Lewinsky Lessons

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Jim Geraghty looks back at 1998 and draws conclusions. Among them:

A lot of politicians have attempted to run plays from the Clinton playbook when caught in sex scandals (deny, delay, insist it’s a private matter, accuse the accusers of partisanship, and hope the public forgets): John Ensign, John Edwards, Larry Craig, Gary Condit, Eliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner. Most of the time the Clinton playbook doesn’t work for them because members of their party are nowhere near as emotionally invested in the success of them the way they were with Clinton in 1998.

I’d add another point. Getting rid of a president is more convulsive and consequential than getting rid of a senator or governor. A president’s political allies will generally be more invested in him than a senator’s will be for quite practical reasons, not just emotional ones; and the public will not worry nearly as much about pushing a senator or governor out of office as about doing the same to a president. The result, which may seem paradoxical, is that our standards for an incumbent president are sometimes lower than those for other officeholders.