Candice Jackson, author of Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, spoke to Human Events this week about her research for the book, which documents the lives of seven women who publicly admit to affairs with Bill Clinton.
Jackson uses the book to examine the role liberalism played in Clinton’s treatment of these women. She also probes the possible presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), whom she says played a vital role in the attack machine that attempted to humiliate and discredit her husband’s accusers.
What prompted you to write this book?
Candice Jackson: I had exposure to these accusations working as an attorney for Judicial Watch, which represented several of these women in related matters. Also, my own background experiences dealing with difficult issues like domestic abuse and sexual violence—the whole issue of mistreatment of women—has been on mind for a very long time, and it came together in pointing out the Clintons’ behavior toward women. I wanted to keep it alive and in public discussion.
How long did you work on the book?
Jackson: It’s been about 18 months from start to finish for the actual book, but a lot of the familiarity with the issues had been percolating for a long time with my work at Judicial Watch.
You describe yourself as a libertarian feminist. What should conservatives make of that?
Jackson: It’s a right-of-center point of view that differs from conservatives only to the extent that as a libertarian I probably put more limits on how far government should go to intervene in our lives and in our affairs. I’m personally pro-life, but at the same time I don’t necessarily think the federal government should come in and structure those types of laws. That’s the difference between libertarian and conservative, but in my mind, conservatives and libertarians are on the same side of personal freedom when it comes to opposing viewpoints like liberalism.
Why did you decide to focus exclusively on these seven women who had relationships with Clinton?
Jackson: It really is just a representative sample of the women who exist. These seven, in particular, had already taken steps to talk publicly about their experiences, so it provided a deeper platform for gathering the details of their stories. In other words, it was difficult to convince anyone who had not gone public to do so. I wasn’t able to do that for this book, even though I talked to people like “Mary,” but I couldn’t convince them to go on the record. [In the book, Jackson refers to “Mary,” an anonymous source who won’t publicly talk about her relationship with Clinton.] That’s not surprising since my whole point is, look what happened to the women who did come forward.
Of all the women whose stories you do tell in the book, who do you think has personally suffered the most?
Jackson: I would have to say Juanita Broaddrick. The experience of that vicious sexual assault is one of the most cruel and inhumane things that can be inflicted on someone. There are definitely other types of experiences that made for a nightmare overall. I think Paula Jones, from a public humiliation standpoint, was treated the most cruelly by the Clinton team in the media—as far as being mocked and ridiculed and written off as white trash.
Didn’t they all suffer humiliation to a certain extent?
Jackson: I think part of the point, when you look at the sequence of events in their entirety, is you really see a pattern emerge where the same tactics were used on everyone, even though I can focus on certain tactics that hit different women the hardest. I think for Paula Jones it was the humiliation factor. I think for Juanita Broaddrick it was the core violence factor. For Gennifer Flowers, it was also a humiliation factor. And for several of these women, it wasn’t in the sexual encounter itself. It was in the intimidation that followed, which in some cases lasted for years.
As far as their lives are concerned today, are they still suffering? Are some better at putting this in their past than others?
Jackson: Yes. There are different reactions among the different women from what I’ve found and observed. Some have found it easier to put in their past and rebuild their lives. Others have found this situation coming back to haunt them decades later. I found the story of Sally Purdue very disturbing, especially what she’s been through recently. Here’s a 65-year-old woman still being harassed by her current employers once they found out she was the woman who had an affair with Clinton. This is two decades after the affair itself and 15 years after she went public with it. She’s a senior citizen and she’s still being harassed over it—enough to want to file a lawsuit against her current employers for picking on her. It really has followed these women around. A lot of them have had difficulty finding jobs. Several of them have lost marriages over it and had marriages go on the rocks because of the negative publicity. It really had impacted them for much longer than their stories remained in the public eye.
You spoke of “Mary” earlier, the woman whom you refer to in the book only by that name. You made contact with her. Were there others like her, who remain out of the public eye, who you made contact with?
Jackson: There were others I attempted to reach out to—maybe a half dozen. She was the only one I was able to make enough contact with to get a feel for what the story would have been, if she had gone on the record. The rumors and speculation that connect other women to him over the years, I just felt if I wasn’t able to verify it, I wasn’t going to print it.
In these other cases, do you sense there was a fear that by coming forward they, too, may have suffered negative consequence?
Jackson: Certainly. I know that was the fear of the woman I call “Mary.” She’s happy with her life. Why would she risk it all and go through what these other women went through, in her mind, for what?
Turning to the political ideology issue, why do you think liberalism contributed to Bill Clinton’s treatment of these women?
Jackson: It’s a counterintuitive case to make because the initial reaction is, what does politics have to do with it? In fact, his politics call for gender equality and being helpful to women politically. And I actually see in the reverse, where there are actually aspects of liberalism where the focus is on groups rather than individuals, which I think made it easier for him to mistreat women. He believed himself to be in power and helping women as a group, and it just didn’t seem to matter all that much if he had to use and abuse a few individual women along the way.
Does this mean, as a result, we should distrust all liberals when they speak of moral values?
Jackson: The disclaimer is that not all liberals are misogynists like Bill Clinton. However, I do believe there is a danger in liberal ideology that can lead to this abuse—abuse of women, in particular. At the heart of it, I really see the problem with liberalism being that no matter how good their goals are—whether it’s racial or gender equality or protecting the environment—it’s the methods they choose to use to enforce that goal, which really comes down using force and threats of force to get things done. Anything they declare to be a good goal, they are willing to use force—laws and regulations—to get it done. It’s not enough to persuade people to do the right thing. You have to force them to do it.
At the same time, you don’t let conservatives off the hook. In fact, you say that you have little sympathy for the “Clinton-bashing” that conservative engaged in during the 1990s. Why didn’t conservatives take the right tact back then?
Jackson: There was a lot of emphasis put on the wrong issue. Here was a guy who was showing very little moral fortitude and very little good character by cheating on his wife. And to me, that was not the persuasive part of Bill Clinton’s behavior to convince Americans there was something worth impeaching or not electing him over. And then when it came to uncovering the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the reaction to that, I believe the impeachment and the criminal investigation were overreactions to what had gone on. If we’re going to use the system that way to attack someone out of proportion to what their bad deeds were, none of us are really safe in that system.
Do you think conservatives learned that lesson as a result of this? If the situation were to present itself again, would we be heading down that same road?
Jackson: I would like to think that we did, in general, learn something from it. Those of us who were critical of Clinton at the time will hopefully be more consistent next time. I don’t agree with Clinton’s politics, but even if I did, I hope I’d be putting as much effort into calling attention to this kind of bad behavior. I hope one of the big lessons on both the left and the right is having to courage to denounce bad behavior where you see it, even if it’s coming from someone you otherwise agree with or support.
You criticize some of the liberal women’s groups in your book. Why did they hold Clinton to a different standard?
Jackson: It really comes down to the fact that modern feminism is about a liberal political agenda. They’ve really been allowed to co-opt the idea of being a supporter of women’s rights, so that’s now just become a code word for being pro-abortion and pro-welfare state and pro-affirmative action. It leaves conservatives and libertarians completely out of the loop. There’s no sense within people on the right of having a vision of feminism and women’s rights and women’s equality, because we don’t support being pro-affirmative action and pro-abortion and pro-welfare state. We have a different view of government’s role when it comes to political issues. That’s why the so-called women’s groups were able to stand on the sidelines. It was more important for them to have a President who supported their liberal political agenda than it was to worry about the few individual women who were trashed along the way.
On the topic of Hillary, which you close the book with, why do you claim she has done as much damage to women as her husband?
Jackson: With her I’m not focusing on the issue of how many women were sexually mistreated. That was Bill Clinton’s deal. But her role through it all was not just to stand by quietly, but also to actually take an active role by getting out there and denouncing and actively harming any woman who dared to come forward and talk about her husband. When you have stories coming out about women being sexually harassed, molested and even raped by a powerful man, I don’t care if you’re married to him or not. If you truly value women’s rights in this country and these issues of abusive women, you’ve got to speak to those issues. You can’t just keep quiet about it. Otherwise, it shows you’re either in line with that attitude of abusing women or you’re just willing to put it off on the sidelines if that’s what it takes to protect your political career.
To your knowledge, did she purposefully smear and discredit her husband’s accusers?
Jackson: I think all the way to the early campaigns of the Clintons, it was really more Hillary’s role than Bill’s to jump in and assemble the fight back. She would work with [Clinton political adviser] Betsey Wright to track these women down and make sure they weren’t going to be problems and deal with the private investigators. It really wasn’t a passive thing on her part at all. It was truly an active role of fighting back and blaming whoever you could—the right-wing conspiracy or whoever you could fight back against—to make sure none of this touches not only Bill, but also her own reputation.
After Clinton was elected President, was Hillary still doing the damage control?
Jackson: I didn’t spread out in the book all the other scandals that hit the Clinton White House, but it was pretty clear that Hillary, even more than Bill, was the mastermind behind the strategy of how to respond to these kinds of accusations. Whether it was the women trouble scandals or Travelgate or Filegate, she was the one who played the role making sure Bill didn’t fall apart from any of this. It’s a good partnership for them. They each have their role to play. And it has worked out well for them, which is why I think she was bound and determined to stay together no matter what. They are more successful as a couple than they are apart.
Do you think she can take the example that Bill Clinton used in 1992 and 1996 in those campaigns, and then win over the American people if she does decide to run for President in 2008?
Jackson: I wouldn’t underestimate the possibility of her being able to do that. Just over the weekend a poll was released showing that a majority of Americans would consider voting for her. She’s done a good job over the last couple years to moderate her image, and she’s got a couple more years to do that. I wouldn’t underestimate her ability to use the tactics that were used throughout the Clinton Administration, which, in the background, come down very hard on your accusers, and in the foreground, deny and change the subject. Most of the time we bought it.
What should conservatives be doing today if they are going to counter a Hillary in ’08 candidacy?
Jackson: First, we need to be looking at candidates that we want to put up so that we can get a pro-active support base to counter her. And the other thing is, we can’t buy into the old line that the Clinton scandal is old news. It’s not old news. It’s important news. And it’s important to keep talking about it and raising the issue, which will then force her to talk about it.