Apples and Oranges

One’s a Weiner, the Other a Hero: Why Bill and Hillary Have Nothing in Common With Anthony and Huma

The comparisons between Weiner and Clinton are absurd. One’s a loser, the other a great historical figure. And don’t get me started on Huma. By Michael Tomasky

07.25.13 8:45 AM ET

Here’s a piece of adulterated nonsense about the Anthony Weiner situation that needs nipping in the bud and quick: that this is somehow “like” the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal. I hate a number of things about my chosen profession, but as I slouch toward my third decade of doing this, I’ve come to hate nothing more than glib, facile, reflexive, and just ignorant comparisons. Clinton and Weiner: two powerful men caught up in sex scandals. They must be alike! Please.  The differences between the men and the circumstances are legion, and the blurring of those differences, aside from just making our culture that much stupider, do a profound disservice to what was at stake back in 1998.

Those differences begin with the personal. Say what you will about what Clinton did. It was bad, and he should not have been doing it with her. But at least the behavior fell broadly within the realm of stuff that normal human beings do. And at least he didn’t do it again within less than a year of being caught. About Weiner, on the other hand, we can make neither of those claims. If I were a woman, or gay, I’m pretty clear on which one of the two I’d rather be on the receiving end of advances from.

But that’s a side point. The real differences are political, and the essential fact is this: Clinton had a presidency to protect. Yes, yes, he almost threw it away; granted and stipulated. But whomever you choose to blame, the fact is that he was the sitting president, and there was no way—no way—he could possibly let the right wing set the precedent of forcing a president from office over a sex scandal that, it is well to recall, a quite large majority of Americans never considered grounds for removal from office.

Hillary, too. I remember well reading all those columns blubbering, how can she stay with him? I never understood what on earth they were talking about. How could she not have stayed with him? This was a plot by a group of people, and it wasn’t a plot to break up the Clinton marriage; it was a plot to find any reason they could to chase her husband from office. If she’d wanted to file divorce papers on January 21, 2001, that would have been her right and her business. But while he was in the White House? No way. They were fighting a coup d’état.

If you weren’t around then, or if you’ve forgotten, you may think that phrase an exaggeration. It most certainly is not. Go read about Richard Mellon Scaife and the Arkansas Project. Go read about Judge Laurence Silberman and his wife, Ricky. Go read about “the elves.” About what exactly Linda Tripp did, and what sort of person she was. And finally, about Ken Starr and his prosecutors, and their own set of willing little elves in the Washington media at the time, gleefully accepting prosecutorial leaks that were definitely unethical and arguably illegal in some cases, but printed breathlessly on A1 by a bunch of editors who felt cheated because they didn’t get to live through Watergate and were trying to create their own out of a few blow jobs.

Hillary was right. There was a vast right-wing conspiracy. You can quibble with the “vast” part, I guess, depending on how you define that word. But basically she was right. It was a witch hunt. Most of Washington had absolutely no understanding of that then. They, these people of official Washington, just refused to believe in 1998 that the conservative movement could be that malevolent and Machiavellian. They’re learning, slowly, the truth.

Why did they hate Clinton so? Because he was a substantial historical figure, and they knew it. Lee Atwater saw it in the 1980s: we have to stop that Clinton guy; he can change the face of American politics. And he helped do exactly that. Created more jobs than any modern president, in the process showing people that trickle-down economics was hoodoo. Won back a lot of the Reagan Democrats. Solidified the Democrats’ hold on a handful of states that they’ve never lost since 1992 but were losing before, and that add up to 60 or 70 electoral votes, depending on how you count. These are the reasons he was impeached. The sex was the excuse.

Can any of this be said about Mr. and Mrs. Weiner? He was a loud backbencher with very little of the substantive gravity of his old mentor, Chuck Schumer. He is just a self-centered and oily person, and I have begun to conclude that his wife isn’t much better. I’ve been shocked at the number of people who simply didn’t notice, or chose not to notice, the moment in the press conference when Anthony was asked when Huma learned of the allegations. I expected him to say he fessed up a few days ago. But instead he said: “She knew all along this process, as I was more and more honest with her. I told her everything. So this is something we knew going into the decision about whether I would run.”

That doesn’t make her a victim anymore. It makes her a co-conspirator.

So let’s not grant these grubby people the honor of a comparison with the couple that was on the receiving end of the most carefully orchestrated political attacks in modern American history. I pray that the next round of polls shows him dropping off the cliff, and he takes the hint. Or his big financial backers—or maybe Schumer?—call him and tell him to cease and desist. Enough is enough. And please, let’s cool it with the superficial comparisons that just aren’t true. They just serve to provide an excuse for actions that have none.