Sen. Rand Paul, echoed by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, think they’ve got a real game-changer in response to claims that the GOP is waging a “war on women:” bring back Monica Lewinsky! Reminding Americans of the Lewinsky scandal, you see, will not only provide a distraction from the godless liberal idea that letting women control their own reproductive systems and obtain equal pay are relevant measures of what it means to be “pro-women,” but will also cause problems for Hillary Clinton if she runs for president in 2016! Brilliant, eh?
You’d think it might occur to Paul and Priebus that the Lewinsky scandal didn’t work out all that well for the GOP when it was actually in the news every day. Indeed, since we are in a second-term midterm election year, some bright Republican number-cruncher might point out that Lewinsky-mania contributed materially to the previously unimaginable loss of Republican House seats in the second-term midterm election of 1998. Add in the fact that the Lewinsky scandal created considerable sympathy for Hillary Clinton, and general appreciation of her toughness and capacity to forgive, and it’s not terribly obvious why it’s a good thing for Republicans to keep bringing up.
There is, however, a meta-message here that is worth thinking through. Many conservatives sincerely believe that abandonment of a stoutly patriarchal society has been a disaster for women: they’ve lost the stability of “traditional marriage,” the presumption men will be held accountable for their material welfare, the chivalric accommodation of their weaknesses, the ability to concentrate on child-rearing and home-making, and most of all, the exemption from the terrible burdens of bread-winning, decision-making, and sexual autonomy. In exchange they have obtained all sorts of empty tokens of independence—some actively unnatural, like the “right to kill their babies”—while men have been liberated to act out on their true nature as perpetual children and sexual predators.
Unsurprisingly, the Clintons have always fascinated conservatives as symbols of the dark side of post-patriarchal society: the mendacious man-boy endlessly on the prowl for female flesh married to the hardened, de-feminized striver. Some writer (I cannot conjure up a link) once observed that Bill Clinton drove conservatives crazy with his seductive ability to get women to sleep with him and vote for him. And so he and his wife nicely embody what conservatives instinctively consider the superficial and ultimately deadly allure of liberalism to women.
The Lewinsky scandal mesmerized conservatives in no small part because they thought it exposed the fundamental misogyny (understood as hostility to women’s innate role in life, assigned by God and nature alike) that underlay liberalism’s shiny offer of freedom and equality for women. So they will keep bringing it up, whether it works politically or not. They just can’t help themselves.
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