Are these the standards voters really want?
I recall the moment when the press finally turned against Bill Clinton.
In 1998, I was a junior writer at U.S. News & World Report, then (for the children in the audience) an actual, physical weekly magazine, useful for pressing leaves or as packing material. When the word came that there was a blue dress stained with actual, physical, genetic evidence, it was the consensus of veteran journalists along the hallway that Clinton was gone, gone, gone, through either resignation or impeachment. Clinton had, as A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times later wrote, “gambled the moral, political and historic reputation of the Presidency — showing what he thought of the office and himself.”
But Clinton saved himself though a remarkable display of brazen, combative defiance against his accusers and the media. There must be some ancient Greek word for this tragically impressive human attribute. It might be translated “shameless fortitude” or maybe “sleazy grit.” Whatever it is called, Americans in large numbers found it persuasive, particularly when compared with the alternative.
Yet the practical effect of Clinton’s political victory, in a phrase of the time, was to “define deviancy down.” He had changed the boundaries of the ethically acceptable — in the character we expect from a president and in the behavior of powerful men toward young women in their employ. In the end, Clinton stood; standards fell.