Politics & Policy

We Were Young

President Bill Clinton addresses the allegations over Monica Lewinsky, January 26, 1998. (Win McNamee/Reuters)
But 2016 wasn’t all that long ago

Matthew Yglesias has written a frank if not exactly penitent column in Vox arguing that Democrats were wrong to rally around Bill Clinton when it came to light that he was using at least one White House intern as a sexual appliance. Other progressives have joined in, but this isn’t a mea culpa. Yglesias is quick to point out that he was in high school when the Monica Lewinsky affair and Clinton’s impeachment went down. “The time is right for a reevaluation,” Yglesias writes.

The time is certainly convenient.

Yglesias may have been a callow youth in 1998 rather than the callow adult he is today, but that excuse doesn’t go very far outside of Vox’s little orbit. James Carville wasn’t a kid when he dismissed one of Bill Clinton’s accusers as what you get when you “drag a $100 bill through a trailer park.” Paul Begala wasn’t a child when he defended Clinton and lambasted the man investigating him — not for adultery, but for perjury and obstruction of justice — as a sex-obsessed reincarnation of Roger Chillingsworth. Maureen Dowd wasn’t young when she lampooned Monica Lewinsky as “a ditsy, predatory White House intern who might have lied under oath for a job at Revlon” and suggested that the affair was the result of psychological problems rooted in Lewinsky’s being “too tubby to be in the high school ‘in’ crowd.” The men who awarded her the Pulitzer Prize for that work were not middle-schoolers. The editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post weren’t little ’uns. Hillary Rodham Clinton was a grown woman when she took charge of destroying the women caught up in her husband’s “bimbo eruptions.”

And Matthew Yglesias wasn’t a high-schooler in 2008 or 2016, either.

Juanita Broaddrick, who says she was violently raped by Bill Clinton, has been trying to tell her story since 1999. In 1999, Bill Clinton wasn’t the pathetic, used-up has-been he is today: He was, if memory serves, the president of the United States of America. As Mrs. Clinton’s political career advanced, Broaddrick continued trying to tell her story, to the general indifference and occasional hostility of the media and the self-satisfied progressives who advertise themselves as the champions of women. Why did no one listen? Yglesias credits Mrs. Clinton’s status as the presumptive first woman president with “creating a kind of reputational vortex that shielded her husband’s behavior from scrutiny.” If reputational vortices were named the way hurricanes are, the one surrounding the Clintons would be named “Matthew Yglesias.” It would have a few other names, too: Call it Legion, for they were — and are — many.

Our progressive friends have discovered their consciences on the Clinton matter at the precise moment the Clintons ceased to be useful instruments of political power. The Clinton camp has been moribund for a while now, stale leftovers from the go-go 1990s, the political equivalents of one of those AOL discs that ironic tech bros save and use for coasters. Political necessity forced the faction that brought Barack Obama to power — call it the New New Left — to make common cause with the Clinton gang, but they’ve been eager to see them off since well before the emergence of the tangerine nightmare currently commanding their dreadful attention. Bernie Sanders wasn’t quite enough to get the job done, but the fact that a rotten old red with a surprising amount of rape porn on his CV — and no formal affiliation with the Democratic party — even laid a glove on Herself is an indicator of just how long the Clintons overstayed their welcome. You think Elizabeth Warren is happy in Mrs. Clinton’s shadow? She’s got problems of her own.

The Clinton camp has been moribund for a while now, stale leftovers from the go-go 1990s, the political equivalents of one of those AOL discs that ironic tech bros save and use for coasters.

So does Al Franken. The Minnesota senator and progressive mascot has been accused of groping a female colleague while she slept on an airplane, and there is leering photographic evidence of the act. The same woman accuses him of having forced a kiss on her on the same trip. Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, as the Democrats call their kooky Gopher State affiliate. There’s no prospect of a Republican governor appointing a Republican to the vacancy if Senator Franken is forced to resign. No Bob Menendez reprieve awaits the sad clown of the Senate.

But the Democrats did learn something from the Lewinsky scandal: Americans blew off the cattle-futures shenanigans, the apple-stealing travel-office stuff, the illegal Chinese donations, and a dozen other Clinton scandals, but they seized on the intern-diddling. Most Americans don’t understand futures trading, but most of them understand sex. They’re throwing everything they have at Trump — the ridiculous emoluments stuff, the monkey business with the Russians — and Trump has done his part to help them out, but none of that is going to be enough to drive him from office. (You try explaining the emoluments clause to an actual American voter.) But there’s plenty of sexual material to use against Trump, who is dumb enough to have put many of his exploits in writing under his own name, available at a bookstore near you, and to have gone on record, sometimes accidentally, about others. If Senator Franken ends up being collateral damage in the war on Trump — well, Minnesota has plenty of Democrats waiting to take his place.

Just don’t let them fool you into believing that this is moral calculus. It’s political calculus — today, just like it was in 1998.

READ MORE:

Kennedy, Clinton, and Weinstein: A Convenient Reckoning

The Uses of Disgrace

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.

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