The one and only U.S. president from Arkansas would like to restrict the discussion to the newly-published mystery novel he has co-authored. Perhaps he’ll be able to do so when he comes to Little Rock along with James Patterson, his literary partner; after all, it’s his native turf, and he’d like to leave all that Monica Lewinsky stuff in the past, and perhaps those reporters in attendance will not have a chance to toss a question about the episode, or if they do, simply leave it alone. And what more could he say about it than what he’s already said, in his first appearances on a book tour that saw fewer questions about the book than the book he had thrown at him nearly a quarter-century ago?
He dodged that book, with some bi-partisan help from the U.S. Senate, but it dogs him, dogs him anew. Witness the exchanges he has had thus far with network television journalists, who could hardly have avoided bringing up the Lewinsky matter and the subsequent impeachment trial, when what Bill Clinton wanted to talk about was the missing president of the new book’s title. The interviews, or Clinton’s responses, have turned testy when the subject turned to the upheaval represented by the #MeToo movement, which has revived the awful events of 1998, viewed by many now through a different prism.
He thought he and the country were past that. Justice Clarence Thomas would sympathize. As things evolved, past was prologue. Sort of.
No matter that “that woman” acknowledged that their relationship was consensual (she has since termed his conduct “a gross abuse of power”): two decades later came Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Kevin Spacey. Steve Wynn and other high-profile business executives. A half-dozen U.S. congressmen. And still another U.S. president. Powerful men, or were. Men of the left and right, a few perhaps politically indifferent; a majority of them enormously wealthy or otherwise privileged, schooled by experience or associates or mass adulation to conclude that accountability was improbable if not impossible, that culpability was scarcely a concept. Complaints, even the threat of litigation, could be buried in deep pockets.
The boldfaced names still have money, many millions, more than enough to buy them escape of a sort, though not necessarily the law. But they have been stripped of the thing they may have most treasured: their public and professional esteem. Their aura. And now they know, as the former president has long known, how the first paragraphs of their obituaries will read.
Unlike Clinton, they will find it difficult unto impossible to create new lives, to resurrect the personae that propelled them. Clinton was in his mid-50s upon leaving the White House and, buoyed by a sizzling economy and the clumsiness of his legal and congressional adversaries, was astonishingly popular; he never left the world stage, just kept going. The prominent men brought low in recent days by their abuse of women, acknowledged or alleged, tend to be older, less facile, unskilled in the subtleties of persuasion. And to whatever degree it may matter — to many it matters not a whit — the cases against them appear rather stronger, the circumstances and the offenses more overtly carnal.
Clinton will never go to ground. It is the imperative of his personal and political metabolism — to remain in the game. He will keep going because he cannot not keep going.
Here’s something else that will keep going, and another Arkansan figures into it. The Miss America pageant’s governing council has decided the annual contest no longer will include the swimsuit competition. Just one change since the pageant was shaken by uncouth e-mail exchanges between its previous, male overseers. The pageant’s new chief executive officer is Regina Hopper, a former Miss Arkansas. Worked in TV for a while, then in law and lobbying in New York and Washington.
Judging by its television ratings, untold numbers of Americans may be unaware that the pageant is still around; in recent years one network after another has declined to carry it, citing steadily smaller audiences. Not even permitting two-piece suits could attract viewers of the scale and demographic advertisers covet. The Miss Arkansas sweepstakes is said to continue to draw big crowds at Hot Springs. As at Atlantic City, there are college scholarships to be had. Maybe some careers to boost.
It’s for Ms. Hopper and the other women of the Miss America organization to do what they pledge to do: make the pageant a display of character and talent instead of something else. To make it relevant instead of a relic. They look for inspiration to men who have proved themselves relics.