Josh Marshall has been arguing that Democrats should worry that the attacks on Condit by Republicans are helping to cement the notion that Clinton was a lying sleazeball and that the Democrats are all philandering law-breakers. Indeed, that does seem to be the basic thrust of many of the partisan attacks on Condit from the right. Josh is worried about this and argues that the two cases are completely different because “in the Clinton case, out-of-control prosecutors used a trumped-up crime to shoehorn their way into getting at private, consensual sex. In the Condit case, Condit’s defenders have used sex as a talisman to ward off attention to what is potentially a crime of the very highest order.” To buttress this argument, Josh cites Lanny Davis, the most oleaginous apparatchik of the Clinton administration. Well, it seems to me that Josh has it exactly the wrong way round. Here’s why. Clinton was accused of a crime – sexual harassment. It was not “trumped up” – unless you mean by feminist legal scholars. Indeed, Clinton’s entire career has been a variation on the theme of sexual harassment, i.e. semi-coercive sex with women in his employ. Condit has been accused of no crime whatsoever, and his sex life has been conducted entirely with individuals (so far as we know) who don’t work for him. Clinton brazenly used the White House itself office for his sexual trysts, making what should have been private public. Condit made strenuous efforts to keep everything in his private life completely private. Clinton lied under oath, obstructed justice and suborned perjury. The worst thing that Condit has been accused of doing is euphemizing his relationship with Chandra Levy during early police questioning – as most adulterers in a similar situation might. He subsequently coughed up the whole truth. His conduct is not pretty, but he is guilty of at most a sin, not a crime. Clinton lied under oath again and again. Unlike Condit, Clinton even now refuses to acknowledge his full criminality. Based on what we now know, then, there is simply no equivalence whatsoever between the two cases – either in terms of the law, the culture, or anything else. Clinton was guilty of criminal acts. Condit has yet even to be charged. Case closed.
P.S.: Some persnickety readers have criticized me for writing that sexual harassment is a crime. Strictly speaking, it isn’t. It’s just unlawful if proven in a civil suit – which was the point of my comparison. Clinton was being sued in a court of law for an unlawful act. I sure don’t believe the charge was “trumped up.” Condit has been sued for nothing and accused of nothing by the police. And perjury is a crime. Even for a president.