I used to love Bill Clinton (known in our household for years as The Big Dog) and now I just want someone to get him off the stage.
Two days ago, in an interview with The Today Show‘s Craig Melvin about a new thriller co-written with James Patterson, former president William Jefferson Clinton seemed to be completely, and astonishingly, unprepared for an obvious question. When Melvin asked, in the light of the #MeToo movement, whether Clinton thought he ought to have resigned the presidency when his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was uncovered, and whether today he would make a different decision. I watched Clinton’s face tighten, his mouth dropping open ever so slightly, a tell that he was ready to fight.
And of course, the answer was no, since the scandal, in Clinton’s view, occurred because of the proliferation of “imagined facts.” If the actual facts had been the same (and Clinton never said what facts he was referring to), he still would not resign. Looking back, Melvin asked, did he feel differently responsible? “No,” Clinton said, “I felt terrible then. And I came to grips with it.” As The National Review Online‘s Jim Geraghty described this moment: “Rarely do you see such a symphony of hypocrisy and not-so-suppressed rage.” (June 4, 2018)
Indeed. And saying he “felt terrible” (enough about your feelings! What about mine?) is slightly different from Clinton admitting he was responsible for what happened, that he lied about the affair as long as he could, that he had never really admitted that the relationship was an affair, or — perhaps most importantly — explaining what, exactly, he felt terrible about. Did he feel terrible about putting his own needs above the almost certain eventuality that the relationship with Lewinsky, if uncovered, would consume her life? Did he feel terrible about exposing his wife to public humiliation — again? Did he feel terrible about throwing gasoline on a right-wing culture war that would bring George W. Bush to the White House in 2000?
It appears not. He just felt — terrible.
But Bill Clinton doesn’t like to feel terrible. Because he was starting to feel terrible, in the moment, on The Today Show set, he lashed out at the media coverage of the Lewinsky scandal. “And nobody believes that I got out of that for free,” he challenged Melvin. “I left the White House $16 million in debt. But you” (you being the media) “typically have ignored gaping facts in describing this. And I bet you don’t even know them. This was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me and they were not insensitive to that.” And people think Donald Trump obfuscates with word salad. What are the “gaping facts” of the case that the media ignores? And when the “American public” believes something, does that make it true, or right? The American public has tended, for three centuries, to believe that young women who have sex with other women’s husbands are scheming whores, but does that make it true?
To read the rest of this post, published at Public Seminar on June 6 2018, click here.