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Probably a very trivial answer from an American point of view, but from a European perspective this is rather strange. In Europe the private life of a president is in many cases, well, private. As long as he/she rules the country decently, there is no problem.

As far as it is described, the relationship was not "forced": the president did not abused his "power"... Thus this is a personal affair.

The part that causes the most problems from a European perspective is that Clinton lied about his encounters with Lewinsky. In Europe, this would probably created a climate of anti-trust.

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    I feel that this may be better suited on Politics.SE, and/or alternatively too opinion-based for History.SE – Semaphore Oct 5 '14 at 19:20
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    @Semaphore This is now history. We should try to objectively assess why this scandal blew up its scale and perhaps why ones involving other people did or did not. My first guess for the difference would be the time period that it occurred. One could compare JFK, Strom Thurmond, Gary Hart, Eliot Spitzer, and Mark Sanford and hypothesize that sex scandals had an effect form the 1980's to today that they did not have in earlier generations. – Mike Oct 5 '14 at 21:39
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    this is more about politics and American culture than history. The US obsession with morality and sex (at the same time, while they generally consider sex immoral, go figure) has a lot to do with it. – jwenting Oct 6 '14 at 7:42
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    Elsewhere in US law subordinates are not allowed to have sexual relationships with their supervisors; there is an implicit quid-pro-quo which is damaging to the workplace. Even worse when the subordinate is not paid, and is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the manager for career advancement & references. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 6 '14 at 12:23
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    @CGCampbell not sure if that's the legal situation in the US, but sounds plausible. It's certainly "not done" in many countries to have sexual relations with subordinates in businesses and military organisations. – jwenting Oct 7 '14 at 7:02
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Probably a very trivial answer from an American point of view, but from a European perspective this is rather strange. In Europe the private life of a president is in many cases, well, private. As long as he/she rules the country decently, there is no problem.

  1. "decently" is in the eye of the beerholder. That's problem #1 with your statement. From the point of view of a large number of people (those who voted against him - roughly 1/2 the country), he did NOT rule the country "decently".

    In politics, ANY reason to attack an opponent is a good reason. This one was just as good as anything else.

  2. In addition, a political sex scandal is a very popular entertainment. People eat it up. It's sex, scandal, and politics all meshed together. Not to mention all the comedy material that arose out of this specific one. As exhibit, I present to you Anthony "flashing" Wiener.

  3. As another answer noted, there used to be somewhat of an expectation that a President isn't a bald-faced liar. Especially after the last "I'm not a crook!" was forced from office over it. In this case, we had: adultery (including lying to your wife), coverup, lying to investigators in deposition, lying to a grand jury, AND lying to pretty much the entire country in a televised speech.

As far as it is described, the relationship was not "forced": the president did not abused his "power"... Thus this is a personal affair.

This is where you are 100% wrong (unless you're a closet libertarian :)

Americans have it drilled in their heads from the moment of entering job market, for the last 20 years, about sexual harassment and the evils of imposing your (typically male) sexual attention on a person who is in a power-imbalance relationship with you - including, and especially at, workplace.

There can't POSSIBLY EVER be a greater power imbalance than between President of the frigging United States of America ("the most powerful man in the world") and an intern in the federal government. That's a far as a power imbalance can possibly stretch.

Frankly, ANY OTHER male in that position, had he not been a Democratic politician, would have been crucified by feminists.

Any CEO or manager in a private company would immediately loose his job (among higher profile ones: Boeing CEO fell that way. Or look at the witch-hunt feminists started against Herman Cain the moment he became a political threat).

The fact that the relationship was consensual is 100% irrelevant to the power imbalance and thus sexual harassment

  • source #1: many many years of mandatory annual sexual harassment training).

  • Source #2: City/County of San Francisco government, publication "Sexual Harassment: Frequently Asked Questions by Ann Lehman & Hillary Flynn, Sexual Harassment Task Force May 1996 (Revised September 1998, August 2008)"

The reason for that is that the assumption of "there's no way to tell if the consent was caused by the power imbalance"

The part that causes the most problems from a European perspective is that Clinton lied about his encounters with Lewinsky. In Europe, this would probably created a climate of anti-trust.

The problem wasn't JUST that he lied (that was a problem but not a legal one). Although as you noted, that was definitely a problem in that it imposed a great(er) level of distrust in politicians from people.

The problem was that he lied under oath in a criminal deposition - and perjury is a criminal offense. Again, the only reason he's NOT in jail (like, say, Walter Libby on identical charge) is because he was a popular left wing politician in a period of good economy.

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    @CommuSoft - "in the U.S. where people don't like any government" - that is a wrong assumption. Sexual harrassment laws are a product of radical feminism and progressives, who like big government just as much as any (and more than many) European. US is extremely polarized, so any generalization about "US People" is bount to be false. – user4012 Nov 10 '14 at 2:41
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If we are to follow Max Weber, this is an indirect consequence of Protestantism, especially Calvinism. For John Calvin, Grace is given by God and God only. Grace is roughly defined as "being ultimately saved", i.e. going to Heaven at your demise. In 16th century catholic Europe, people believed that you could win your ticket to Heaven through your good works. On theological grounds, Calvin rejected that idea, because it looked like humans being able to constrain God, to force a divine decision. Instead, Calvin proclaimed that whether you would be saved or not was already pre-ordained, and you could do nothing about it (at least in the to-Heaven direction; if you are supposed to be saved, you can still "fall" through evil actions and thought, and be redirected to Hell).

Since this is a rather depressing view, God (in Calvin's view) dispenses earthly gifts to those who will be saved, so that their hope may be strengthened. If you are a businessman and God elected you for a nice afterlife, God will make sure that you will prosper. Conversely, if you are evil and wicked, thus destined to Hell, then God will strike down your endeavours. According to Weber, this was the main engine for the rise of capitalism in northern Europe and then North America, with, as central figures, ascetic businessmen who accumulated wealth and reinvested it, but did not seem to really enjoy it or spend it.

A consequence is that the tenant of a public office must then be pious and irreproachable in all aspects of his life: by being adulterous, Clinton was incurring God's wrath, thus putting the USA in jeopardy. Very few Americans still think of that in terms of Grace and Heaven, but the trait remains very active. The political career of an American politician is all but finished when an extra-marital affair is revealed (this happened to Arnold Schwarzenegger not long ago, for instance). It is unthinkable to run for presidency if you are not happily married.

By contrast, in an historical catholic country like France, private life is private, and there is no problem in electing an unmarried President (as is the case for the current incumbent), or for the President to scandalously divorce then marry a singer during his mandate (as the previous one did).

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    I think the first paragraph is true and the last paragraph is true. The middle two paragraphs advance a hypothesis to resolve the conundrum; why are French (religious) voters tolerant while American (secular) voters prudes? – Mark C. Wallace Oct 6 '14 at 12:21
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    The problem I have with the thesis of this answer is that POTUS infidelity wasn't exactly new to Clinton. At least one prior POTUS even admitted to having children with a mistress. So clearly something more was at work. – T.E.D. Oct 6 '14 at 13:07
  • I am not sure about that, Italy is a traditional catholic country and few years ago there was a big fuzz about their PM being involved in parties. – S182 Nov 8 '14 at 22:14
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    @S182 It could simply mean that Berlusconi finally lost his iron grip on the media; rather than a shift in attitudes. – LateralFractal Nov 10 '14 at 4:22

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