BILL Clinton was noticeably irritated last month when, during a book tour, a TV interviewer brought up some sexual encounters that involved the former president in the mid-1990s, even though they had nothing to do with his current book.
The interviewer wondered — in light of the MeToo movement — if Clinton should apologize to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, who was only 22 when said encounters occurred, and was arguably taken advantage of.
At the time, many saw the affair with Lewinsky as entirely inappropriate, given the age gap between her and the president and the obvious power imbalance; it was also widely viewed as un-becoming of a married father of a teenage daughter.
One U.S. syndicated columnist called Clinton’s behaviour “despicable.”
Such characterizations are hard to shake.
During the interview, Clinton, now 71, got visibly defensive and angry, undoubtedly annoyed that the Lewinsky affair was still dogging him, that more than 20 yeas on it still surfaces as a major embarrassment.
But of course it does. What people always remember is that Clinton was not forthright about the affair at the time, and apparently still isn’t.
He later acknowledged that the TV interview “was not my finest hour.”
One could argue that the current cloud over Justin Trudeau’s head stemming from an incident nearly 20 years ago is not in the same category.
To be clear, Trudeau did not have an affair. According to a B.C. woman, Trudeau groped her while she was working as a reporter at a fund-raising event.
At the time, she was 18; Trudeau, already a celebrity, was 28. A CBC report about the incident said last month Trudeau had “briefly” tapped her on the behind.
Trudeau’s initial response to the incident as prime minister — after it had re-surfaced from a dated and scathing B.C. editorial — was a public-relations disaster. Not his finest hour indeed.
Unlike Clinton, Trudeau didn’t get angry. But he tap danced, at first saying he didn’t recall anything untoward, which did not seem credible, with men especially.
Even in the pre-MeToo era of 18 years ago, most men would not have put their hand on a woman they didn’t know, let alone someone who wasn’t long out of high school. If they did, they would remember it. Yes they would.
When the “I don’t recall” explanation seemed pathetic, Trudeau switched to serious reflection mode, acknowledging that, in such incidents, there are two sides to every story. This did not play very well either since, as prime minister, Trudeau has banished a handful of male Liberal MPs for alleged sexual impropriety.
With a federal election just over a year away, Trudeau’s handlers were undoubtedly gnashing their teeth, as his carefully crafted image as a champion for feminism was being replaced with that of a hypocrite.
The idea that Trudeau may have acted like a first-rate cad — apparently no better than the young jerks of today, who kiss female TV reporters on air, or hurl unwanted sexual remarks — was frankly shocking. Such characterizations are hard to shake; they can dog you forever.
At the B.C. event nearly 20 years ago, Trudeau reportedly apologized to the young woman. But he added a disquieting caveat: he wouldn’t have been so forward if he knew that she had been going to file a story for a national newspaper.
It is no wonder, then, that that she expressed her justifiable outrage in an editorial. She was ahead of her time.
What Trudeau needs to do now is to acknowledge that, upon reflection, he very likely does recall the incident. And, at the time, he behaved rather abominably. He’s a changed man, sure, but that doesn’t allow him to dance around what happened in the past.
It may not be the Clinton way, but it’s the only way out of this mess.