Bernie lovers, I love you. But some of you are now officially out over your skis. You probably don’t get what just happened in Waco — the public humiliation of Ken Starr at Baylor University. But you need to figure this one out. The arc of Starr’s public career provides the two political GPS points that you absolutely must get right in your heads in order to have any idea where you are in history at this moment.
The New York Times is reporting that some of you are now saying Hillary Clinton should be dropped from the Democratic ticket because she is under investigation for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. For example, the Times reports that Julie Crowell, described as a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother, told a reporter: “She should be removed. I don’t know why she’s not already being told, ‘You can’t run because you’re being investigated.’ I don’t know how that’s not a thing.”
You don’t? Really?
It’s really hard to talk about this, I find, and not sound terribly patronizing. I don’t want to be a crabby geezer wagging my finger under the nose of Crowell and others who feel as she does, telling them, “Well, I guess we haven’t studied very much recent American history, have we?”
But I guess we haven’t studied very much recent American history, have we? If we had, then we would understand that the history of this country and the country’s path forward would have been severely mutilated if the Clintons – the candidate and her husband, the former president – had stepped aside every time their political adversaries ginned up a phony scandal like this one.
In order to pin this down, you need take a little trip with me. We’ll start in Dallas, where I live, a city with its own grotesque history of political take-downs, and motor down 85 miles south to Waco, a city of 130,000.
Up until last weekend, Starr was president of Baylor University, a conservative Baptist school in Waco with an enrollment just under 17,000. Starr was “demoted” by Baylor regents in a messy, fumbled, panicky-seeming attempt to get rid of him as president.
His removal as president was the result of an independent audit by a law firm, just out, lambasting his regime at Baylor for the way it handled a serial rape crisis of several years duration. I say it was messy and fumbled because for some reason they didn’t just sack Starr outright.
They are allowing him to stay on as a law professor and as something called “chancellor,” which seems to be an extra add-on title that Starr made up for himself having something to do with raising money. The regents also announced that Baylor football coach Art Briles has been “suspended with intention to terminate.”
Let me ask you something. Have you ever heard of “suspended with intention to terminate?” What does that mean? Is that like trying to terminate? Hoping to terminate?
Briles is a very big deal in the world of football. He took a losing, lackluster team and turned it into a powerhouse, at the cost recruiting rapists to help get the job done. What is not at all easy for people in this part of the world to recognize, however, is that the world of history is way way bigger than the world of football.
Given this sports-occluded vision of the world, the university was unable or disinclined to look over its shoulder. Had it done so in time, it would have seen history stalking it with a hammer, on the side of which was written, “Ken Starr, history-making hypocrite.”
The law firm hired by Baylor to investigate the serial rape crisis at Baylor produced a report that has not been released to the public, conveyed instead verbally to regents to avoid the creation of discoverable documents. The report is really only the latest chapter in a years-long attempt by the university to manage the rape crisis by muzzling or minimizing the voices of the victims.
But even a summary of the report was enough to earn the university scorching condemnation from advocates for rape victims. Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Baylor had created a culture in which, “one can rape with impunity.” Just to give you some idea of the cultural realities in this part of the world, in case you don’t live here, Burrhus-Clay, whose organization is headquartered in Austin, felt she had to qualify her remarks by adding, “I am a huge football fan.”
And there you have it, really. Football is just in it. At Starr’s Baylor, the underlying question — the question no one was dumb enough to speak out loud — was whether having a winning football team may not have been almost worth a few rapes, and, if it was, didn’t Baylor have to cover up the rapes by persecuting the victims? For the football, you see.
Even this staggering enormity — this awful moral debacle taken on its own without any reference to Starr — would not have earned Baylor the special wrath that history must bring to it because Ken Starr is at the center. Starr, after all, was at the center and beginning of the entire cycle of American history that we find ourselves stuck in now. The trumped-up scandal, argument by vilification, staggering hypocrisy about private sexual conduct: all of this dreck we are drowning in today started with Starr.
History lesson: In 1993 a three-judge federal panel appointed Robert B. Fiske, a moderate Republican, to investigate "Whitewater,"an Arkansas real estate deal in which newly elected President Bill Clinton and his wife had invested a decade before taking office. Fiske investigated for six months, found no evidence of wrong-doing and closed the investigation.
Frustrated conservatives in Congress denounced the Fiske investigation and used special legislation to reopen it, this time with Starr at the helm as independent counsel. Starr found no wrongdoing in Whitewater, either, but made great hay politically by expanding the investigation into a running probe of President Clinton’s sex life, replete with strategically timed leaks of salacious details.
As an absolute hallmark and signature of this kind of sexual witch-hunting — the sort of thing we all know we must brace ourselves for if Trump gets elected — the campaign to take down Bill Clinton over his sex life was positively resplendent with hypocrisy on the part of his attackers. Of course.
Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois, who as House Judiciary Committee chairman was a leader of the drive to impeach Clinton, was outted for his own philandering. Weeks before impeachment hearings were to begin, House speaker and conservative darling Newt Gingrich had to step down because he got caught in serial affairs.
Gingrich was replaced as speaker by Bob Livingstone, Republican of Louisiana, who later announced he was resigning from Congress because he, too, had been caught having an affair.
But, no worries. Livingstone was replaced by Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, a good, solid, middle American type whom we now know to have been a serial child molester.
So what was the glue in all of this? Was this a string of wild coincidences that no Hollywood studio would have accepted as the plot for a movie? No. There were no coincidences. These were hard-wired consequences, the grand finale of which is what just happened to Starr.
Sexual witch-hunters always — always — turn out to have sexual skeletons in their own closets. The ranting homophobic preacher always gets caught taking rent-boys through the turnstiles in some airport. It is in their nature.
Sexual take-downs always proceed from some other take-down attempt that failed. Nobody even thinks of it — the light bulb does not come on — until after the attempt to take down the target on some legitimately public issue has failed. That’s when people think of this stuff, and the agents who come forward and volunteer for it, drawn like rats to carrion, are always people hiding their own secrets by attacking others for the same thing. How many times do we have to see this show?
What would we have lost had Bill Clinton stepped down from office because he was being investigated? We would have lost an entire decade of solid, sensible well-being in this country, an era that laid down the road-map for the solid commonsense recovery we have seen under President Obama. Taken together these two administrations point to a path for a better future based on moderation, mutual respect, tolerance and intelligence.
Who knew that would work? What a surprise, that the keys to the kingdom have turned out not to be accusation, invective and invasion of privacy.
In this long arc of history, the rape crisis at Baylor was almost an inevitability. The disregard for victims at Baylor wasn’t some kind of oversight. It wasn’t merely callous. It was sick. What kind of adult looks into the beseeching face of a young victim who could be his or her own daughter and decides that football is more important?
The Ken Starr kind. The same kind that went after the Clintons, first on trumped up public charges, then for sex. It’s this very cycle of history, coming back to take Starr down at last, that Baylor missed seeing over its shoulder and now is bumbling and stumbling in panic to evade.
Come on, Bernie supporters. You already knew all this. You didn’t miss school that day, I know. You know why Hillary won’t step down over the stupid ginned-up email thing. When they can’t get her for email, they’ll go straight to sex. Oh, well, come to think of it, they’re already doing that, are they not?
What kind of odds can you give me, if I want to bet that Trump will be outted in some gigantic, totally laughable act of hypocrisy? You won’t even take that bet? Yeah. See what I mean.