Did Bill Clinton really think he could dodge #MeToo?

Did Bill Clinton really think he could dodge #MeToo?
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Former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDem senator ties Kavanaugh confirmation vote to Trump-Putin controversy Don't place all your hopes — or fears — on a new Supreme Court justice Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? MORE launched a book tour for his novel co-authored with James Patterson, "The President is Missing," over the weekend. And, thus far, it's been an unmitigated disaster, albeit a telling one, in terms of what his legacy will always be: the Monica Lewinsky affair.  

That may be fair or unfair but, if the gauge is what many people want to talk about first when Bill Clinton's name is raised, that's what you call a legacy. 

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The former Boston Red Sox first baseman, Bill Buckner, knows this. He was a fine hitter during his 20-year major league career, even won a batting title in 1980. But bring up Buckner and the only vision anyone has is that slow grounder from Mookie Wilson trickling under his glove to hand Game 6 and, eventually, the World Series to the Mets in '86. 

 

And that's Clinton. A solid president who presided over a strong peacetime economy for the most part while moving to the center to work with Republicans on issues like welfare reform. But then Monica came along — and the affair in the Oval Office, with all the sordid details (and evidence via the infamous blue dress), were made public via the Drudge Report. Anything and everything Clinton had accomplished was blotted out by the affair, the president's denial before confessing, and the impeachment that followed. 

But special prosecutor Ken Starr overplayed his hand, in the eyes of the public, in investigating Clinton, as did congressional Republicans at the time. Result: Clinton became a sympathetic figure and eventually left office with a 65 percent approval rating, according to Gallup, the highest since Harry Truman.  

Fast forward 20 years to Monday's "Today" show. 

Instead of a fluffy interview about his novel, Clinton had to field questions he hasn't faced in two decades involving Lewinsky. And the 71-year-old didn't particularly appreciate being asked by NBC's Craig Melvin if he had apologized to his former intern directly, and even went so far as to attack the interviewer while portraying himself as a victim.  


"I left the White House $16 million in debt [from legal fees], but you typically have ignored gaping facts in describing this, and I bet you don’t even know them," Clinton scolded when pressed by Melvin. 

"This was litigated 20 years ago," he continued. "Two-thirds of the American people sided with me. They were not insensitive to that. I had a sexual harassment policy when I was governor in the '80s. I had two women chiefs of staff when I was governor. Women were overrepresented in the attorney general’s office in the '70s, for their percentage in the bar. I have had nothing but women leaders in my office since I left. You are giving one side and omitting facts."

In early 1998, the narrative coming out of the White House and straight to most of the Washington political class was essentially this: The president's personal life has nothing to do with his ability to perform in his job as president. The two can be mutually exclusive. The affair was consensual.  

"I intend to reclaim my family life for my family," Clinton said back then. "It’s nobody's business but ours. Even presidents have private lives. It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life." 

And the narrative worked.  

Here's how Tina Brown described how she viewed Clinton in a New Yorker magazine piece in 1998 after the affair had been in the public domain for a few weeks: “Now see your President, tall and absurdly debonair, as he dances with a radiant blonde, his wife … . Amid the clichés about his charm, his glamour is undersung … . Forget the dog-in-the-manger, down-in-the-mouth neo-puritanism of the op-ed tumbrel drivers, and see him instead as his guests do: a man in a dinner jacket with more heat than any star in the room." 

Famed feminist Gloria Steinem also backed Clinton in a March 1998 op-ed for the New York Times titled, "Why Feminists Support Clinton."

"The news media’s obsession with sex qua sex is offensive to some, titillating to many and beside the point to almost everybody," Steinem argued at the time. "Like most feminists, most Americans become concerned about sexual behavior when someone’s will has been violated; that is, when 'no' hasn’t been accepted as an answer." 

But 2018 is the #MeToo era. And the Clintons are expendable now that Hillary is (likely) not running for president for a third time. Her approval rating is at its lowest its ever been (36 percent in Gallup), thanks to a never-ending book tour of her own where she blames everyone but the Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith for the 2016 loss, in what has amounted to a months-long petulant public therapy session.  

So with all of those factors, enter Craig Melvin and those who will follow his interview approach with the same kind of questions surrounding Clinton's legacy: Lewinsky. 

The man affectionately known as "Bubba" was likely expecting an easy ride during his book tour. 

It will be anything but. 

For a master politician who always had a knack for correctly gauging the mood of the country, the lack of self-awareness around how this was all going to go at the height of the #MeToo era is downright shocking. 

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.