Last night at the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton delivered a long, winding speech about the lifetime he has spent with Hillary Clinton. The goal was for viewers to see Hillary through Bill’s eyes, to learn more about her on a personal level, from his courtship of her to the work she did before she was one of the most famous women in the world.
The speech started with Bill rehashing an oft-told story about his wooing of Hillary when they were in school together at Yale. His speech began:
In the spring of 1971, I met a girl. The first time I saw her, we were, appropriately enough, in a class on political and civil rights. She had thick blond hair, big glasses. Wore no makeup. And she exuded this strength of self-possession I found magnetic.
After the class, I followed her out, intending to introduce myself. I got close enough to touch her back, but I couldn’t do it.
The image of Bill contemplating his seduction of a woman is an interesting place to start, considering, of course, that, as president, he was formally impeached for repeatedly being blown by Monical Lewinsky. In their post-speech analysis, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd raised this point immediately, but there’s something funny about the segment, which you can watch below:
[There was a video here]
A transcript of the relevant portion:
Maddow: I may be alone in the world having felt this way, but I felt like the top of the speech was pretty risky and almost shocking depending on how you were listening for it. Not just in defining Hillary Clinton’s early career in terms of her marriage to Bill Clinton, but also starting off on this long sort of cute riff about him having a crush on a girl and being infatuated and trying to get—given the history of their marriage and how it interfered with his presidency, it was a pretty risky place to start.
Todd: Yeah but they’ve stayed together. There’s gotta be a reason they’ve always stayed together. So I don’t know. I guess I hear where you’re going with that but, uh, I think that’s why he went down that road. He seemed to allude to their ups-and-downs a couple of times. I think one time he referred to heartbreak, um, uh, when talking about the things they’ve gone through together.
What you may notice here is a pile of euphemisms—“the history of their marriage,” “their ups-and-downs,” “the things they’ve gone through together”—that avoid the reality of what Bill Clinton did, like a kid trying to turn his nose away from the wafting steam of microwaved broccoli.
Bill Clinton, as president, fucked around on his wife, who is now running for president. You can understand why the Clintons would want to omit this fact when talking about their past together, but there’s no reason for the press to dance around it. It is not gossip. It is a recorded fact of history that triggered the most scrutinized scandal of a generation.
For whatever reason, this phenomenon seemed generally contained to this stuttering discussion between Todd and Maddow, who perhaps have learned to kowtow to some imagined idea of decorum as they’ve ascended up the network ladder. Shortly after that segment ended, Brian Williams spoke to conservative talking head Nicole Wallace, who managed to use the word “affair.” This morning, MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle returned to the point about Bill Clinton opening his speech with an extended tale of skirt-chasing, saying:
If we’re talking about authenticity and trustworthiness, this is Bill Clinton. He wants to talk summer of 1971. Other people could say how about the Monica Lewinsky summer? Why put yourself in this position? Why have Bill do this?
Monica Lewinsky’s name is not a curse. It’s okay to say it. Phrases like “the things they’ve gone through together” are meaningless. Worse is that speaking about Bill Clinton’s affairs in hushed tones only re-scandalizes them, which in turn only re-weaponizes them. Bill and Hillary will never escape his affairs, of course, but speaking around them—as if they are still a closely guarded secret—drags us back to a time when Matt Drudge had the power to spark a national moral hysteria, and the Republicans had the Clintons practically lined up at the gallows. Really, it’s the last thing anyone needs.