Bill Clinton is back, and as Yogi Berra might say, it’s deja vu all over again. Well, not quite.
Anyone who watched his NBC-TV interview with Craig Melvin saw the former president to be the same old leopard with the same old spots and the same old chutzpah, but at 71, and out of power, he’s less protected by friends in the media and is consequently less persuasive. We’re all looking at the Clinton years through a clearer lens now, and his explanations for wrongdoing range from unbelievable to offensive to the stuff of satire.
Bubba is touring now to publicize a novel he “co-wrote” with best-selling novelist James Patterson, titled “The President is Missing,” and it’s his most powerful piece of fiction since the day he looked into the cameras, wagged his bony finger at us and announced that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinksy.” Like Hillary’s book tour, his is a search for refuge in the afterglow of his once dominating public life. The pitiless glare of moral failure continues to lavish attention on the Clintons, man and wife.
In light of the #MeToo movement, Bubba’s affair with Monica Lewinsky is seen through that different lens this time, and puts emphasis this time where it belongs, on his abuse of power.
“He was my boss,” Miss Lewinsky writes poignantly in Vanity Fair, where she thinks again about how she was the victim of President Clinton. “He was the most powerful man on the planet,” she writes. “He was 27 years my senior with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career. I was in my first job out of college.”
Against her lamentation on looking back, Bill Clinton tries to assume bragging rights for victimhood. He paid a price, too, he says, because he was $16 million in debt when he left the White House. He neglects to add that he would soon earn six-figure pay for making a single speech. He’s probably the richest former president of all, with personal worth of $80 million. But put aside for a moment his glib dismissal of the disparity in money, power, and professional potential between himself and “that woman” in the little blue dress. His most perverse defense was in taking pride in having promoted a sexual harassment law when he was governor of Arkansas.
Columnist Mark Steyn says that’s something like getting a ticket for double parking and telling the traffic cop that “It’s O.K., officer, I promoted the municipal parking-lot expansion bill.”
Having the right attitude and the correct liberal point of view has always enabled the Clintons and their Democratic supporters to trump judgment of character and behavior. But now that the party’s over and they’re the limp balloons floating over the dance floor, with no longer enough helium to stay above the rest of us, no longer protected by friends and former friends, they see Democratic congressional candidates running in red states this year rating their campaign help as risky to toxic.
The #MeToo movement has shifted the equation for both Clintons. Hillary could march in solidarity with the sisterhood to protest Donald Trump, but Bill’s re-entry into the public spotlight revives his sex scandals and changes things. Hillary’s reaction to his accusers has changed, too. Her description of Monica as “a narcissistic loony tune,” and their friends describing his accusers as “trailer park trash,” sounds very different now. #MeToo changed that.
What does surprise is how and why Bill Clinton, admired in Washington for unerring political instincts, agreed without forethought to answer questions now about how he has considered again his culpability and remorse about the woman who suffered his abuse of power two decades ago. Instead of making a personal apology to Monica, he beams with pride that he had two women chiefs of staff when he was governor of Arkansas (one of whom described her job as “dealing with ‘bimbo eruptions’”), and says he has employed only female leadership in his offices since. This turns the personal into the political, and mocks both.
He says he owes Monica no private apology because he had apologized to everyone publicly. But did he have any idea what he was apologizing for? Camille Paglia once observed that both Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby were both emotionally infantile and father figures. They abused vulnerable women by ruthlessly using them for servicing, offering neither anything in return.
Now Bill Clinton is out selling another Clinton product, stuffing more millions in his estate, and Monica has become an advocate to protect young people from bullying. Both have learned from experience, but what a different experience.
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.