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Her skirt was short. Her hair was big. Her stride was hip-first. Those gags were mere accessories, however, to the primary joke of the sketch, a visual punch line that punched decidedly down: the prosthetic nose, long and bulbous and intentionally grotesque, that the actress playing Jones wore to complete the simulation.

The late-night camera zoomed in on it, menacingly, mockingly. The studio audience, as they got a closer and closer view of it, howled with laughter. The American media, making fun of the woman who had accused the president of sexual harassment: It was a form of cruelty that would be repeated many times over, not just when it came to Jones, but also when it came to other women associated with Clintonian scandal.

Gennifer Flowers, for one. Monica Lewinsky, for another. Here were accusations that the president had abused women as he had abused his power, and here was the court of public opinion offering its own verdict on the matter: It was the women who were at fault. They were dismissed on the terms that so many women who are deemed to be inconvenient are: They were belittled, in the most public of forums. For their appearances. For their accents. For their hairstyles. For their sexuality.

There is ificant, and inevitable, overlap between the two docuseries—similar interviews conducted, similar stories told—but the two shows have another thing in common, as well: Neither offers a concisely specific argument about the overarching questions of the Clinton affair—how to think about it, what it all meant, who was right in it, who was wrong.

Instead, the series captures a different kind of truth: the way the events, of the s and the early s, and then of and and and beyond, never, strictly speaking, ended. Each story serves as a reminder that the past tense is also the present. The metastatic expansion of partisanship, from mere ideological disagreement into ceaseless, take-no-prisoners blood sport. The ratification of hour cable news, with its incentives toward argument and outrage, as one of the primary facts of the American informational landscape.

The political power of the religious right. The emergence of the conservative blogosphere. Sexism that often manifested in the way political backlash so often will : as innocent comedy. As jokes just jokes! So much has changed since then. I mean, how it was presented to the country initially is how it continues to be referred to today, which is an affair , the Lewinsky affair. What it was was a series of encounters to address a physical need, a use of a young girl, and then the sort of cold, hard dismissal of her on any human level.

In the process, the two docuseries revel in the extreme contingencies of history: the fact that, had things gone just a little bit differently, Monica might still be, for most Americans, anonymous; Bill Clinton might never have been impeached; Al Gore might have gotten elected; and … you can fill in several of the fancifully counterfactual blanks from there. She suggests that his behavior toward her, in which he variously gave her gifts Leaves of Grass , showered her with compliments, and ignored her, going silent for long periods of time, is what ultimately led her to share the details of the affair with Tripp.

How stupid am I that I believed this, that I bought this? I felt so deflated, and so desperate. And those were the conditions, along with some other things, that led to me confiding in Linda Tripp. Currie happened not to pick up. The horror that the nation went through for eight months would have been essentially avoided. It would have been over very, very quickly. Gibney and Foster let those words linger. What if. If only. What might have been different? Had the butterfly flapped its wings just a little faster, just a little slower, what would the shifted air have meant for the country?

What would we know today? What would have been lost to history? Watching and listening to each is riveting; it is also, in the end, exhausting. All this, to what end? What really changed? The status quo is a sturdy thing. People will rise to defend it. Cultural apparatuses will rise to defend it. Twenty years ago, many of them defended Bill Clinton by way of belittling the women who would disrupt his otherwise popular presidency. They suggested that those women were cheap, and manipulative, and ugly, and unruly.

That they would have been better off staying silent and complacent. America has its own ways of abusing its power. Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe.

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Women in Politics: A Very Short History