Politics & Policy

It’s Not The Sex, Stupid

The new Clinton book further obscures the truth about the (first?!) Clinton administration.

By now, you’ve no doubt run into The Truth About Hillary, the gossipy bestseller by a former New York Times man who has the kind of credentials that make a fella welcome at all the finest Gotham cocktail parties.

The book paints an unflattering portrait of the former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, who author Edward Klein described to me as “the most fascinating woman in America.”

As it happens, during the course of the The Truth–which is more In Touch weekly than New York Times–Klein talks a bit about sex (which, although not the whole of the book, has been the topic of most if not all of the walk-away headlines from it).

And for this, the Clintons–Bill and Hill–can be grateful.

Ironically, much ink has been used (or keys pounded) accusing conservatives of flacking for the book (who on the whole, aren’t). The truth about The Truth is: It’s a good thing for the Clinton Legacy Patrol. The advantage for the Clintons in the Klein job is one for the history books: It helps perpetuate the long-standing myth that the Bill Clinton impeachment trial was all about sex.

It wasn’t.

Back around 1994, an independent counsel was appointed by Bill Clinton’s attorney general (Janet Reno, not Ann Coulter) to investigate a land deal that went awry. That same attorney general would then ask a court to expand the investigation to encompass a sexual-harassment suit filed by one Paula Jones.

Maybe you recall, too, the stories about independent counsel Ken Starr humming hymns around the office. The “Religious Right” invaded the private life of a president. Or so was the often-repeated claim on Keith Olbermann’s Endless Days and Nights of Impeachment Hell or whatever show you were watching was. They were all the same. Almost about sex.

As was common at the time, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen declared sympathetically that President Clinton “has been mortified, subjected to an Orwellian intrusion by the gumshoes of the state.” Clinton defenders loved to use the phrase “sexual McCarthyism”–so much so that one of them, liberal law professor Alan Dershowitz, wrote a book on it.

The Congressional Record, however, tells a wholly different story. It wasn’t all about sex. And, at bottom, the sex and the lies and the depositions were all of Bill Clinton’s making.

As NR’s Rich Lowry wrote in his book on the Clinton presidency, Legacy accusing Ken Starr of being obsessed with sex “was a little like attacking a bank examiner for being ‘obsessed with fraud.’” He continued, “Starr couldn’t help it that Clinton had happened to perjure himself over his sexual conduct during a deposition in a sexual harassment case.” Clinton, as president, actually committed crimes. And, for that, the Founding Fathers stipulated punishment.

As it happened, 31 Democrats voted to go ahead with a GOP impeachment-inquiry plan in the House–the other Democrats opted for a Democratic inquiry plan. Even those Democrats who opted for a censure resolution rather than impeachment believed that he had “violated the trust of the American people” and dishonored the office which they have entrusted to him.” Scores and scores of newspapers called for Clinton to resign–including USA Today and others that were most definitely not arms of what Lady Hillary called the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

What crimes did the House of Representatives find sufficient evidence for which to require Bill Clinton to stand trial before the Senate? Providing “perjurious, false and misleading testimony” to a grand jury and of obstruction of justice “in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal” evidence. As it happens, the 42nd president of the United States was, as former White House aide Lanny Davis has admitted, “within inches of losing the presidency.” And that was of his own doing, not Ken Starr’s. It’s hard to get around the “I” word, but try they will. Lowry summed up the work of the perpetual Legacy Repair Project: Impeachment is “an indelible stain on his legacy that he and his defenders will spend all time railing against and futilely attempting to erase.” And here we are.

As it happens, focus on sex and the Clintons helps Bill and Hillary and associates in that legacy-face-saving endeavor. And for the woman who would be president (I can still hope not!), the discrediting of Clinton I criticism means a distraction from her most obvious female trouble: She’s a self-described No-Tammy-Wynette-stand-by-my-man-cookie-baking feminist who not only stood by her man, but watched, outraged at the wrong side, as her husband inspired a mother of feminism (Gloria Steinem) to proclaim a one-free-grope rule for men.

The less fact-facing in the air, the better for the Clintons. Keeping attention off substance and in the presidential pants and senatorial skirt has got to make the Legacists smile. A conspiracy theorist would think Bill Clinton’s infamous war room reunited to write those sections for Klein.

I might even call it a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy if Matt Lauer asked me about it. It would be about as reality-based as a lot of the Clinton camp’s chatter.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.


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