I don’t think about Bill Clinton much, but when my generation hears his name, one very specific thing comes to mind: the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Before writing this blog, I did some superficial Google searches on him and some seemingly monumental things during his presidency occurred that I had no prior knowledge of; his Whitewater scandal, implementation of the Don’t ask, don’t tell policy, and failed health care reform attempts. While learning about other presidencies in history during grade school, those are the kinds of things we were taught. For Bill Clinton, we were introduced to the extramarital affair.
I asked around one night wondering what people thought about our nation’s 42nd president. Because what is a (semi)journalist without his or her sources of opinion? The answers had nothing to do with his presidency at all. Most of the responses I received were non-committal statements revolving around his sex scandal. Snippets of our conversations ranged from “Oh he’s the man,” to “cheating scumbag,” and even “poor Hillary.”
The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook written by Brant Houston touches on the subject of public figures in the media spotlight. He emulates some situations in which it would or would not be ethical or even necessary to expose private behaviors of such figures, like the president. One of the first questions he says to ask yourself is, does it matter if an elected official is involved in an extramarital affair?
Since this is the first question he poses, it speaks to me a lot. Does is matter? I say no. His affair is a private matter, between him and his wife, not him, his wife, and the other 300 million people of the United States.
Official articles from during his trial of impeachment stated that Clinton was in violation of his constitutional oath to be president “to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States…” These are important duties of our president, but having an affair with Monica Lewinsky didn’t impede his ability to carry out his job in these areas.
His private behavior had nothing to do with his duty as president, nor was it notably affecting his performance. In fact, according to a poll done by CBS News, Clinton’s presidency ended at a high level of public approval, rating among both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
We just shouldn’t let his affair overcloud his entire history as president and a public figure like we allow today. America enjoyed the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in history during his control, his foreign policy achievements in Bosnia saved many lives. Of course we hold our presidents to a higher standard. They are our nations leader. But letting this affair dominate his reputation seems to be overbearing, and undermines our media’s job as public agenda setters. We’ve thrived on this scandal far too long.
Bill Clinton has redefined his tarnished name. Since leaving the Oval Office, he has been involved in public speaking and humanitarian work to address international causes.
Clinton’s affair still hangs over his head, but it is not what America should remember about him. If it had affected his presidential duties, then it is justified to put him in that light, like a lot of people currently do. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be changing.