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Sex, Politics, and Bill Clinton

One of the charms of the recent California special election was that The Terminator was taken to task for his sexual exploits (or at least what he said about them.) Nobody cared.

It seems to me that there has been a sea change in the public response to sex scandals. They used to be serious business. Thus, for example, Gary Hart went down when he got caught with the babe in the boat and a senator with a sterling legislative record re feminism (Packard, Republican from Oregon) went down for groping. Nor were these rare exceptions - it has been the norm in American politics for sex scandals to be bad news for the scandalee (such a useful word, even if I just coined it).

The remarkable thing about Clinton and his escapades is that they were well known all along - the Jennifer Flowers affair was exposed, Clinton told lies about it, and the affair vanished from public consciousness. Nobody gave a damn, and that is quite remarkable. To be sure, Clinton got somewhat of a blank check because he is a charming, shmoozy, good old boy - a combination that is regularly forgiven much.

It could be that the Clinton Affaire has taken sex scandals off the table. I'm inclined to blame the entertainment biz, myself. Over the past fifty years the style has moved from constipated prudishness to trashy sleaze. There was a time when adultery was not permitted within the pages of the Saturday Evening Post; these days a novel within which the sex is not explicit and which only occurs within a monogamous marriage is virtually unpublishable.


This page was last updated July 1, 2004.

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