It is no secret that sex is a popular topic in American culture. Sex, as it is necessary for our race’s survival, has pervaded TV, politics, our schools, our churches, our work places, pillow talk and so much more. Besides being necessary for survival sex, especially since the inception of birth control, is a fun activity which people can engage in without having to spend money on (insert pun here) and is the basis for many of our relationships throughout our lives whether we are engaged with someone or are talking about the experience and how “fun” it is with others. However, sex is not just about fun and games and often carries many social stigmas with it. If you are a single man you are expected to have as many partners as you can muster and if you are married or taken you are expected to share yourself only with your partner. For women, they are “expected” to have fewer partners and only open up to those men who they are in relationships with. Any breaking away from these norms generally creates a social fallout, whether it means your friend group makes fun of you or shuns you depending on the crime. These social no no’s can generally be managed and often only affect the immediate party, that is unless your actions and breaking these norms generates national attention.
Enter one of the perpetrators in chiefs. One of the most famous sex scandals in my lifetime was between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. While in office, Bill had an affair with Monica which eventually came out and became the center of attention in American media. For the purposes of this paper, I am not worried about the ethics of what Clinton did, nor what words were exchanged between Hilary and him. What I am concerned about is whether or not this particular incident had any affect at all on the President’s ability to lead the free world. In order to paint a better picture of what happened I will explore the event as if through the memoirs of the president himself.
It was the middle of March when I met with Monica for the last time. She and I had previously met on eight other occasions and each time had been under the greatest veil of secrecy. I was taken aback by her youthfulness and her ambition, only wanting to divulge in her because of the sensation that it provided. I, who had just about everything a man could dream of, wanted the forbidden fruit, and I got it. When we met, however, we agreed that this would be for the last time. We knew that we could not go on forever wishing that people would never find out. I knew I would miss these late night meetups but it was time to put a stop to them.
Subsequently, Monica had confided in her friend Linda Tripp, who later secretly recorded their conversations in order to gain material to prove that Monica was purging herself in another case. These recordings were delivered to the council of the opposing council and were later used to expose the Clinton and Lewinsky affair.
January 17, 1998
When I first heard the news I could not believe that someone, somehow, found out that I had an affair with Monica. I was worried, and not just for myself. I knew that Hilary would be furious and that I would have to speak with her, I was worried for Chelsea as I know she would have to deal with the ridicule at school, and I was worried for the American people who had placed their faith and trust in me not just to run their country but to be a good shining example for others to follow. How can I make sure that my reputation is not destroyed?
After the scandal broke out, Clinton and Lewinsky denied their physical relationship. Clinton stood by his wife, in a national broadcast only days later, to tell the American people that “(He) did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”
On August 17, 1998, after Monica was promised immunity from obstructing justice, Clinton finally came forward and announced to the public in a taped grand jury hearing that he had had an “improper physical relationship” with Monica. The public was in disarray and people felt as though Clinton had lied to them. His public opinion ratings fell far from their highs and created what some political analysts called “Clinton fatigue.” While 57% of voters approved of Clinton’s job performance, only 36% had a favorable opinion of Clinton as a person and other political figures began to view Clinton as politically toxic.
It becomes interesting, then, to use Clinton as a case to see whether or not these indiscretions should only be kept in the bedrooms of those involved or if they actually have a place in society at large. Using the different moral frameworks that we have discussed in class, this paper aims to dissect Clinton’s actions through the utilitarian perspective, meaning that it does not matter if there are any moral or immoral problems with what happened but whether or not Clinton’s actions affected his ability to lead.
In the early years of the United States it was not hard to keep your public life separate from your private life. The main mode of communication was either face to face or by mail, which could take weeks to reach its intended recipient. Politicians of the time could rely on their politics and stated beliefs alone to garner votes and people’s support, not worrying about their charisma. Today however, with the advent of radio, TV, cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter, Americans are exposed to every aspect of the people they are voting into office.
“Any man familiar with public life realizes the foul gossip which ripples just under the surface about almost every public man, and especially about every president.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1913
How much did Clinton’s actions with Monica actually affect his ability to act as the president of the United States? Going into the 2000 election Clinton’s reputation was still tainted by his actions. Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president, who was running for the same office as his boss ended up making a decision not to include Clinton in his campaign. Clinton argued that if he had gone on the road in Arkansas and New Hampshire, he would have been able to help garner the votes that Gore needed to be elected president, regardless of what happened in the Florida race. Gore’s decision came because of the overwhelming consensus of the public’s opinion about Clinton. Clinton’s ability to lead and to engage with the people had been called into question.
Clinton’s motives were also called into question regarding a missile attack which he authorized just days after the scandal broke. Some political correspondents thought that the attack was not because Clinton felt the attack was the right move but rather to divert the public’s eye by changing the news cycle. Unfortunately only 16% of hard news cycles switched completely and only paid attention to the attacks.
In Trevino and Nelson’s Managing Business Ethics, they state that: “a utilitarian would approach an ethical dilemma by identifying the alternative actions and their consequences (harms and/or benefits) for all stakeholders.” In retrospect, it seems as though Clinton’s power was diminished through his relations with Ms. Lewinsky. He was not able to help Al Gore in obtaining office and was seen by the American people as a cheat and someone who they could no longer trust. Through the utilitarian perspective, Clinton would have been considered a failure as his actions negated his ability to make a difference, to inspire change, and ultimately carry out his elected position as the president. As the American people were Clinton’s stakeholders, Clinton should have gone down another path when making the decision to have an affair in office. Clearly, for the American people, the better alternative to Clinton’s actions would have been to not make the decision and, also as important, be forthcoming when the actual allegations were brought forward as to maintain the trust of the American people and to keep the dignity of the office of the president.
Clinton has done many different things well. He was one of the few presidents in history to have a surplus for three years of his presidency and to create change for many political issues that have affected the citizens of the US for many years on end. He still could have been better. Clinton could have better served the American people at the end of his presidency, and served his party in the 2000 election, just by making better decisions in his personal life. Clearly, with the change in the way we consume hard and soft media, politicians and those who hold a position of power need to pay more attention to how they carry themselves. Keep the sex behind closed doors.
Baum, Matthew. “Sex, Lies, and War: How Soft News Brings Foreign Policy to the Inattentive
Public.”American Political Science Review. 96.1 (2002): n. page. Print.
“Bill Clinton.” Bio. Bio. Web. 20 Mar 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/bill-clinton-
Gormley, Ken. “Looking back at Clinton scandal, a decade later.” Today. NBC News, 6 Feb
McManus, Doyle. “Bill Clinton’s economic legacy: Boom or collapse?.” Los Angeles Times [Los
Angeles] 18 Feb 2013, n. pag. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
Nelson, Katherine, and Linda Trevino. Managing Business Ethics. 3rd Edition. John Wiley &
Sons Australia, Limited, 2004. Print.
Political Ambitions and the Behavior of Incumbent Politicians Kenneth Prewitt and William
Nowlin The Western Political Quarterly , Vol. 22, No. 2 (Jun., 1969), pp. 298-308
Sex and Politics. New Alignments, Old Issues Kathleen A. Frankovic PS , Vol. 15, No. 3
(Summer, 1982), pp. 439-448
Thompson, John. “Political scandal : power and visability in the media age.” Lavoisier. (2013):
n. page. Print.
What Happened to Sex Scandals? Politics and Peccadilloes, Jefferson to Kennedy John H.
Summers The Journal of American History , Vol. 87, No. 3 (Dec., 2000), pp. 825-854
 THE TIME FOR CHANGE MODEL AND THE 2000 ELECTION – ABRAMOWITZ , ALAN