On December 9, I was among a privileged few attending the White House Christmas party — the last of this waning Clinton era. As my husband, Malcolm, and I made our way to the long, winding cue of devoted Democrats (and a few curious, self-conscious Republicans) to attend Bill and Hillary’s final holiday soiree for a quick handshake, an even quicker picture and a nanosecond’s worth of verbal exchange, my husband chuckled indulgently at my palpable delight.
One glance at us — me beaming in my conservative chocolate brown a-line dress and my honey in his spanking new, dashing gray suit (bringing the boy’s total suit count to two, mind you) — made it pretty clear that this was one of those moments when love motivates one spouse to move out of his comfort zone to ensure the happiness of the other. Malcolm knew from the second I called to tell him about the invitation that an opportunity to meet Bill, in his lair, at the end of his reign, was more than I could possibly pass up.
Anyone who knows me can tell you I am a huge Bill Clinton fan — unabashed and unapologetic. And in the wake of the aftermath of this crazy election, I’m going to miss him more than ever. As we slowly inched our way past the military musicians and inconspicuous secret service men, I wondered if a nanosecond was long enough to let Bill know how I felt.
My adulation of Clinton, however, has not gone unchallenged. I am constantly reminded of his alleged failures, particularly when it comes to morality, women and Black folk — his switch to a decidedly more conservative, centrist platform during his second term, the concessions he made on welfare, his failure to eliminate racist mandatory sentencing laws, his wimp-ass abandonment of Black cabinet appointees, and his implication in legal, political and sexual scandals including his impeachment.
Most of the resistance I get, however, comes from folks who want me to justify my continued support of Clinton in light of his infernal punanny-mongering. I must say that as a Black woman and a feminist, it’s the latter that confounds me most. I’m not saying Ol’ Slick Will was an angel but policy-wise, I think he’s been one of the greatest advocates for women’s rights this country’s ever seen.
His legacy includes unfailing support for families (The Family Leave Act), education (Head Start) and health-care reform (Patient’s Bill of Rights) — all predominantly, albeit not exclusively, female issues. When right-wing pressure was threatening to eradicate the gains of Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose, Clinton stood firm in his support of abortion, vetoing a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions. After years of Reaganomic-supported sexism, Clinton also called for equal pay for equal work.
In fact, before Miss Monica and that now-notorious blow job, feminist women were among Clinton’s greatest fans. I’m still miffed at how ridiculously silent feminists were when Bill got caught tippin’ on Hill. All of a sudden his value to women was measured solely by how badly he might have hurt his wife’s feelings. If women are truly concerned about brokering power, then we need to be far more savvy and far less emotional.
As for Clinton’s philandering, let’s get real and deal with the facts: powerful, famous, wealthy men get a lot of ass and it’s women who give it up to them. No amount of feminist theory is ever going to change that. Bottom line: I’d rather have a president who got caught cheating on his wife than a president who is a devoted husband but anti-abortion, or one who doesn’t give a care about childcare. Clinton wasn’t beating his wife; he was chasing skirts. The only woman who that should present a problem for is Hillary. Otherwise, it’s nobody’s business.
I never looked to Clinton to set the country’s moral barometer. Ever since junior high school when I learned about George Washington owning slaves, about Lincoln’s failure to truly free us and about Jefferson’s tendency to sex us, I’ve been forced to reconcile great political legacies with character stuff that’s just totally screwed up. Politics is dirty business rife with compromise, concessions and trade-offs.
The truth is that no elected official makes it as far as the presidency without making mistakes and playing some dirty pool, and even those who are most sympathetic to our interests are bound to make concessions that are not in our favor in order to score political points. For me politics is less a game of absolutes than one of many rounds and scorecards. That’s why, as the year and Clinton’s presidency drew to a close, I couldn’t wait to shake his hand and let the ol’ boy know that, in my book, he scored damn high.
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