Clinton Fatigue

I posited yesterday that, in the post-Clinton era, a political candidate’s marital infidelity may not be all that damaging.

Steven Taylor argued that the opposite was likely true:

While I take the point, I think that given the drive for “electability” as the key motivation behind Kerry’s momentum that something like this, if proved to be true, would be enough to derail his candidacy. The idea that the Republicans could tar Kerry with a Lewinsky-like scandal would clearly affect perceptions of his electability.

I think this is doubly true if my thesis concering the desire of the Democrats to cast Bush as a liar is going to be a centerpiece of the Kerry campaign.

Stephen Green, presumably, agrees with him.

Michael J. Totten–not in direct response to my post–sounds what I suspect will be the more common theme:

I certainly don’t want to go back to the lurid and hysterical anti-Clinton days. I think that’s true for a lot of people. So-called Clinton-fatigue was caused as much by Kenneth Starr as it was by Bill and Hill.

This is the first election since September 11. We have some grown-up problems to take care of, problems much of the rest of the world pretends don’t even exist. Save the sleaze and the ass-clowning for Jerry Springer.

While the Lewinski scandal was about much more than adultery, the Clinton team–lucky in its enemies, as always–was able to convince most people that it was “just about sex.” While fatigue over that scandal was, ironically, enough to cost the squeaky-clean Al Gore the presidency, it will also likely mean that the public backlash against opposition candidates–and the press–trying to make hay of alleged extra-marital affairs would be more damaging to the accusers than the perpetrator.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, The Presidency, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    I certainly don’t want to revisit the Clinton scandal days. I simply think that basically anything that can be considered a taint on a candidate could derail him in the current Democratic process because of the electability issue that is driving it.

    In other words, my position proceeds more from the idea that any substantial scandal (and it is rather unclear that this is a substantial scandl) could derail Kerry, rather than specifically commenting on the signifiance another intern-based imbroglio.

  2. Kate says:

    I don’t think it’s as simple as that. And I think this type of behavior may be viewed upon differently than it is by women.

    A man who is 3 times the age of his intern? With an alleged history of womanizing in his past?

    A big, fat dose of sleaze factor is never good for any politician. Women know that tigers don’t change their stripes, and that such behavior goes hand in hand with other distasteful personality traits. “Do you know who I am?”

    Nor do I buy the absurd canard that “they’re all pigs”, they “all do it”. Men, even politicians are most decidedly, not all pigs, not un unfaithful womanizers.

    Best quote I heard about Clinton was on “Politically Correct”. Country music singer, Clint Black was the lone dissenter on the panel (as usual) about the “it’s just sex and it’s their business” topic….

    “If you’ll screw over your family, you’ll screw over your country.”