One of the things that we have to look forward to in the new year are the further trials and tribulations of Bill Clinton's penis.
Right-wing Republican Party operatives are said to be laying the groundwork for a renewed attack on the former president's sexual history designed to distract and damage Hillary Clinton, while Donald Trump is trying to make the former president's philandering an issue and that Paula Jones magically appeared the other day on a conservative radio talk show. To which I say, it's about time that the probable next president come clean about her views on a shameful episode in American political history, as well as how her husband will fit into her presidency.
Yes, I know this is sooo politically incorrect, anti-feminist, double standard-ish, all-around yucky and distracting from the "real" issues of the day, but the fact of the matter is Hillary Clinton has never addressed the scandal that nearly toppled her husband's presidency except to charge on the Today show that she and her husband were victims of a vast right-wing conspiracy. That was way back in 1998.
But wait. Does Hillary Clinton, as a woman, have to prostrate herself on the public altar and explain a most personal wound, let alone why she not only remained with but defended her husband? No, not just because she's a woman. Yes, because she's not just any woman.
While Hillary Clinton can drag her feet as she did on the State Department email controversy, which has been a scandal not because of her conduct but because a compliant news media has helped Republicans keep it alive, it is necessary -- not to say how freaking refreshing it would be -- for her to head off the misogynistic Trump and those right wingers at the pass and finally speak with a semblance of feeling about a past she and her husband can never quite escape. This is because they keep allowing others to frame that past in their own negative and often tawdry terms. And because she seems to be a little too ready to play the victim, which sometimes can be downright silly such as when she put on her feminist hat and pounced on Bernie Sanders when he said that "all the shouting in the world" wouldn't address gun violence, something he has done without regard to gender.
There is another reason why it is important for Hillary Clinton to stop being so obtuse.
She is going to win the nomination and almost certainly win the election. Bill Clinton will not morph from being an alpha male into a passive male on Inauguration Day and will have an outsized, historically unprecedented and possibly unwelcome impact on her presidency. The former president has played a central role in his wife's quest for the White House. She has depended on him so much that the fortunes of her campaign are inextricably tied to him and how voters perceive him is as important as how they perceive her. It is time for her to explain how a co-presidency is something that the American people should welcome since they will in effect be voting for two people. Or if it's not going to be a co-presidency, why it won't be.
This is the point in the movie when I make clear -- and offended readers are well advised to note before they jump off a cliff, let alone to their own conclusions -- that while I would prefer to see Sanders take the oath of office next January, I am making my peace with with a Hillary Clinton presidency and not because of her gender since having a woman president is long, long overdue. My concerns have more to do with her trustworthiness than her sex, let alone a stained blue Gap dress.
And that while her husband handled the Lewinsky scandal horribly and had and may still have a serious zipper problem, the Republican mania to impeach and force him from office, let alone the overreach of special prosecutor Ken Starr, was even more shameful than the lousy excuse the president gave his executioners for wasting tens of millions of dollars of our money to build a gallows. And finally, we have done an enormous injustice to Lewinsky, who it turns out was (and is) smart and dignified, which is a whole lot more than can be said of many of the people who wrote about her.
Hillary Clinton may well be able to slide without uttering a breath about her husband's private behavior. After all, voters drew a distinction between that and his performance as president, rebuking congressional Republicans for their overreach in the 1998 midterm elections. The GOP lost seats in both chambers, and impeachment boss Newt Gingrich, who at the time was engaged in his own extramarital hanky-panky, had to relinquish his speakership.
There are only two historic precedents for what will transpire when Hillary Clinton is elected: Edith Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt. (Yes, I know that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer for President Bonzo, but that was different.)§
When President Wilson's health failed and a stroke left him partially paralyzed, Edith Wilson became the acting president and took over many of the details and duties of government. She vociferously opposed allowing the vice president to assume the powers of the presidency and the numerous failures that occurred during her husband's incapacitation were substantially of her doing.
Eleanor Roosevelt's role during President Roosevelt's 12-plus year tenure was, by comparison, hugely positive. While still attending to more traditional First Lady duties, she was a key player in shaping the president's domestic agenda and was a vital connection between Great Depression victims and the government bureaucracy, and later between African-American civil rights leaders and the White House.
Yet neither of these predecessors come close to approximating the reality that the next president may be married to a former president, as well as the unhappy prospect of two families monopolizing the White House over three decades.
The release of thousands of pages of Hillary Clinton's personal records as First Lady during the 2008 campaign confirms that while she did not necessarily help make major policy decisions, she certainly was a co-president to an extent that First Ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt have not come close to replicating. This included the Lewinsky scandal, where she helped strategize his defense against impeachment proceedings.
As uncomfortable as the subject may be for people for whom privacy is more important than the corrosive effects of lying and hypocrisy on politics, the more that I learned about John Edwards' romp with Rielle Hunter, the more Elizabeth Edwards reminded me of Hillary Clinton. Minus the cancer, of course.§
In fact, the parallels were rather stunning.
Both women worshiped at the altar of political prominence and power, so much so that they overlooked clear evidence of their husbands' violation of their wedding vows. They contributed to their husbands' phony public personas as straight arrows and then circled their own wagons when confronted with the truth.
But then no one ever said being a political wife was all grand balls and trips to exotic places, right?
Psychoanalyst and cantadora Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a dear friend and author of the seminal Women Who Run With the Wolves, a classic examination of the female psyche, notes that the archetypal view is that people marry for love.
But the reality, she says, is that people marry for many reasons. When prestige and power are sought after, they almost invariably flow from husband to wife and family and seldom in the other direction. Thus there is much more to be lost if the husband is exposed as a cad. And if the husband is successful the wife is sought out and feted whether she has earned that or not, while doors that otherwise would remain closed magically open.
I would like to believe that in the cases of the Missus Edwards and Clinton their marriages were and are not all about politics and power.
That both women, whip-smart intelligent and admirably independent in some respects, might have concluded once their tears dried that their husbands' infidelities -- in Bill Clinton's case years and years of philandering that sometimes may have had more to do with sexual harassment by today's appropriately more stringent standards -- were less important than not interrupting or destroying these couples' upward bound public careers. And in the case of Elizabeth Edwards, that her struggle with terminal cancer not be used so cynically for political gain.
Both couples spoke extensively, if abstractly, about the importance of their familial and political partnerships. Both husbands extolled their wives' greatness. The only difference is that while Elizabeth had a habit of finishing John's sentences in joint interviews, Hillary never let anyone finish hers.
Nevertheless, the record convinces me that even when taking into account the obvious complexities of both marriages, upward bound trajectories played a greater role than altruism. It is no accident that Bill and Hillary Clinton are the power couple of the 21st century, and that Hillary Clinton sacrificed her personal integrity for future political gain. And would do so again.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.