- Terelle Jerricks
BOOK REVIEW: ONE NATION UNDER SEX by Larry Flynt and David Eisenbach (Palgrave, MacMillian 2011)
By Lyn Jensen
Viewing America through its major political sex scandals—whether Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson or Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton–casts a perverse but revealing light on our history. Further, how the press is free to handle (or not) such stories is as major a force as the facts.
“There really is an all-powerful force that shapes our nation. That force is sex,” argue odd couple Larry Flynt and David Eisenbach in their recent book One Nation Under Sex. Nowhere is this argument more relevant than the chapter on Clinton and Lewinsky. Undeniably Flynt and Eisenbach’s solid research provides a clearer picture of the whole slimy mess than anything Fox News and the rest of the mainstream American press has yet managed, but some of the authors’ conclusions appear faulty.
By the time of Clinton’s presidency, Nation notes, “The late twentieth-century American media had come to resemble the nineteenth-century press, with no professional code of journalistic ethics to keep private affairs from becoming public scandals.” Working against such a backdrop, Clinton’s enemies aimed to impeach the president from almost the very moment he was sworn into office, and spent most of the next six years fixing facts around their goal.
Thanks to years of lurid wall-to-wall 24/7 coverage, Americans have been force-fed the general outline of the Lewinsky scandal, but this book provides pertinent details. When prosecutor Kenneth Starr could find no criminal conduct over the Whitewater real estate affair, he turned to women linked to Clinton, hoping as Nation puts it, “to discover pillow talk about Whitewater.”
Starr found Paula Jones, and the media was complacent in brushing aside a question of whether or not she and Clinton were ever even in the same hotel room at the same time.
Around the same time someone close to Bill’s wife Hillary became suspicious Bill and Monica were “fooling around” (as Monica later called it) and Monica was transferred to the Pentagon, where Linda Tripp worked.
Lewinsky proved unable to keep her mouth shut in more ways than one, and Tripp began taping their conversations “like a two-bit J. Edgar Hoover,” as Flynt and Eisenbach put it. With the transparent motive of writing a book for agent Lucianne Goldberg, Tripp took the tapes to Starr, and all Hell broke loose.
Tripp wasn’t just a greedy federal employee, however, and Goldberg wasn’t just a disreputable book agent. Both were Republican operatives. Tripp had worked closely for the elder Bush, while Goldberg had dug up dirt on McGovern for Nixon.
Once Starr had Tripp’s tapes, he attempted to entrap Clinton. The night before Clinton was deposed regarding what he did or didn’t do with Jones, federal agents cornered Lewinsky. They threatened her—and her mother—with jail time for perjury and other crimes unless she agreed to wear a wire and get Clinton to admit he planned to lie his way out of the Jones rap.
Monica refused and asked for her lawyer. The agents stalled, so she asked to speak to her mother. That’s when she was famously told, “You’re smart, you’re old enough, you don’t need to call your mommy.”
She was finally released to her mother but Clinton was unaware of the incident when he testified the next day he did not have “sexual relations” with Lewinsky.
“If there is any hero in this saga, it’s Monica Lewinsky, who withstood hours of badgering by FBI agents and prosecutors yet steadfastly refused to entrap the president,” argue the authors.
“By the fall of 1998 the public seemed to accept their president had lied under oath but made an allowance because he was lying about sex,” the book continues, “The impeachment of Bill Clinton failed because Americans thought their president was doing a good job.”
This oversimplifies Clinton’s defense, which gave us the term “Clintonian” for when something may be true but only in the narrowest sense, something the book doesn’t mention. The president’s lawyers—without actually stating as such—drew a distinction between lying and perjury. Clinton may have lied, maybe even under oath, but he was never proved guilty of perjury. Even some Republicans admitted the evidence was contradictory.
Nation also falters by wasting several paragraphs mulling over any connection (or not) between Monicagate and 9/11. The truth needs only one simple sentence: 9/11 didn’t happen on Clinton’s watch.
Neither is the assertion that the goal of Republicans was to force Clinton from office through either impeachment or resignation. That was merely a distraction from their true goal, which was to taint the Clinton legacy and disrupt the 2000 election, something Flynt and Eisenbach ignore.
Actually the scandal caused Al Gore to distance himself from the president he’d served so ably for so long—and outraged just enough conservatives in just enough swing states that Florida mattered. If Gore had mustered the same numbers in the same states Clinton did in 1992 and 1996, there would have been no need for any recount or Bush v. Gore decision. That ‘s how Monicagate brought us to the state we’re in today.