Rand Paul wants to party like it’s 1998. The big question is why.
America’s Ophthalmologist, who somehow sees himself as a credible presidential candidate, seems to think he can undercut Hillary Clinton by resurrecting her husband’s last-century sins. Six times in recent weeks, including Sunday on C-Span, the libertarian Kentucky senator has assailed Bill for his trysts with Monica Lewinsky, accused Hillary of guilt-by-marital-association, and suggested that Bill was waging a Democratic war on women.
He really wants to resurrect a scandal that most Americans long ago consigned to history’s dustbin? He really thinks he can make hay by recycling ‘98? What’s next for him, a nostalgia tour with Celine Dion or the Backstreet Boys?
Apparently Paul has no clue that after the dust settled in ‘98, after a year of GOP-concocted constitutional crisis, after the impeachment show opened and closed, President Clinton posted a 66 percent approval rating in the Gallup poll. But perhaps Paul can be excused for not knowing the history, because back then he was just an eye doc minoring in fringe-politics pamphleteering.
Paul launched his first salvo 15 days ago, when he told Meet the Press, “Bosses shouldn’t prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to be - have given President Clinton a pass on this...We shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office...I mean, really - and then (Democrats) have the gall to stand up and say ‘Republicans are having a war on women?” Granted, Bill’s behavior was “not Hillary’s fault,” but “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
And in his latest salvo, he took aim at Bill’s current fundraising role: “Anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they should give the money back. If they want to take a position on women’s rights, by all means do. But you can’t do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace.”
But here’s what actually happened in 1998: Most Americans rightly denounced Bill’s behavior as inexcusable, but perceived the GOP’s impeachment crusade as way worse; hence, his landslide job performance approval rating. When he left office in January 2001, 66 percent gave him a thumbs-up, only 29 percent signaled thumbs-down. And women at the time apparently didn’t think that Bill’s behavior was tantamount to a war on women. In the 2000 presidential race, Al Gore won the national popular vote because he won women by 10 points.
Oh, and did I happen to mention that Bill in retirement is the most popular political figure in America - with 66 percent approval in 2012, including 63 percent from swing independents? Go for it, Rand.
Democrats routinely win the majority of women because of their policies. Elections are fundamentally about voters’ lives looking forward, not the lives of miscreant politicians looking back. Rand Paul is out to lunch if he actually believes that relitigating Lewinsky will inspire women to ignore the GOP’s conservative policy agenda - an agenda that Paul endorses. For starters, he voted against the Lily Ledbetter pay-equity act. He wants to repeal Obamacare - and thus allow the insurance companies to resume their old practice of gender discrimination. He’d cancel Obamacare’s current Medicaid expansion; women comprise roughly 2/3 of Medicaid beneficiaries. He even voted against renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which since the ‘90s has helped curb domestic abuse.
Paul isn’t likely to win the GOP nomination anyway - his foreign policy neo-isolationism is anathema to the party’s longstanding preference for muscular interventionism - but if he does make inroads by attacking the Clintons, rest assured that he’d pay a price. Republican rivals wouldn’t talk about his conservative votes. They can slow him down by merely linking him to his father; after all, Ron Paul has edited racist newsletters and attacked the ‘64 Civil Rights Act, calling it “a massive violation of the rights of private property.”
If, as Rand Paul says of the Clintons, “it’s hard to separate one from the other,” then perhaps the same test should be applied to him. If he truly wants to party like it’s 1998 as a way to undercut Hillary (a dumb idea anyway), then guilt by association is fair game.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com.