This week is “Sex Week” at the Rival, which is a difficult time for me because I normally write about politics, and political issues usually aren’t sexy. My last article was about judicial confirmations, which are as sexy as an oil painting of Chris Christie in a thong. But this weekend an idea caught my fancy, like a busty intern wandering past Bill Clinton’s roving eye.
It is common to hear Hillary Clinton and her supporterscomplain that she has to deal with such-and-such scrutiny or criticism, on the grounds that it is inordinate and motivated by obsession or hatred, maybe even sexism. These folks are dedicated to the proposition that the controversies surrounding their candidate are the work of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” laboring to besmirch the reputation of the honorable Hillary Sese Seko, Queen Bae of Chappaqua and Smasher of the Patriarchy. This isapparent when Hillary is confronted with her husband’s sexual indiscretions, ranging from ludicrous frat-boy antics to harrowing accusations of rape. The line from Clintonites is that it is insulting to ask Hillary to answer for her husband’s behavior, and this is indicative of Republicans’ antiquated, sexist conceptions of women and marriage.
I agree that holding Hillary responsible for her husband’s behavior, which is the route taken by the feckless orange-skinned lummox and serial adulterer currently leading the Republican polls, is unseemly. However, I take issue with the notion that poor Hillary is being unjustly pilloried by the media in a manner that no man has to deal with. This is a preposterous claim that serves only to further the cult of victimhood surrounding an elderly white plutocrat who has routinely been paid ungodly sums to expound her trite, uninspiring banalities, and is attended by a party establishment and court of mediaminstrels whose devotion is so slavish, actual lemmings tell them to think for themselves.
Is Hillary’s situation really the worst a candidate has had to deal with on account of his/her spouse’s alleged sins? The best way to answer that is with a story. Attune thine ears, young ones, while the greybeard tells of a time when American sex scandals came with body counts.
It was 1828, and America stood at a crossroads. John Quincy Adams, son of the Founding Father John Adams and representative of what we might call “the Establishment,” was running against the insurgent populist Andrew Jackson. Desperate Adams supporters dug up a salacious story about Jackson and his wife, Rachel, whom Old Hickory loved dearly. Rachel had previously been unhappily married to another man, Lewis Robards, before she and Jackson fell in love, whereupon she divorced Robards and married Jackson in 1788. However, her divorce papers had not been completed, and Rachel unknowingly married Jackson while still legally married to Robards, meaning that for a short period of time, she was technically a bigamist. The matter was cleared up, the divorce papers finalized, and Rachel and Jackson remarried in 1794.
Adams’ supporters turned this into a major issue, casting Rachel as a licentious adulteress and Jackson as her home-wrecking paramour. Jackson fought these tactics ferociously and defeated Adams, but the ordeal was incredibly damaging to Rachel, whose mental and physical health was deteriorating. She died shortly after Jackson’s electoral triumph in 1828. Historians and medical experts are still uncertain as to the cause of her death: she died of a heart attack, and her heart problems dated back to 1825, but the degradation of her health was rapid and sudden, leading many to believe that she simply lost the will to live, and this played a role in her death. According to this explanation, which Jackson believed throughout his life, the allegations against her so damaged the gentle and soft-hearted Rachel that they caused enough stress to help induce her heart attack. Jackson, famously neither gentle nor soft-hearted, never forgot, and thenceforth treated his political opponents with legendary hostility. On his deathbed, his only stated regrets were that he did not kill Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, the latter of whom was his vice president.
Bill Clinton is, in case you haven’t noticed, still alive. His smirking visage still haunts our political landscape, and he has largely escaped punishment for being, at best, a lecherous cad, at worst a sexual predator. He shows no sign of it having bothered him; and unlike Rachel Jackson, he actually did something wrong. The treatment that his wife has received from the media and opposing campaigns surrounding his behavior may be at times unseemly and inappropriate, but it is not any worse than what male politicians with bizarre or embarrassing histories surrounding their marriages have received throughout our history; indeed, in many cases it is far less vicious. The point is not that it is fair to go after Hillary about Bill’s infidelity but merely that such things are par for the course in politics, and those who would seek to wield power ought to grow the hell up and deal with them instead of whining about how they’re being treated unfairly. To scream “sexism!” in response to what is normal for any politician, regardless of sex, is not to demand fairness but special treatment.