The following is so brilliant that you almost can't look directly at it:
January 17, 2008
Sometime in 1997, a friend signed us up for the Drudge Report's email updates. We didn't quite understand what the Drudge Report was, but into our email box at irregular intervals would pop often-interesting news and gossip bulletins, written in a breathless, tabloidy style. (One of them, dated Nov. 9, 1997, declares, "WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE TOPS 150,000 PAID!")
Ten years ago today came the most interesting Drudge missive:
BLOCKBUSTER REPORT: 23-YEAR OLD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE INTERN, SEX RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT
**Must Credit the DRUDGE REPORT**
At the last minute, at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening, NEWSWEEK magazine killed a story that was destined to shake official Washington to its foundation: A White House intern carried on a sexual affair with the President of the United States!
The DRUDGE REPORT has learned that reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top NEWSWEEK suits hours before publication. A young woman, 23, sexually involved with the love of her life, the President of the United States, since she was a 21-year-old intern at the White House. She was a frequent visitor to a small study just off the Oval Office where she claims to have indulged the president's sexual preference. Reports of the relationship spread in White House quarters and she was moved to a job at the Pentagon, where she worked until last month.
The following day, Drudge named the intern as Monica Lewinsky, and a few days after that, the story was all over the mainstream media. It looked for a while as if President Clinton might not serve out his term. Even his dutiful wife commented on the "Today" show that if true, "that would be a very serious offense." But, insisted Hillary Clinton, it was not true. The real story "is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."
One participant in that "conspiracy" was Attorney General Janet Reno, who had petitioned to expand Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr's mandate to include the investigation of possible obstruction of justice in a sexual-harassment suit filed by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas employee who alleged that then-Gov. Clinton had dropped his pants and issued a demand that she "kiss it."
Clinton's denials were politically expedient. By the time he owned up to his shenanigans with the youthful Miss Lewinsky, his supporters had accustomed themselves to the idea of presidential droit de seigneur, and they defended Clinton's conduct as being "only about sex." Because Clinton had issued false denials under oath, however, as a legal matter it no longer was only about sex but about perjury and obstruction of justice. Starr presented a report to Congress, which impeached him. In February 1999 the Senate found him not guilty.
Clinton survived the scandal by brazenly lying. Had he acknowledged the affair at the outset, he surely would have been forced to resign. This centrist president became the hero of the left, which actually believed that "right-wing conspiracy" talk. The impending impeachment produced a backlash against Republicans, who lost House seats in 1998, countering a historic trend in which the president's party almost always suffers big congressional losses in the sixth year of his term (cf 1986 and 2006).
The effects of the Lewinsky scandal continue to be felt. By some accounts it launched Mrs. Clinton's political career. The notion of a first lady seeking a Senate seat in a state to which she had no real connection was preposterous–yet she carried it off, in part by affording liberal New Yorkers an opportunity to poke the eye of the vast-right conspirators. Now she is a viable candidate for president. Who'd have expected that back in 1998?
Organized feminism lost much of its moral authority, as no less a personage than Gloria Steinem–in a famous op-ed that is mysteriously missing from the New York Times archives but we found here–explained away treatment of women that she never would have tolerated from a Republican or a private-sector boss.
The independent counsel statute, a post-Watergate abomination that no one thinks made government cleaner, finally went by the boards when Congress in 2000 declined to renew it. (The impulse behind the independent counsel, however, remains alive, as shown by the witch hunt in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle.)
The paranoid style of politics took hold on the left, which blamed right-wing conspiracies for George W. Bush's victory in the disputed election of 2000, the liberation of Iraq, George W. Bush's victory in the undisputed election of 2004, Hurricane Katrina and, on the furthest fringes, the attacks of 9/11. A far-left subculture harbors fantasies of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney as revenge, even though they haven't committed any high crimes or misdemeanors.
In reality, far from being the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," Clinton was caught in a trap set for him unwittingly by the political left, which made sexual harassment both a legal offense and a political outrage, and which hatched the independent-counsel scheme. He was saved only by an exercise of raw, partisan political power in the Senate, where not a single Democrat voted for conviction.
Mrs. Clinton, facing a strong challenge from Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, finds herself in a weirdly parallel position. Once again, as we noted last week, Gloria Steinem has produced a risible op-ed for the Times, this time defending Mrs. Clinton as a feminist icon, even though she owes her political power to her husband, and even though she seems to have saved her chance at the nomination by coming close to tears.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun, in a report on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's controversial Afrocentric "spiritual mentor," notes that "that woman" has come up this year, in a new context:
On Sunday morning–amid intensified crossfire between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama over the use of race in the Democratic presidential campaign–Wright was preaching from the Gospel of John, using his powerful style to link the story of the loaves and fishes to a contemporary political message.
Man should not put limits on what God can do, but that's what people always do, he told the crowd. Just as God made five loaves and two fishes feed thousands, God has provided liberators for blacks in the past–from Nat Turner to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and now Barack Obama. But, Wright said, there were always reasons not to follow them.
Some argue that blacks should vote for [Mrs.] Clinton "because her husband was good to us," he continued.
"That's not true," he thundered. "He did the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky."
Feminism, the independent counsel, now racial identity politics: Before the Clintons have passed from the stage, maybe they will have been hoist by every liberal petard.
I say, if you're not reading James Taranto everyday, you're just not fully informed.