It was in January 1998 that the public first heard of President Bill Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. That means the scandal is now 22 years old — the same age Lewinsky was when a 49-year-old Clinton first made “inappropriate” contact with her. Somehow, in all that time, this statesman known for his great charisma has flubbed virtually every opportunity to address the topic.
In 2018, two full decades after we got wind of the affair, and in the shadow of the #MeToo movement, Clinton said in an interview that he had not specifically apologized to Lewinsky, insisting he owed her no such thing. The blowback was so severe, he needed a do-over on the question, courtesy of late-night TV host Stephen Colbert.
Now Bill’s back with another clanger, and it’s amazing nobody managed to prevent it, considering the previous gaffe: In the Hulu docuseries Hillary, he explains that the trysts with a subordinate practically half his age, when he occupied the highest office in the world, were “to manage [his] anxieties.” First of all, I demand to know who showed him millennial depression memes — you have a lot to answer for, and your Tumblr account should be revoked. Secondly, Bill, dude, are you really still trying to justify this shit?
“It’s not a defense, it’s an explanation. It was awful. I feel terrible,” he adds. Well, great, except we don’t really care how it made you feel — doubtful you’d be carrying all that remorse if you hadn’t gotten caught, anyway — and if this isn’t meant to be a mitigation of your behavior, then why does it sound like one?
Trust me, we understand the why of adultery and unethical workplace liaisons. Neither is your invention.
Although the TV soundbites are new, they reflect a stagnant, unchanged approach to discussing the Lewinsky episode and subsequent impeachment campaign. Clinton long ago told his biographer, the historian Taylor Branch, that the “Democrats’ loss of Congress in the November 1994 elections — on top of the death of Clinton’s mother the previous January and the Whitewater investigation — made [him] feel beleaguered, unappreciated and open to a liaison with Lewinsky.” This pattern of Bill’s inward psychoanalysis, which is focused on his own weaknesses and demons, the fallout within his family and effects on national politics, continually dodges both Lewinsky’s personhood and the fact of his blatant abuse of power, as she herself has phrased it.
Clinton has always leaned on the consensual nature of their intimacy to frame it as a personal issue, something that concerned only those directly involved, and therefore an illegitimate basis for arguing he was unfit to lead. He can never admit to the actual violation of his responsibilities to the role he held, because that is a different, far more serious failure.
Of course, Clinton is hardly the only fuckboi who views sex as a medication to be dispensed by women who operate as ciphers without emotional consciousness. And if he speaks about his meetings with Lewinsky as a trucker might recall sticking his dick in a rest-stop glory hole during a stressful cross-country drive, then he surely has the same attitude regarding his alleged conduct with the four women who have accused him of sexual harassment or assault.
Not only is this callousness reiterated whenever Clinton speaks of his regrettable “infidelity” in mostly self-pitying terms, it’s now heightened with each condemnation Hillary Clinton has for the culture of sexism she identifies in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, even “linking it to the candidate himself.” How seriously must we take these charges if she stands by a husband who declines to reckon with his toxic treatment of women, except insofar as it tarnished his legacy or caused difficulties in their marriage? That kind of compartmentalization is a cruel joke.
I don’t know, man. Really seems like any excuses for controlling and taking advantage of your much younger assistant are missing the point, and if they also involve the presumption that some women are just therapy dolls for sopping up bad vibes, you have truly and widely missed the mark. It makes us wonder if we even need to hear from you anymore! Bill, you’re old, you’re rich, you’re out of the game and you’re sticking to your gross, lopsided version of events. We get it. What makes you look even more pitiful is that Monica is out there owning her name and using her experience to impart some hard-won wisdom to the world, and she gets a fraction of the coverage that your latest spin on a long, ugly history of predation does.
Maybe do us all a favor and stay off-the-record until you’re ready to say something worth a damn. We won’t be holding our breath.