Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, February 16, 2015

A toast to Bill Clinton

Dear Hannah,

I know it sounds strange to say -- and maybe we should keep this a secret from my dad -- but one of the presidents I'm happy to think about is Bill Clinton.  To be completely honest, I don't know much about anything he did as president, because I was too young to be paying attention.  What does make me happy is that he proves to me, on some level, that we have evolved significantly in our ideas about women.

On some level it's a shame he was caught cheating on his wife in the Oval Office; on some level it shows he didn't hold the office or his vows in very high regard.  Although I wonder whether, as President, there's any place better to have an affair, and any woman better to cheat on than Hillary.  It may also be true that his persecution over the whole matter may have been politically motivated.  But even if the whole Republican Party and The Drudge Report really just wanted him in trouble because people are party-spirited and vindictive (Newt Gingrich, if I remember correctly, was pointing his finger at Bill while having an affair of his own), it proves that the common public still cares (or recently cared) about the sex lives of powerful men enough to take the accusations seriously.

This is important for more than just our national ideas about marriage and vows and such -- however much a few of us are always being led around by our hearts instead of our heads.  Any woman with a healthy sense of dignity and self-preservation should be happy a president can be brought before the House over a simple affair.  In older days, powerful men used to be covered in women -- some ladies wanting to be there, and others who didn't.  In fact, in our day, we call women who are paid money for sexual services and entertainment prostitutes; back then, they had a nicer sounding name for the prostitutes in royal courts.  They called them courtesans (which means the kings of France and England, if nobody else, might have been proud of us for renaming torture enhanced interrogation and toilet paper bath tissue).  But then again, any woman who's beautiful and interesting enough to get a king's attention is likely a grade above the others in her profession.  Aspasia sold her body for money; but she also steered the policy of Pericles and influenced kingdoms.  You can call her a whore, if you'd like -- but a whore who manages all the leading men is more than a prostitute.  She's an unofficial vizier.  Cleopatra was a queen, and consolidated her power (at least temporarily) by being a lover to both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  One was a queen, the other one an expensive whore: both ruled, in a sense, by the sheer power of feminine charm.

On the other hand, there were the women who didn't really want to be romantically involved with powerful men at all.  Will Durant notes a very interesting story in The Reformation, about France's hunchbacked Charles VIII who was invited to stay with the nobles of Milan.  After arriving and being comfortably housed, he was soon presented with a beautiful girl -- who from what he could tell was very unhappy to be there.  Thankfully for her, his soul wasn't as crooked as his back: asking her whether there was anyone she loved, he found she did, and he immediately arranged for her and the young man to be married essentially at his expense. 

I imagine that if it hadn't been for her running into this hunchbacked saint, she would have been tossed around the king's friends and possibly stayed a whore for the rest of her life.  This kind of thing was common back then, and had been common until The Age of Reason, when we decided that men in power shouldn't be able to force young girls to have sex with them -- or even that they should be able to pay extravagant amounts of money to violate someone's unfortunate daughter even if she is willing (like people used to say about factory employees being mangled and worked to death of their "own free will").  Karl Marx noted this moral inconsistency between the classes, which led him to take the low road and say everyone should be able to share wives in a community of women, instead of taking the high road and saying nobody should treat women like prostitutes.  Thankfully we have taken the high road.  The fact that we view prostitution so lowly today proves that we're better than our forefathers, if in nothing, at least in this respect.

This last year, Bill Cosby was accused of somewhere around fourteen counts of rape.  I don't know whether the allegations are true, but certainly we can agree that the number of them makes Bill suspicious.  It could all be a political assassination, since Cosby has made a number of people angry, or it could be that he actually raped a lot of women.  I have no concrete proof either way.  But if Bill Cosby can frighten enough women into being silent simply because he's a famous comedian, then certainly we can imagine a powerful politician can do much worse.  Some ladies claimed Clinton raped them, and they may be telling the truth.  Knowing the incredible power of a woman's accusation and the near lack of responsibility for false accusers, they could also be liars.  But Bill Clinton got in trouble with Monica because of something entirely consensual -- which means that there's one more barrier between the rich and powerful raping our sisters and daughters.  I toast to Bill Clinton, because he reminds me that if things have gotten ugly, they haven't gotten that ugly.  They will undoubtedly be that ugly again.  As a free people, it's important that we keep our standards high enough so that they don't.

Your father,

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