Ten Conclusions from the Lewinsky Scandal, 16 Years Later

Also in today’s Jolt:

Marty! Set the Flux Capacitor to . . . 1998!

Tuesday we learned that Monica Lewinsky will be telling her side of the story in Vanity Fair:

After 10 years of virtual silence (“So silent, in fact,” she writes, “that the buzz in some circles has been that the Clintons must have paid me off; why else would I have refrained from speaking out? I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth”), Lewinsky, 40, says it is time to stop “tiptoeing around my past — and other people’s futures. I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”

Ten conclusions on the Lewinsky scandal, 16 years later:

One: Many Americans were or are wary of judging a president caught in a sex scandal too harshly because they can recall times when they themselves did something stupid, or unwise, in the realm of sex.

Two: Nonetheless, our sympathy and empathy for those who make stupid mistakes because of their sex drives may prompt us to too casually dismiss the consequences of those mistakes.

The fascinating writer on philosophy Alain de Botton:

Only religions still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities. Only religions see it as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. Perhaps only after killing many hours online at youporn.com can we appreciate that on this one point religions have got it right: Sex and sexual images can overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease. Religions are often mocked for being prudish, but they wouldn’t judge sex to be quite so bad if they didn’t also understand that it could be rather wonderful.

Three: Given the opportunity, some powerful men will choose to live like a sultan with a harem. Some Americans may vehemently disagree with an arrangement like this, but it is legal. (Think of Hugh Hefner, Tiger Woods pre-scandal, and Charlie Sheen.) But it’s one thing for a powerful man to accumulate his harem from the fortunes of a publishing empire or celebrity status; it’s another to do so from the stature acquired from being elected to public office. We don’t elect a man into the Oval Office so he can score with women more frequently.

Four: Bill Clinton was more like his idol John F. Kennedy than he knew; while he was president, at age 45, Kennedy had a sexual affair with a 19-year-old White House intern.

Five: In retrospect, Clinton’s wrongdoing in the Lewinsky scandal pales in comparison to his intermittent, weak, and insufficiently consequential responses to al-Qaeda attacks, which rank as the most consequential failure of his presidency.

Six: 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.

Seven: It’s hard to feel much animosity towards Lewinsky, 16 years later. She made a dumb mistake at age 21, and yes, for a few years after the scandal, she made some crass attempts to cash in on her notoriety, but by the mid-Bush years she had attempted to live a normal life away from the spotlight. (Apparently her Vanity Fair article will detail how difficult it is to live a normal life once you’re known for a scandal such as this.)

Eight: I’m going to outsource this point to Ace:

Monica Lewinsky was a good soldier on Clinton’s behalf throughout the scandal, protecting him until she was credibly threatened with a perjury/obstruction of justice charge for telling lies to protect him. Since then she has remained largely silent.

And throughout this, the Right has generally been kinder to Lewinsky than the progressive/Democratic press. Not because we’re angels, mind you, but because of politics: Our target was Bill Clinton, not Monica Lewinsky.

But she was a threat to Bill Clinton, so Monica Lewinsky did in fact become a target for the progressive/Democratic press. As did all of Bill Clinton’s previous sexual conquests — the press routinely referred to women who spoke about their affairs with Clinton as “bimbo eruptions,” as if they were the ones solely at fault, and they were the ones solely worthy of mockery and scorn.

These damned Jezebel bimbos taking advantage of this poor, defenseless governor and then president.

Perhaps partisans grow to hate whatever harms their preferred presidents. Quite a few deficit hawks and fiscal conservatives held their tongues during the high-spending, high-deficit years of the Bush presidency, then re-embraced thriftiness with a passion once Obama took office. Since Bush left office, quite a few Republicans are much, much less enthusiastic about foreign military interventions and democracy promotion.

For Democrats, Monica Lewinsky nearly took down Bill Clinton’s presidency, so she’s the enemy, no matter how she felt about the president or what she did for him.

Nine: Bill Clinton is a class-A jerk. From Monica’s Story, the authorized biography by Andrew Morton:

The part that jumps out is, “All I think about is you and your job. I’m obsessed with you and finding you a job. I wake up in the morning, and it makes me sick thinking about it. My life is empty, except for you and this job search. All I have is my work and this obsession.”

His life is empty? What about his daughter?

Ten: We may be less judgmental about infidelity in politicians’ marriages — see Dennis Prager’s columns here and here — but we would still be wise to be wary of a potential president with a history of philandering as wide-ranging, lengthy, and notorious as Clinton’s was. It speaks to maturity, it speaks to impulse control, it speaks to how a potential president treats people, and it speaks to judgment.

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