Without Bill Clinton there would be no second act for Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, or Mark Sanford.
B.C., or before Clinton, politicians caught with a prostitute, sharing crotch shots with anonymous strangers or disappearing to hike the trail—would be drummed out of office, never to return. But that was before the 42nd president wrote the modern playbook on how to come back from a sex scandal.
In the middle of the 1992 Democrat primary campaign, former Arkansas actress, model and lounge singer Gennifer Flowers came forward claiming to have had a 12-year affair with then-Governor Clinton. Team Clinton’s strategy was simple: Mix a non-denial denial with a dash of character assassination, all with your wife planted firmly at your side.
Clinton went on to place second in the New Hampshire primary, declare himself the “Comeback Kid” and go on to become the 42nd president of the United States. Only years later, in his best-selling 2004 autobiography, did Clinton confess that he indeed did have a sexual relationship with Flowers. But just once.
Now, let’s go to the era when big government was over—1997 and 1998— when Clinton had sex with an intern, in the Oval Office, and lied about it under oath. He was impeached but not convicted, so remained in office.
Today, Clinton is the most popular politician in America. His wife is likely to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.
So, here we are, in a world where a Spitzer, a Sanford, a Weiner, faced with public revelation of hooker, a mistress, or a Twitter account follow the lead of the original comeback kid. If the-non denial denial doesn’t cut it, go away for awhile, then go on TV, act contrite, talk about loss, how much you hurt your family and above all make it clear that you are dedicated to public service. Knowing all along, that, as Eliot Spitzer recently said, “you need skin as thick as a rhinoceros,” and the media will get eventually get bored and move on. During Spitzer’s recent appearance on Morning Joe, the words “prostitution,” “cheating on your wife” “Ashlee Dupree and Client No. 9” never even came up. Only Mark Halperin asked questions that made the former governor really squirm.
Maybe we don’t care. Maybe we are becoming more like Europe where politicians’ sex lives, while still tabloid fodder, become irrelevant in the voting booth. Maybe we’ve become so partisan that disdain for the other party trumps any personal peccadilloes (legal or illegal) that your candidate brings to the ballot box.
Either way, we can thank Clinton for showing the path out of the shadows of scandal, how to bite the lip, ride out the storm, and get back in the arena.
Because we all know that public service is just that important.