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Years ago, when I first visited Washington as a high school student for a two-week summer camp for weirdo political jerks, the dominant news story was then-President Bill Clinton’s August 17, 1998, statement that, despite earlier denials, he “had an affair with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.”

When Did Clinton Leave Office

“In fact,” Clinton admitted, “it was wrong,” and it “represented a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and entirely responsible.”

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In the days leading up to the reception, there was quite a belief among the chattering classes that the allegations, if true, would eventually lead to Clinton’s resignation. That turned out to be incorrect. Clinton was not embarrassed to resign, and senior Democratic Party leaders did not pressure him to resign.

At the time, like most Americans, I was glad to see Clinton prevail and blamed the whole sordid affair primarily on the excessive incitement of Republicans in Congress. Now, looking back after the election of Donald Trump, revelations of massive sexual harassment scandals on Fox News, stories about Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry, and stories about Roy Moore trying to have sex with teenagers, I think he got it wrong. We discussed perjury and adultery and the meaning of the word “is.” Republicans have launched a bad case against the president they have been investigating for years.

We needed to talk about how men abuse their social and economic power over younger and less powerful women.

The United States, and perhaps the wider English-speaking world, is currently going through a much-needed moment of accountability where each wave of stories encourages more people to come forward and more institutions to rethink their actions. In retrospect, the revelation in 1998 that the President of the United States had an affair with an intern could have been that moment.

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It was far from the most egregious case of workplace sexual harassment in American history. But it was unusually high-profile, the facts were not in dispute, the perpetrator had many nominal feminist ideological commitments, and political leaders who shared those commitments had the power to force him out of office. If he had resigned in shame, we might all have made a collective cultural and political decision that a person caught inappropriately having power over women should be fired. Instead, we lost almost two decades.

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In the midst of the same public statement in which he admitted the mistake, Clinton also mounted the defense that would carry him to victory — portraying the issue as an essentially private family matter rather than a matter of urgent public concern.

“I intend to get my family life back for my family,” he said. “It’s nobody’s business but ours. Even presidents have private lives. It’s time to stop seeking personal destruction and invasion of private lives and get on with our national life.”

To this line of argument, Republicans have offered what is a fundamentally flawed counter-charge. They argued that Clinton, in an effort to spare himself the personal and marital embarrassment of exposing the affair, committed perjury when he testified about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’ lawsuit against him.

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What they should have argued was something simpler: a president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something underling is morally bankrupt and contributes, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women over the course of their lives.

But mostly they are not. So Clinton fired back with the now-familiar defense: “It depends on the meaning of the word ‘is’.” Ultimately, most Americans accepted the broader argument that perjury in a civil lawsuit unrelated to the president’s official duties does not constitute a serious crime or misdemeanor.

But looking back through today’s prism, this whole argument was flawed. The wrong in question was never just a private matter for the Clinton family; it was a high-profile example of a widespread social problem: men’s abuse of power in the workplace for sexual gain. It was and remains a striking example of the type of misconduct that society has a strong interest in eradicating. That alone should have been enough to get Clinton out of office.

In Clinton’s defense, of course, the wrongdoing in question was on a different scale than some of the more recent cases in the news.

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In her 2014 Vanity Fair article, reflecting on the scandal, Lewinsky wrote, “I will always stand firm on this: It was a consensual relationship. All the ‘abuse’ followed, when I became the scapegoat to protect his position of power.”

As Clinton himself said, it was “inappropriate,” “wrong,” and “a critical error in judgment”—phrases that could easily have appeared in the introduction to his resignation letter. Alternatively, one can easily imagine then-Democratic congressional leaders Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle — perhaps joined by prominent cabinet members such as Madeleine Albright and Janet Reno — repeating them to Clinton the next day in an Oval Office meeting calling for her to resign . .

Instead, Democrats have embraced the narrative that the crime, while real, is ultimately not serious—or, at the very least, not a matter of public interest.

This was a mistake. Clinton admitted he was wrong, but remained very circumspect about exactly what was wrong with it, before implicitly slipping into the view that the problem was marital infidelity. Marriages are, of course, truly private and, as they say, complicated. More broadly, the problem of men in general abusing positions of power to gain sexual gratification is certainly not a trivial problem or a private matter. If word got back to the White House that an unmarried cabinet secretary was having a secret affair with one of her interns, the administration might have done something, or (more likely) might have tried to cover it up. But they certainly wouldn’t play dumb and pretend not to see that there was a problem.

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“My boss took advantage of me,” Lewinsky writes in the same article, an article in which she correctly claims that the insurance debate ended up completely ignoring very relevant issues including “the balance of power and gender inequality in politics and the media.”

Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure from his own party, it would have sent a powerful, and useful, chilling signal to powerful people across the country.

Instead, the final decision of the case — impunity for the man who did something wrong, shame and embarrassment for the woman who didn’t — only confirmed women’s worst fears about coming forward.

Politics is not a sitting bag and often political actors have a very good reason to side with problematic actors. If New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is convicted of the corruption charges he is currently on trial for (panel jury as I write), Republicans will argue that he should resign from his seat. Democrats will strategically resist this, knowing that if Menendez steps down today, the vacancy will be filled by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, while if he holds out until mid-January, the state’s newly elected Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, will fill it.

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But in the case of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, there were no real political stakes. If Clinton had left office, Al Gore would have become president and would have pursued essentially the same policies.

Made his fictionalized version of the Clinton impeachment drama, went out of his way to make VP Hoynes unlikable and ideologically unreliable (“the guy practically has corporate sponsorship,” Josh Lyman jokes at one point before dismissing him as “Tostito’s VP President ”), to make Bartlett’s effort to stay in office seem reasonable and honorable.

Reality did not provide such a convenient plot contrivance. Gore was a centrist DLC Democrat just like Clinton, one who could have easily stepped into his shoes.

If Gore had become president, he might have run and won as an incumbent. Or maybe, like in the real world, he would lose. In any case, admitting that the Republicans discovered something truly scandalous would not mean making any key ideological or political concessions. Instead, Democrats would be required to look beyond partisanship. And, more importantly, it would require them to admit that what Clinton did was seriously wrong.

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Over the past 18 months, the combination of the excellent profile of Katie J.M. Baker and the Trump campaign’s cynical ploy have fueled scrutiny of Juanita Broaddrick’s allegations that Bill Clinton raped her in 1978.

This is an important conversation, both because of the serious nature of the allegations and because of their connection to the common progressive idea that we should “believe women” when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault.

Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported. https://t.co/mkD69RHeBL — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 23, 2015

The Lewinsky case, however, is important precisely because of the facts

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