Are people allowed to have "affairs?"


Kara Swisher's calculus: Are people allowed to have "affairs?" 

We'll say that they pretty much are. We'll even say that, in some cases, "affairs" may be a good thing for the participating individuals. Sometimes they cause lots of harm.

We'll also say that, in the vast majority of cases, it isn't any business of ours if people do or don't have affairs. That brings us to Kara Swisher's calculus about world history over the past twenty-plus years.

World history has turned, in the past twenty-three years, on an "affair" between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The liberal world has agreed that we must never discuss that fact, but it's a fact all the same.

The twenty-month coverage of Campaign 2000 was all about that "affair." 

Al Gore said he invented the Internet was all about that "affair." So was Al Gore said he inspired Love Story and Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal.

So was all that piddle about that candidate's earth tones—and about his boots, his suits, his polo shirts, and the height at which he hemmed his pants.

That was all about the "affair." To this day, Kara Swisher doesn't seem to understand that, or possibly just doesn't care.

(Why does this matter? Because George W. Bush went into Iraq, and that fact has changed world history. Because Donald Trump narrowly slid into the White House on the back end of that "affair.")

Swisher has interviewed Lewinsky for the New York Times. The interview largely concerns the ongoing FX "docudrama" about that history-changing "affair." At one point, this exchange occurs:

LEWINSKY: There are all sorts of selfish reasons I participated [in creating the docudrama]. But then there is also a really important reason for me around moving the conversation of this forward, ensuring that something like this doesn’t happen to a young person again. That if they are taken advantage of, 75 percent of the blame should be on the person in power.

SWISHER: I would say more like ninety, Monica.

LEWINSKY: O.K., 90 percent. 90 percent in this case.

SWISHER: I’m giving it a 99, actually.

LEWINSKY: How about 85? 85 and 15—

SWISHER: You’re being kind. Your life has been so derailed by what happened between you and Bill Clinton. How do you feel about the fact that your life has been so altered and his has not, in a lot of ways?

LEWINSKY: I’ve had moments of bitterness about it, but how I feel now is, I don’t really need anybody else’s life to be fucked up. I just need people to not stand in my way...

This never stops at the New York Times. That's another way of saying that this never stops inside the brains of us, the humans.

What do we see in that exchange? This is what we see:

It seems to us that Lewinsky is almost always inclined to be kind. In this exchange, Swisher scolds her for that inclination.

For our money, Lewinsky's framework concerning this relationship may have made more sense before she adopted the "taken advantage of" framework. But it seems to us that she is generally inclined to be kind and fair, and that Swisher, like the millions before her at the Times, can't stop doling out the blame.

More strikingly, she can't stop doling out the blame to the people who took part in this "affair." It doesn't occur to her to dole out blame to the wide array of people who devoted their lives to making sure that this "affair" would no longer be private—that this affair would be known to the wider world.

Swisher is still hunting Bill Clinton as she apportions her blame. But what would have happened if this relationship had taken place without becoming publicly known?

If this relationship had run its course without ever becoming known, would it have been a bad thing for Lewinsky? Would she have ended up feeling that she had been taken advantage of?

We have no way of knowing, and it will never occur to people like Swisher to ask.

World history didn't change because this relationship happened. World history changed because a bunch of screaming crackpots busted their asses to make sure that the relationship would become known to the general public.

People are dead all over the world because those people did that. At the Times, they kept directing the punishment elsewhere, right on through their deeply peculiar coverage of Candidate (Hillary) Clinton in the 2016 campaign.

To a life form like Swisher, the fault is 99 percent Bill Clinton's, full stop. She can't find her way beyond that iteration of Salem Village, in which the blame must all be apportioned among the participants, with a deranged array of "whistle-blowers" allowed to slither away.

It doesn't matter how many people die in other parts of the world. It doesn't matter how many girls come under the sway, once again, of the Taliban.

Blame has to be apportioned in the most simple-minded way. This is what we humans are inclined to do, and we'll never stop.

Might that relationship have been OK if people hadn't made it public? We'd be curious to hear what Lewinsky would have said to a question like that. It seems to us that Lewinsky, unlike the cretins and criminals of the world, is typically decent, kind, fair.

He had to be punished for what he did. If people have to die all over the world, upper-end elites at the New York Times will see that as reasonable, fair.

The history of the past twenty years has been all about the desire to apportion blame for that "affair." It's how George W. Bush reached the White House. So too with Donald J. Trump.

Our tribe has agreed that these basic facts mustn't be discussed, and they never will be. It's all about apportioning Dimmesdalean blame when people-not-us have "affairs."


  1. "We'll also say that, in the vast majority of cases, it isn't any business of ours if people do or don't have affairs."

    I disagree with this. In cases where two people in the same organization, workplace, government agency, are having an affair, it can affect decision-making, accountability and be intrusive to functioning of the organization. In that case, people do need to know about that affair. An affair is a kind of nepotism that messes up the chain of command and communications. It may also result in unfair advantages being given to someone who has not earned them (as in promotions or deals affected by such clandestine relationships).

    To say that such an affair is no one's business is pretty short-sighted of Somerby, but perhaps since he has not worked within an actual organization, he wouldn't understand how affairs can gum up the works.

    I think it is also important to distinguish between an affair, which implies a consensual adult relationship of two people with equal power, and a sexual liaison in which one person takes advantage of another. The latter characterizes so-called affairs between bosses and employees, students and teachers, wealthy people and poor people, and so on. It sounds like Somerby wants to dismiss all sexual relationships as "affairs" and declare them all none of our business, when some are illegal and many are firing offenses within organizations.

    I'm not sure Somerby knows enough about this topic to be discussing it.

    And then there are the illicit extramarital affairs in which one person has made a vow to someone else that is being broken within the affair. If you are a friend on the margins watching such a scenario, you'd better intervene and tell the innocent party about it if you hope to preserve a friendship with that person. Knowing and not telling is as much a betrayal as the affair itself, in terms of breaching trust. So, yes, it is other people's business too.

    And what about hypocrisy? Should a minister or other person in a position of trust in which integrity is expected be permitted to engage in activities that routinely betray trust, without consequences? I think parishioners or voters are right to care about the affair and to remove the person on that basis.

    It is interesting to see "philosopher" Somerby unable to parse such questions of ethnics and morality.

  2. "It doesn't matter how many people die in other parts of the world. It doesn't matter how many girls come under the sway, once again, of the Taliban."

    So, you're also a neocon supremacist, dear Bob? Sure, par for the course to being liberal. But what's your objection to Bush going to Iraq then, dear? Wasn't he saving many girls?

    Eh, forget it. What else to expect from a self-admitted liberal.

    1. We saved girls over there, so we can treat them as second-class citizens here.

  3. "The twenty-month coverage of Campaign 2000 was all about that "affair."

    NO, it wasn't about the affair at all. The election was about whether Al Gore would make a good president or not.

    Somerby seems to want to blame everything that happened to Gore on the Clintons. That makes him no different than Maureen Dowd or any other Republican Clinton-hater. The press disliked Gore for reasons having nothing to do with Clinton's affair.

    Reasons to dislike Al Gore:

    1. He was from the South, which made him sound stupid and an outside in DC.
    2. He was married to Tipper, who behaved like a sanctimonious church lady as she persecuted rock and roll by demanding that song lyrics be censored. Frank Zappa humiliated her with his effort to defend artistic freedom. Gore's enabling of his wife's ugly crusade turned young people against him.
    3. Gore made a fuss about how Clinton lied to him and betrayed his trust too. That made Gore look like a dupe, especially given the sympathy for Clinton, who was forced to discuss his love life under oath.
    4. Gore misread the public mood and decided to run on his own purity, as a guy too straight to behave like Bill. That backfired because he came across as an uptight goody-goody.
    5. Gore selected Lieberman as his running mate, largely because Lieberman was one of the few Democrats condemning Bill Clinton. The ticket became a pair of sour goody-goodys running on their stiff-necked morality. That doesn't appeal much to people.
    6. Lieberman was barely a Democrat in his voting patterns. How could staunch Democrats be happy about his addition to the ticket?
    7. Gore's accomplishments were technical and thus difficult to describe to the general public. People (and press) weren't real sure what he did exactly.
    8. Gore was trying to portray himself as morally upright while being accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions via a Chinese bundler and using White House resources for campaigning. That made Gore look like a hypocrite.
    9. When Gore was mocked, he didn't know how to respond, so he didn't fight back. That wimpiness seemed to confirm the mockery over needing a woman to tell him how to look more manly. He came across as ineffectual.
    10. Gore appeared to be a hypocrite when he claimed to be a farmer but was said to have grown up in a fancy hotel. It made him appear phony. It wasn't a fair criticism, but he didn't oppose it effectively.
    11. One reason Gore was found less credible was because of his stiff, formal, uptight body language. Gore never managed to appear relaxed in public. He didn't smile enough (and his smiles did not appear genuine) and he didn't seem to like people or be having fun at events, the way both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did. That is a major handicap in politics.
    12. Gore deemphasized the strengths of his campaign, including the accomplishments of the Clinton terms (which he was part of) and his interest in environmental matters. He seemed to be convinced these were liabilities. Without these things, he had very little positive to talk about and nothing to sell as policy initiatives or promises to the people.
    13. George Bush lied a lot, he had problems in his past (DUI, bad grades at college, flaking out on Air Reserve service obligations) but Gore decided to take the high road and not attack his opponent's deficits. That allowed Bush to skate while Gore looked even less effective as a politician. People doubted his strength.
    14. Bush won because he was someone the average guy could imagine having a beer with. Gore never tried to put himself across as that kind of person and had nothing else to substitute for that impression, such as competence or good ideas.

    1. Tipper wanted a parental warning label system for music albums as we have with films.

      There wasn’t a thing wrong with that.

      Also Gore never criticized Clinton for the Lewinski thing. What Gore said about the relationship was the same thing that Clinton said after Clinton had to admit its existence. That was that it could not be defended. Gore always moved quickly from that to saying it had no bearing upon Clinton’s great tenure as president.

      Gore often sounds as phony as a two-dollar bill, but he did not throw Clinton under the bus.

      The rest of your observations are critiques that came from a media that both loved and felt deliciously abused by their golden guy Clinton.

      Al and Tipper weren't cool enough as a couple or as individuals to be the media’s own personalized and internalized contrast to those bourgeois moral-phony Republicans, as most represented in the person of Ken Starr.

    2. One has to be a serious nutcase to think the media loved Clinton. In fact, they attacked him almost incessantly after the honeymoon period.

    3. In the grownup world we know that "fighting back" is "giving oxygen" to whatever nonsense that is being peddled, and the correct thing to do is ignore it and let it blow over. Until later, of course, when the candidate should have "fought back," and so the disgraceful coverage they got was their own fault. It's the ultimate game the press plays, because they are the ones who tell people what happened.

      As an aside, has there ever been an example of someone on the left successfully "fighting back" against smears? Did Obama "fight back" against the birther nonsense? No, he didn't. It dragged on and on and on for years, until it became so ridiculous it kind of died on its own. Did Dean "fight back" against "The Scream"? Hillary vs "E-mail gate," and the bad coverage she got in 2008 primary? Bill against Monica? There are literally NO successful examples of it being done, but smug drones like this guy shoot off their mouths like they know what they're talking about. If only campaigns would hire geniuses like one finds on every political web page to run their campaigns they'd never lose.

    4. The Clintons had a rapid response team and did address the smears, quickly and effectively, via surrogates. Kerry was successfully swiftboated because he didn't do that, so the lies about his service gained traction.

      Hillary survived the emails and Benghazi smears because she was open and provided information and did fight back. Those smears became a joke. She didn't survive Comey, Facebook, Bernie's bros and Russian intervention, but those things are not part of the normal election process. They are illegal for a reason. The biggest lingering lie of 2016 is that there was no collusion between Trump and Russia when there is now evidence that there was.

      The worst aspect of 2008 for Hillary was the way Sanders and Obama allowed their supporters to repeat the old right-wing garbage about her. It left lingering bitterness on the left that certainly damaged her campaign in 2016. To Hillary's credit, she made a big effort to reduce her own followers animosity toward Obama and Sanders, but there is still resentment over that.

      Fighting back may not eliminate the smears entirely, but it is better than appearing to be a helpless victim against it, or whining about it later. No one has been smeared more than Hillary, but her book, What Happened, an anlysis of the election, doesn't linger on the smears but focuses instead on the things she could have done differently.

      What did Gore do after losing his election? He abandoned politics. That seems like a smart choice in retrospect, but it doesn't show the character needed for presidential level leadership.

    5. Obama made his long form birth certificate public. He should have done it sooner.

  4. According to her deposition, Monica Lewinsky was the aggressor and she pursued Clinton and manipulated situations to be with him.

    It may seem like men cannot be stalked or like someone in power must ALWAYS be the aggressor, but if you read what Monica did, a different picture emerges.

  5. My friend Jeff, a Public Defender, told me this story. His client complained, "Why am I being harassed, when I did the same things as my friends?"

    Jeff responded tersely, "You got caught."

    President Clinton ought to have thought about the repercussions to himself, to his party and to the country if he if he got caught. His failure to be prudent why Clinton deserves all the blame he got.

    1. That's how Newt Gingrich got away with cheating on his wife.
      That, and the Right-wing, corporate-owned media decided not to report on it.

    2. Gingrich’s problems with his first and second marriages were widely remarked upon in the media and used to suggest that he was a hypocrite in the same way the media did with John McCain.

    3. Clinton lied under oath. He coached his secretary in false testimony the day before she was to testify to a grand jury.

      He got his best friend to take Lewinsky to sign a false affidavit so as to thwart a sexual harassment suit against him.

      He did the latter after he and Hillary championed a completely open and unlimited discovery process against the defendants of such suits.

      As always, it’s suppose to be different standards for our precious Democratic saviors.

    4. He should have never been put under oath about a private relationship. There is no crime here.

    5. If we had a monarchy, someone who had sex with royalty in order to embarrass or create a scandal would be deemed to have committed treason and be punished for it. The monarch would not be considered the perpetrator of any assault.

      In the past, our president has been protected from sexual intrigue by a press that doesn't report scandals. Now, anything goes in politics and any kind of assault on our nation's leader is apparently permitted. Lewinsky didn't plot to take Clinton down -- she associated with people who used her for that purpose. There were several other women similarly used to slime Bill Clinton. He isn't the first man to ever have illicit sex in office, but he was the first who was targeted while in office by schemes involving sexual accusation. That the Republicans would do this just illustrates that they lost all restraint and would do anything, including shut down the government, in their new style of politics.

      The Republicans are the problem in this situation, not Clinton and not Monica (although she should have been more careful).

    6. "Gingrich’s problems with his first and second marriages were widely remarked upon in the media..."

      Links, please.

  6. 'It doesn't matter how many girls come under the sway, once again, of the Taliban.'

    Just a few weeks back, Somerby was ranting at the NYT for publishing a letter suggesting that women might face special problems under the Taliban. Now he repeats that claim himself.

    Somerby has no problem being an inconsistent liar. Then again, he is a lying Trumptard.

  7. I apportion the blame 50-50. Lewinsky admitted she pursued him, so why is it 85-15?

  8. Lies against candidates are a microcosm of disinformation (aka propaganda). The truth must be defended by debunking the lies. You cannot turn the other cheek and hope that such lies will go away. They MUST be addressed. That's what "fighting back" means.