The most significant woman in the World in the last 20 years was a very young White House Intern. No, not the best, or the brightest, or the most powerful, woman in the world, but the most significant, the one whose existence changed history the most.
Look powerful male leaders have always taken advantage of their power (that “powerful aphrodisiac” as Kissinger put it, and I guess he knew) to take advantage of young women. But there have also been many extramarital relationships for leaders apparently based on equality of personal power. Millions of both kinds over the centuries, including Kings (and two of the Queens) of England.
So why do I single out the Clinton-Lewinsky “relationship” [hard to think of word here] for special mention? Two reasons.
Going back through time many American presidents have had extra-marital relationships. Even in relatively recent times of course we have Kennedy (and in very different way perhaps Eisenhower, though before he became President) and perhaps Carter (though he seems not to have inhaled). None of the other recent presidents seem to have (and most seem very unlikely to have, but who knows the mysteries of human attraction?) as far as we know.
Recent British political leaders? Seems not. There was of course Profumo (but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?), though that’s about all.
And Australian leaders, senior politicians? Well, there was Hawke and D’Alpuget, and presumably Gorton and Gotto. Then there was Cairns and Morosi (did I imagine it being said recently that it was young John Howard, of all people, who discovered them in a broom cupboard or something?), and Evans and Kernot, and that’s about it to my knowledge.
But the thing about all those is that little or nothing was said about most of it in the Press at the time, no front page compromising photos, no salacious titbits read out by radio shock jocks. Nor great political capital made, presumably on the basis that those in the glass houses of as yet undiscovered indiscretions probably better pull the blinds down. Oh there was some “Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink” but then it was “Say no more” and that was that.
But with Bill Clinton it all changed and the political world would never be the same again. His “indiscretion” with young Monica Lewinsky was turned into a weapon to smash his Presidency, impeach him for heaven’s sake. Look, sure, it was inappropriate use of power in workplace, no question, bad behaviour. Should have been punished, and steps taken to look at the structures of the White House in terms of sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But the reaction was far out of proportion, and it seemed clear Ms Lewinsky was being used by powerful forces who hadn’t the slightest interest in sexual mores.
Soon made obvious by the trotting out of a whole lot of more mature and non-White House ladies, all apparently called Gennifer (having the same names may have made things confusing, or simpler, I guess), though my memory may be faulty, said to have had relations with Clinton. And on and on. So effectively that the business of government was badly impacted, paralysed, as lawyers and committees proliferated, and shock jocks pontificated. Which was of course the aim, the start of the new tactics by the Right in America to make it impossible for a Democratic President ever to effectively rule again, as Obama has now discovered.
You could argue that taking private lives from off-limits and into the Blitzkrieg Politics that Attwater and Rove introduced meant that nothing would ever again be unthinkable as a political tactic. Swiftboating, Birtherism, Filibustering, Sequestering, and just plain Racism all were legitimised in a sense when Monica’s red dress, and descriptions of Clinton’s genitals, were accepted as legitimate political discourse.
And it only got worse. Clinton was so politically damaged by the unprecedented all-out assault that in turn he was no use to, in fact counter-productive for, the Gore presidential candidacy. Instead of being able to build on his role in a succesful and productive presidency, and use the once very popular Clinton in the campaign, Gore was effectively forced to campaign by cutting loose from his history, his actual qualification for the top job. Ms Lewinsky’s red dress had stained Gore’s campaign, and the stain could not be removed. The result, as we know, was to end in the tears of the hanging chads (in itself another development o tactics in the absolute lust for power of the Right), and, incredibly, the election of the most foolish and incompetent man ever to hold the Presidency.
And the result of that, of course, was 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the rise of terrrorism and the mad-brained “war on terror”, loss of political freedoms for Americans and others who copied them, trillions of dollars in unfunded expenditure compounded by tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of banks, the eventual virtual collapse of the world finances, and the continuing failure of American action on climate change as the world slowly melted.
So, a major shift in not just American history and society, but that of the whole world, a shift that has continued to resonate for twenty years, and goes on. And a big influence even on the fate of the actual planet we all live on. A thousand consequences launched, unexpectedly, at the first time a vivacious young lady walked into the Oval Office.
Helen of Troy? Pffft!
Although, wait a moment, wasn’t it actually Bill of Arkansas who launched the thousand war ships, Clinton himself who pulled the temple down?
Helen of Troy? Reinstated.