About a month ago, Rand Paul began swinging around the name Monica Lewinsky like a dead cat, hoping to hit whatever was within reach. It came from such guileless desperation that I paid no attention to it. Is it really possible to galvanize the public with a fifteen year-old scandal that had only gotten as big as it had because it had been the fruition of a cynical, all-out effort to impeach Bill Clinton before he’d even been inaugurated? We all remember the house of cards that was “Whitewater,” don’t we? (And if you don’t, the reappearance of Monica Lewinsky suggests you’ll get at least one more opportunity to hear about it.)
So I was surprised when, going into the second week of February, I saw Rand’s inflammatory comments still getting traction in the news. Despite my better judgment, I read what Rand had to say. After all, while it was clear he was going after Hillary by bringing up the Lewinsky affair, I didn’t know how he was blaming her for it. Perhaps he claimed she was Bill’s bawd, procuring interns to satiate his reckless sexual appetite. I’ll admit; I was titillated by the prospect.
The truth was odder and less exciting than that. Apparently, Rand was invoking the name Monica Lewinsky to counter charges that the GOP is, as one news source put it, “waging a war against women.” Before you give Rand’s claim another thought, scrunch up your face, and say, “But that don’t make a lick of sense,” know this: it doesn’t. One is completely within the realm of rational thinking to have expected Rand would defend the GOP against such accusations by showing us party platforms, policies, and laws articulated and put in place by the GOP that are clearly pro-women.
Instead, Paul wants to show us how the Democrats, supposedly the party fighting on the side of women, aren’t exactly innocent of anti-women behavior. After all, he inveighs, they gave Bill Clinton a free pass after Clinton so amply demonstrated that he was a sexual predator. In essence, then, Paul’s argument is: “The GOP isn’t waging a war against women because the Democrats don’t care about women, either.” It is the kind of logic employed in grade school playgrounds: “But I didn’t do anything wrong! Zach was pulling Suzie’s hair, too.” Still, no matter how much you point at other people for committing the same crime you’re accused of, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do it.
It’s worth noting that Rand’s comments take one more ironic twist that reveals the GOP’s lack of sensitivity that troubles many women. If I would hazard a guess, the person most affected by the return of the name “Monica Lewinsky” to front page news is Monica Lewinsky. Unlike the Clintons, Lewinsky became a public figure by accident. It is hard to imagine when the scandal originally broke that she wasn’t more sensitive to the headlines than Bill had been—she wasn’t used to being in the headlines or being the top story on the evening news like the Clintons had been.
There’s also no doubt she came out of the affair worse than Bill did. It is her name that’s linked to the scandal, and too often she was the object of lazy jokes on late night television. I remember David Letterman telling Monica Lewinsky jokes years after Bush had taken office. Perhaps he stopped telling them after his affairs with Late Show interns were revealed, though I wouldn’t bet on it. Regardless, people still say derogatory things about Lewinsky, which usually, just beneath the surface, reveal discomfort with, if not outright antagonism against, female desire.
Bill Clinton, on the other hand, has never been more popular. His approval ratings are higher than Obama’s. And while that might not be a surprise given how beleaguered the Obama administration has been recently, it is more surprising that Bill polls even higher than Michelle, and everybody loves her. Bill and Hillary will weather this storm, but how will it impact Lewinsky? Does anybody know? Does anybody care? Rand Paul sure doesn’t. He’s just trying to make a name for himself in the crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls. Following Rand’s own logic, though, doesn’t that mean that Bill Clinton really wasn’t mistreating Lewinsky, and so by extension, that the Democrats really aren’t waging a war against women? After all, Rand is treating her with abusive disregard.