The rise once again of religious conservatives in the 2012 primary season is a perfect setting for “Clinton,” the PBS American Experience documentary of William Jefferson Clinton’s presidency.
Today’s religious conservatives aren’t the same as they were in the Clinton era, but it’s a reminder of how dangerous their politics are for the country. See the Republican war on women being waged through Santorum’s candidacy, as well as in Virginia, where veep hopeful Bob McDonnell refused to sign the state rape bill, because of pressure coming down from women who aren’t amused at what they’re hearing from Republicans.
Watching “Clinton,” which aired on PBS on two nights this week, it was like rifling through 20 years of my own research, experiences and my own excavation on the way to writing my new book The Hillary Effect: Politics, Sexism and the Destiny of Loss.
It wasn’t until the second night that Lewinsky comes into focus. When questioned on the CBS “Morning Show,” Barak Goodman, director and writer of “Clinton”, was pressed by Charlie Rose and also Erica Hill about the lengthy part of the documentary that focuses on Monica Lewinsky. Before the show even aired I received emails wondering if this was going to be a hit piece because of how intently the Lewinski scandal would be reviewed.
Anyone enamored with former Pres. William Jefferson Clinton has to accept that history will record the Lewinsky scandal as a monstrously stupid act for any president, but with the enemies Clinton had it was exponentially so.
One particular quibble I have with PBS’s “Clinton” is the omission of when the Whitewater frenzy began. American Experience missed an opportunity to make note of the historical importance of Jeff Gerth’s spring 1992 New York Times article on Whitewater that has been thoroughly debunked. It was published before Clinton had even won the nomination, so unless the viewer is made aware of this he or she simply cannot understand how early the hunting of Bill Clinton began.
PBS American Experience did do a tremendous job on interviews starting with Dee Dee Myers, the first female press secretary, Lucianne Goldberg, the broker of the Tripp tapes and confidante of what Goldberg describes as a very angry woman. There is also Christiane Amanpour, as well as Betsy Wright, his powerful gatekeeper, who appears still not over what she considers a betrayal by Pres. Clinton.
John Harris of Politico gives incisive analysis of events, but Harris also makes a point to remind the viewer that Somalia began at Pres. H.W. Bush’s hands, which is no small point coming in the summer before the election. Harris is quoted in a couple of sections in my book as someone who offered contrary analysis at important points in the ’08 primary election cycle as well.
Remembering what presidents leave for their successors to clean up and that inevitably become part of the new president’s headaches is history worth noting. What Bush left Obama economically is a classic example, as is the disgrace of torture and Gitmo.
Surprisingly, Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors, which was originally penned anonymously, and someone who is well known for his standard insider views and harsh Clinton rhetoric as well, offers interesting analysis on the Lewinsky legacy for Clinton. Klein scoffs at the “what might have been” romancing of the Clinton presidency, believing that his record is remarkable regardless.
Bob Reich still sounds like a man mystified how Clinton could have let Lewinski happen.
I’ve always been of the belief that Clinton’s unquenchable thirst for multiple sexual relationships is simply part of his human appetite for all levels of life. It’s a function of being Bill Clinton. You can’t separate the corporeal Clinton from the mind that allowed the man to beat the lawyers through a brilliantly made agreement that led to the 4-hour time-limited deposition where William Jefferson Clinton carved his own narrow escape. His appetites, great and horrible, make him who he is.
And even Clinton hater Jonathan Alter offers declarations of just how badly people in Washington hated the Clintons and wanted them taken down.
American Experience, nor anyone interviewed, goes into the details of Chief Justice Rehnquist stacking the deck with conservative judges who were also Clinton haters. However, the producers do offer a brief citing of William Safire, the New York Times columnist and former Nixon man who went after Bill Clinton before he set his sights on Hillary.
All of this is part of the history collected in my book, because it was the baggage Hillary brought into her own political adventures.
Ken Gormley, the legal expert and scholar who crafted the definitive biography of the Starr vs. Clinton battle, and the man who proved the illegality of Starr’s team bracing Lewinsky, offers the freshest analysis on the Lewinsky matter, which also proves the zeal of Starr and his people.
“Clinton,” the PBS American Spirit documentary tackled what it was like for Clinton during his presidency. It was not a look back from where we stand today, which would surely look at Glass-Steagall repeal, though what people forget today is that it passed Congress by a veto-proof majority. Having it, however, would not have stopped the problem that AIG became. But at the time of Clinton’s presidency, Glass-Steagall wasn’t a problem, because everyone on all sides agreed. All were wrong, as Clinton himself has stated.
Pres. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, but that legacy for Ken Starr and Republicans like Henry Hyde, author of the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, says more about them than Clinton. As Hyde admitted, which I write about in the chapter “Blaming Bill” in my book, it was a clash of cultures, a hatred of Clinton born out of the time he (and Hillary) represented.
The best thing PBS American Experience does in “Clinton” is put into perfect view what we’re seeing unfold in the 2012 Republican primary contest. Religious conservatives giving rise to Mitt Romney’s conservative contortions, Rick Santorum’s Satan squeals, and Newt Gingrich’s hyperbolic ravings, all to appease the religious right.
The ending of “Clinton” talks about Hillary’s rise, as her husband ends his presidency. There is not a better continuation of the last 20 years of politics and what Clinton’s presidency meant for Hillary’s candidacy than my book The Hillary Effect.
“Clinton” captures the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, with the Lewinsky scandal as much a product of the Republican Party as it was Clinton’s own reckless appetite, which before, in the era of John F. Kennedy and coming amid the sexual revolution, women’s liberation, but before cable and the Internet, was known, yet completely ignored.