By Marc Stein
Twenty years ago this month, U.S. Democratic President Bill Clinton began having sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. More than two years later, during testimony in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, Clinton denied that he was having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. Several months later, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr reported to the U.S. Congress that Clinton had committed perjury and obstruction of justice in his testimony about Lewinsky and related actions in the Jones litigation. The U.S. House of Representatives, controlled by the Republican Party, impeached Clinton in December 1998. In January and February 1999, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate tried Clinton, but the president was acquitted when the Senate failed to meet the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote for conviction.
This essay was originally written in 2000 for “Historians and Their Audiences: Mobilizing History for the Millenium,” a conference sponsored by the York University History Department. My goal was to address the privileging of traditional political historians over historians of sexuality in mainstream public discussions about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, but I also wanted to use my presentation to consider the place of humor, satire, and parody in the work of historians. If the opening parody of both The McLaughlin Group (a long-running public affairs television program) and historical scholarship in sexuality studies seems excessively reliant on inside jokes that only historians of sexuality of a certain generation might understand, my hope was (and is) that this, too, might contribute to new ways of thinking about historians and their audiences.
For the most part, I have avoided editing or revising the essay, wanting it to stand as a reflection of my thinking about these issues in 2000, but some of the parodied names have been changed to protect the innocent and prevent further litigation.
Welcome to this edition of the McLaughlinstein Group, hosted by me, Marc McLaughlinstein. Today’s topic: Monica, Bill, Sex, and History. Our regular guests, Doris Kearns Johnson, Michael Wilentz, and Sean Beschloss, were unable to join us today, so instead our program will feature widely acclaimed historians Mary Contrary Daly, Carroll Rosen-Smithberg, John-Boy Howard, George Chancy, Lilliana Faderwoman, and Steve Edgwick.
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