The G-File

Politics & Policy

Bill Clinton’s Me Too Reckoning

President Clinton at a White house ceremony in 1998. (Win McNamee/Reuters)
For Clinton, the real story of the impeachment drama was that he did nothing wrong.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Particularly unrepentant yoga-pant wearers),

Except for a few superficial similarities — I like my brown liquor, I’m a National Review reader, I’m bipedal — I fully realize I’m no Jack Kerouac. But I’m thinking I’m gonna do this “news”letter Kerouac-style. I don’t mean that I’ll write it drunk (or rather, too drunk) or that I’m going to copy his voice. Rather, I simply mean I’m going to forgo the normally polished and precise, meticulously organized style of this “news”letter and just go stream-of-consciousness in the grand tradition of Kerouacian “spontaneous prose” and old-fashioned cocaine addiction (I gotta get home to make the tomato sauce).

Remember last year when — <checks notes> — remember this week when Bill Clinton had that awful Today Show interview with NBC’s Craig Melvin?

A few thoughts:

First, as indicated above, it’s rather amazing how long ago barely five days ago seems.

Second, I have to say that the most annoying thing about Bill Clinton’s performance didn’t have anything to do with the lies or the narcissism — it was that something has happened to Bill Clinton’s mouth. When he talks, he makes these smacking sounds like his mouth is full of spackle or the detritus from a saltine-cracker-challenge fail. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on the words, because all I can hear is his tongue peeling off the roof of his mouth like the wallpaper in a Rangoon brothel.

Tertiarily, Bill’s still Bill. I won’t belabor the point because everyone else has. But time after time, Clinton has spun the Lewinsky thing into a story about how he was treated unfairly during this thing that simply occurred while he was president.

This is how he put it in his “do-over” interview with Stephen Colbert: “But the important thing is, that was a very painful thing that happened 20 years ago, and I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, and to the American people.”

He uses a version of this locution all of the time. The scandal was a thing that “happened” as if he was not the author of it. It reminds of that scene in Diner where Steve Guttenberg (“What an actor!” — The Stonecutters) makes his fiancée take a football-trivia test to prove she’s worthy of marriage. If she fails, Gutenberg explains, “it’s out of my hands.”

For Clinton — both of them — all of his or her misdeeds were scandals because other people, nefarious forces, Comstocks and prudes, vast right-wing conspiracies, talk-radio critics, et al., unfairly turned them into scandals. For Clinton, the real story of the impeachment drama was that he did nothing wrong. “I did the right thing,” he said. “I defended the Constitution.”

Yes, that is totally how history will remember that chapter.

I wonder how many times Bill told one of his paramours: “Lie back and think of the Constitution.”

Speaking of history, I particularly enjoyed when Bill snapped, “You think President Kennedy should have resigned? Do you believe President Johnson should have resigned?”

This is precisely the argument Clinton used on Donna Shalala and the rest of his cabinet the day after he publicly admitted he’d been lying — and had forced his cabinet to lie — about his groping for trout in a peculiar river with an intern for over a year. Here’s how I put it not long ago:

When Bill Clinton had to “apologize” to his cabinet for playing baron-and-the-milkmaid with an intern and lying about it, he asked if anybody had a problem with it. Donna Shalala foolishly assumed he was being sincere. She chimed in and said she had a problem. He berated her for her effrontery, explaining that her prudish standards would have prevented JFK from being president. And while those of us not ensorcelled by the cult of that charismatic mediocrity might respond, “Yeah, so?” this was a debate-settling argument for many liberals.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that the whole premise — right or wrong (I think right) — of the Me Too movement is that being powerful or even doing good things professionally is no excuse for piggish, exploitative, or abusive behavior. Clinton’s rhetorical question about Kennedy and Johnson proves that he doesn’t actually agree with the Me Too movement. Or, to be more accurate, he agrees with it — so long as it doesn’t apply to him. Which is just about the purest distillation of Clintonism — in both its Bill and its Hillary strains — you could come up with.

Me Too? More Like Me Somewhat

But speaking of Me Too, I do have a problem with the Today Show interview. I’ve been following the mainstream media’s celebration of Melvin’s “courage” for bringing up the Lewinsky episode. But you know what he didn’t bring up? All of the other allegations — including rape — against Bill Clinton. If we are to take Me Too seriously, then surely, say, Juanita Broaddrick deserves a hearing, no?

As much as Clinton didn’t see it that way, focusing entirely on the Lewinsky stuff was a great favor to Clinton, because it allowed him to cite polls and offer his bovine-turd-taco claim that he was “defending the Constitution.” Was he standing up for the Madisonian vision of the constitutional order when he told Broaddrick to put some ice on her lip?

Still, the liberal media should be congratulated for trying to resolve their cognitive dissonance. Indeed, I think Bill Clinton is partly correct when he says the press is “frustrated because they’ve got all these serious accusations against the current occupant of the Oval Office, and his voters don’t seem to care.” It’s not just the current occupant of the Oval Office — but it seems obvious to me that the liberal punditocracy would not be turning on Clinton so much if he weren’t inconvenient to the anti-Trump narrative.

And since we’re on the topic of cognitive dissonance and sexual politics, let me refer you to my column today. I’ll wait while you read it. Okay, for those of you who didn’t bother, my basic argument is that I think the new Miss America policy of not judging outward beauty — at all — is kinda ridiculous.

In the 1990s, I used to go to a joint called “Burrito Brothers.” They had great burritos. One day, a friend of mine got the tacos, something that no one had ever dreamed of doing in human history. Fascinated, I asked him, “How are they?”

My friend replied, “Meh. I think there’s a reason they don’t call them ‘Mexican Food Brothers.’” I’ve always used this as an illustration of the idea that organizations should stick to what they are good at, i.e., what their purpose is.

Turning the Miss America Pageant into a contest to find the most confident, woke, and earnest young woman regardless of her looks strikes me as a silly idea, along the lines of Burrito Brothers getting into the heating and insulation business.

Anyway, I was quite honest in the column about my shameful secret: While I’m not a big fan of pageants, I like looking at very attractive women. More to the point, the charge that Miss America “objectified” women never bothered me much. The point of beauty pageants is to judge beauty. That’s how they started. Judging people on their earnest wokeness is why we have Oberlin.

I don’t celebrate the fact that beauty matters, I simply acknowledge it. It is undeniable that every culture cares about attractiveness, and denying that is simply ridiculous. We shouldn’t go overboard with it. But thinking that we can just badger people into abandoning sexual desire or notions of beauty strikes me as more than a little totalitarian and entirely idiotic. (An extreme version of this is the occasional claim one finds in the wokier swamps that heterosexual men who are uninterested in dating transgender women are bigots.)

I haven’t done a survey, but it seems that a lot of the people who like to mock and belittle “science deniers” and “creationists” are the very same people who insist (hetero)sexual desire, beauty, etc. are entirely socially constructed. I concede that social forces play a significant role — Reubenesque women were once the standard of beauty and all that — but I find it bizarre and anti-science to deny that sexual desire is an important part of human nature.

But that’s not the reason I bring all this up. While I was getting into Twitter spats with people denouncing the objectification of women at beauty pageants, a much louder and larger mob was denouncing Rudy Giuliani for daring to judge a porn actress.

If there is a single industry in all of Christendom that does more to treat women as sexual objects without meaningful agency or dignity, it’s the porn industry and, relatedly, strip clubs. Yeah, yeah, I get that Stormy Daniels is an assertive, independent businesswoman. And, as I am not a close student of Stormy Daniels’s particular contributions to this oeuvre, it may be the case that Dripping Wet Sex IV is full of empowering messages for women, but I’ll remain skeptical until I review the evidence.

Look, I also get that what Giuliani was doing was quite ugly and dishonest. And I get that he’s no moral exemplar. And I am happy to concede that I think Daniels is telling the truth. But we are in a strange world where beauty-pageant swimsuit competitions are evil relics of toxic masculinity — but porn stars are glorious examples of womanhood at its finest.

Various & Sundry

As I was writing this, the news broke about Charles Krauthammer. I knew this was coming (I got an email about it at the reception for my father-in-law’s funeral, which was not ideal). But I was still unprepared for the reality of it. There will surely be an outpouring of remorse, praise, support, and reminiscence of Charles in the weeks ahead. I don’t have the emotional energy to even attempt any such thing right now. I started to cry writing a tweet. But I will join the chorus more fully when the time is right. Until then, let me just say that Charles is one of the most impressive and decent people I have ever known. He is a mensch in every sense. And while he is almost never wrong, I hope and pray he is wrong about his prospects. The world needs Charles Krauthammer.

Canine Update: I feel sheepish following that with a report about my dogs, but Charles is a fan of the G-File (one of the highlights of my career) and he is a fan of dogs, so I know he will not object. The beasts were very happy when we came home from Alaska. Some people have surmised that the dogs like the Fair Jessica more than they like me. I think this is irrefutable. I have many theories why, but one factor is probably that she is in charge of their weekly portion of ice cream. The spaniel continues to spaniel. Because the weather was nice for most of this week, I tried to keep them company and work from home in the backyard. The only problem is Pippa and Zoë have a different idea of “work.” Meanwhile Gracie, the good cat, is much more cooperative (though she does have high standards when it comes to jewelry). Because I’ve had to be up terribly early several times this week, I pulled the great switcheroo and woke them up.

I will be in Chicago this Saturday and in Florida next week. Consult JonahGoldberg.com for more details.

ICYMI . . .

Last week’s G-File

Ruminations on the presidential self-pardon

Last week’s Remnant: The Age of Double Standards

And this week’s Remnant: Get Me Another Shapiro!

Can Trump get away with murder?

Vladimir Paul Gavora, RIP

The problems of the self-pardon

Don’t let labels do your thinking

President Trump and the Mueller investigation

Anti-Semitism vs. Islamophobia

Taking the “beauty” out of beauty pageants

Depressing thoughts can be contagious

My appearance on Monday’s Special Report

And Wednesday’s

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Friday Links

The birth of Ziggy Stardust

Authorities capture bear using waffles and syrup

The real-life gangsters behind Goodfellas

Norwegian company gives employees pawternity leave to bond with new pets

Yale graduation speaker breaks up with her boyfriend during speech

Follow the monkey (poop)

Good boys like being called good boys

Rotting-fish exhibit explodes and catches fire in modern-art gallery

The new golden age of Tiki bars

Grifter season 2018

Oregon man gives new meaning to high-speed chase

Why it’s harder to think in the summer heat

The 200-year treasure hunt

Hemingway’s house bunkers down for its 168th hurricane season

The super-bacteria living in NASA’s Clean Rooms

Nerd alert!

What to eat before you swim 5,500 miles

Scientists move us one step closer to having robot overlords

When you think you can reverse the flow of time . . .

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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