigations. As her son said later, she didn’t “come out.” She was outed.

Watching her revisit this story during the interview, I did not find it possible to doubt her. Lisa Meyers is a hardened news reporter. She doesn’t believe everybody. But she said to Dorothy Rabinowitz, the print reporter for the Wall Street Journal who first broke the story (thus forcing a reluctant NBC to run the Meyers interview) – “I believe Juanita.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz asked me how old I was because, she said, I must belong to a generation of Americans who still thought you could do something about public evils. Her Inbox was flooded with mail from younger women who, like me, believed Juanita but felt that they could do nothing — not separately and not together.

My Texas-born mother-in-law, who might have known more about types like Bill and Hillary than I did, said she was glad I got nowhere with the public feminists I tried to rally. Had I been more successful, I might have got hurt.

I am far from denying that innocent young college men have been targeted by false accusations and deprived of due process when they contested those charges. My former colleague at Brooklyn College, K C Johnson, has written about this, and K C is a scrupulous historian who has himself suffered for his truthfulness. Nor do I doubt that women can also take sexual advantage of vulnerable men and boys.

These grotesque trespasses do not respect sexual orientations, party lines, previous affiliations or demarcations of class and status.

Here I only address what I’ve directly seen and heard: Juanita Broaddrick’s credible accusation, the flight of the public feminists of those days, my own forty-minute, long-distance telephone conversation with Juanita. An intelligent woman. A woman with an earned place and position in her own world. A violated woman. And not violated by a street thug. Raped by a man who became the highest elected official in our land.

Is this not significant? What then does it signify?

It was impossible then.

It is still impossible.

It seemed to me a turning point, when it was pretended that the intolerable was tolerable. To me a civilization is a romantic matrix, a site where honor – the quest for and service to highest things – includes the intimacies of personal life, the life of desire. Eros and the highest good — personal desire and public engagement with the civilization one serves – ought to converge.

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,

Loved I not Honour more

should underwrite every commitment. A culture, a civilization, is a romantic setting; it is the stage on which our personal dramas are played.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t creatures of mixed motives and compromised circumstances. I am not talking about unearthly purity or some state of imaginary innocence at the beginning or end of history. Our enshadowed conditions belong to the givens of our lives. We’re not perfect. Nobody said we were. But lives of honor can still be raised on the platform of human reality.

What happened to Juanita Broaddrick is

an affront to the honor of this nation.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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6 Responses to I Believed Juanita Back When

  1. Prudence Lezy says:

    Very moving. Thank you, Abigail.

    • Abigail says:

      Penny, I am so glad you think so. To me that means you see the importance of this issue! Juanita is NOT (as some of my friends said to me back then) “just one woman.” I believe that the status of women in the United States went down when what happened to this woman was treated as a “non-event”! It left a wound.

  2. Werner Cohn says:

    I agree. Werner Cohn

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