To begin: a piece of political and movie miscellany that might have fallen through the cracks in your general knowledge. Did you know that the character of Yoda in the Star Wars franchise was partially inspired by Hillary Clinton who, at the time of The Empire Strikes Back’s principal photography, was First Lady of Arkansas where the film’s Dagobah swamp scenes were shot? It is, I think you’ll agree, a fascinating nugget but mainly because it is also an outright and cruel lie. I also put it to you that if you thought for a moment that this brazen falsehood was true then perhaps it’s because you wanted it to be true. Such is human nature. I wanted it to be true the moment I thought of it and, in some small way, I still hope that it is. I cannot help but feel that there is some resemblance between the master of mind tricks and the tiny green Jedi master.
Politics lends itself to wishful thinking because no other business makes us so prone to fill the gaps in our knowledge with our darkest suspicions. We, the public, feel that we have a right to know those details about our elected officials that would otherwise remain private. If they aren’t going to furnish us with the details of what they keep in their sock drawer (and they so rarely do), we are only too happy to satisfy our ignorance with conjecture, hearsay, and plain old fashioned fiction.
We do this because politicians wield power over us and exposing the reality of their lives (or embroidering the reality with some fabrication) robs them of a little of their magic. We might not want to know every detail of their private lives but, like a bad chat-up line, we do like to whisper: ‘I really want to get to know the real you’. What stops us from doing that is a political class that insists on playing a role. Politicians smile, shake every hand offered to them, and never a cross word is said. They are abstractions of their true selves and, because of that, we distrust the whole shady lot of them.
There is not, as far as I know, a psychological fitness test for potential American presidents. The men and women working in important jobs of the armed services and security details will be heavily vetted. No doubt the person pouring the White House coffee will have a yearly psych-evaluation. Yet nobody profiles the pathological narcissist sipping from the presidential china. The American people, you see, are expected to reject the rotten eggs. Which brings us to today, this week, this month and this election cycle. America’s choice is slowly narrowing to two eggs and no amount of submerging them in water or holding them up to the light will reveal if they are indeed rotten.
The New York Times recently published an article titled ‘Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private’. It was an attempt at political assassination that aimed high but ended up tapping him meekly on the shins. Trump is alleged to have once kissed a Miss Utah on the lips. Another time he asked a model to try on a swimsuit. When she emerged from changing in the bathroom, he is reported to have said ‘Wow!’ Damning stuff, apparently, but it told us little we didn’t already suspect about Trump. He enjoys the company of beautiful women but can be rude to them as well as to others. It is repeatedly said that his misogyny (alleged, of course) makes his judgements questionable and gives him ‘a problem with women’ and, obviously, the same cannot be said of Hillary…
Yet herein lies the stark hypocrisy about this election. Why are the Left so ready to believe every trivial story told about Donald Trump yet are so willing to overlook the oft-repeated allegations about Bill Clinton? Is it simply because the Right believe every bad word written about the former President that those on the Left simply refuse to examine the evidence?
There is, at the very least, a triple standard at work; a bifurcation of morality. Sexual malfeasance comes in three types, it seems to say: the lightweight misogyny of a rich heterosexual man for which Trump is castigated; the accusations of predatory and violent rapes attributed to Clinton and for which he is routinely exonerated; and the drugging and raping of women for which Bill Cosby has been condemned before he has even gone to trial. Rape is a serious issue and, perhaps, there are none more serious. Yet the American public’s capacity for forgiveness — or, at least, occasional willingness to look the other way when it suits them — is at odds with their actions elsewhere. They are willing to damn one man for minor transgressions that seem to border on a simple lack of manners and make a pariah of another man for hugely publicised allegations which, no matter how utterly appalling, are, as yet, unproven in law. It is hard to believe that in the scrutiny of a presidential election, this delusion will be allowed to continue for very much longer. If the Left continues to charge Trump with crimes against women, expect others to look again at Bill Clinton and question his place in the election. The claims are now beginning to appear on the fringes of the election. Trump raised the rape allegations in recent weeks and his campaign ads are now using extracts from a 1999 interview with Juanita Broaddrick who claimed that Clinton raped her in 1978 when he was state’s attourney.
Trump’s appeal is bound to a popular dissatisfaction with the political elite. Some element of that dissatisfaction is with cronyism, the self-interests of those in Washington, and a general realisation that the marketing of a political message is very different to the everyday reality of politics. Few politicians embody that more than Bill Clinton. The term ‘triangulation’, coined by Clinton strategist Dick Morris, means positioning yourself between the issues to broaden your appeal; how a Democrat could steal ideas from the right; a Republican take ideas from the Left. The reality, however, was that Clinton would speak for the poor but then act on behalf of the rich. For example, triangulation accounted for Clinton’s confused drug policy. As Albert W. Alschuler, in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, explained:
Clinton once voiced concern about the mass incarceration of African American men […] Two weeks after making this statement, Clinton signed legislation restoring the 1-to-100 crack/powder ratio that the United States Sentencing Commission had sought to eliminate. […] Congress’s and the Commission’s actions produced enormous disparities between the sentences of black and white drug offenders, but Clinton declared, “I am not going to let anyone who peddles drugs get the idea that the cost of doing business is going down.”
If you wish to understand the concerns of current Democrats then this is it. Consider too the evidence presented in Christopher Hitchens’s tightly argued polemic No One Left To Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton. It makes a very forceful case against the 42nd president and his first lady, especially in the matter of Clinton’s private life. Hitchens was too precise a writer to use a word like ‘rape’ lightly and, as he says, the case against Clinton has never been proven but it should, at least, raise serious concerns.
No forensic or medical or contemporary evidence exists and there were no direct witnesses, even though the number of immediate aftermath witnesses is impressive and their evidence consistent. This does not mean that the matter dissolves into the traditional moral neutrality of “he said, she said.” For one thing, “she” did not wish to say anything. For another—and here again we are in the eerie territory of the Clintonian psyche—“he” has not denied it. I repeat for emphasis; the President of the United States, plausibly accused of rape by a reputable woman whose story has been minutely scrutinized by a skeptical television network, offers no denial.
The argument is more convincing because Hitchens bakes his dish using only the low-hanging facts. He defends the Clintons against the fruiter stuff that was always a long reach made by more excitable critics. Yet that does mean that the sticky parts of the resulting pudding feel even sticker.
The Lewinski scandal remains one of the few windows looking into the Clinton world and quite the insalubrious view it granted. The only verifiable fact we really know of what happened in the White House between the President and his love-struck intern was that presidential residue was left on a blue dress. How that residue transferred from president to dress remains a matter of conjecture or involves, as Clinton’s testimony with Independent Council Ken Starr made clear, some grubby arguments about what constitutes ‘sexual relations’.
Clinton was ultimately found not guilty on the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice but it was a notional victory. Clinton had been proven to lie. The only thing saving his reputation was some peculiar sympathy stemming, perhaps, from the deep partisanship that the American political system encourages and a partisanship that still guides much of the media. The website, Mother Jones, recently published a guide to ‘Every Hillary Clinton Conspiracy Theory (So Far)’. The purpose of the article was to highlight the ridiculous world of conspiracy and that it did quite well. Many conspiracies are ridiculous but especially when only the most outlandish are chosen. The article did not raise the well documented objection that the Clintons, once in the White House, were more interested in the business of garnering donations, with many rich donors spending nights at the White House. Hitchens called it the ‘franchising of the Lincoln Bedroom [which] gave way ultimately to the selling of the Oval Office itself’. This is one context for Bernie Sanders’ accusations that Hillary is in the pocket of Wall Street. Also notably absent is the name of notorious paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Court documents have revealed that, when arrested, Epstein had Bill Clinton’s private numbers and that the former president had repeatedly flown on Epstein’s plane (sometimes described as the ‘Lolita Express’). It again hints at something worse than shabby and tawdry. More shameful, perhaps because Epstein served only 13 months for a single charge of ‘soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14’. Try as once sincerely might, it becomes difficult to overlook the evidence pointing to the very evident lack of transparency in high Clintonian circles.
Outside the Right where books such as Roger Stone’s The Clintons War Against Women overstate their case, Bill Clinton has managed to endure as a political figure. His is a peculiar appeal, testament perhaps to the lack of actionable evidence, some quality of the man, or, most likely, a combination of the two. Sympathy towards Clinton has also been driven, to some degree, by the public’s lack of affection for Hillary who, as Hitchens astutely observed:
has the most unappetizing combination of qualities to be met in many days’ march: she is a tyrant and a bully when she can dare to be, and an ingratiating populist when that will serve. […] [She] can in a close contest keep up with her husband for mendacity. Like him, she is not just a liar but a lie; a phoney construct of shreds and patches and hysterical, self-pitying, demagogic improvisations.
Judgements, opinions, perceptions and the muddled rest are all very different, of course, to facts. If we accept, at the very least, the DNA evidence condemning President Clinton, then we begin with some basis of reality. It’s where we go from there that is the problem. Both Left and Right clamour for salacious material but where do we draw the line? ‘The trouble,’ said David Corn in 1996,’ is that too often it prompts a critical reader to ask, Is this stuff for real? Are they that corrupt?’
We are still no closer to be able to answer that question which is really the unspoken issue of this election. Only Richard Nixon, in recent political history, evokes as many doubts as Bill Clinton and, as Clinton looks to have a clear sight of becoming the nation’s First Husband, it is testament to the partisan nature of the contest and how misinformation muddies the water so thoroughly that truths about the two men become indistinguishable from lies.