Clinton and Jefferson: The Teflon Syndrome?

Elizabeth Marvick highlights the similarities of allegation and opposition to two embattled American presidents - Thomas Jefferson and Bill Clinton.

President William Jefferson Clinton's pre-inaugural celebrations began in 1993 – the year in which Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday was also widely celebrated. To dramatise the links between himself and the third president of the United States, Clinton journeyed to Washington from Monticello, Jefferson's hilltop house in Virginia. Deliberately, the Arkansas Democrat followed the path to the White House taken in 1801 by the founder of his party at the start of his presidency. Before and since this symbolic pilgrimage, Clinton has followed in Jefferson's footsteps in other ways.

A striking similarity between the two presidencies is how the media treated them. The press of Jefferson's time, as of Clinton's, was ever ready to publish reports that the president was hypocritical, irreligious, amoral. It charged, moreover, that the author of the Declaration of Independence (in fact, his authorship too was questioned), had been guilty of financial chicanery in his personal affairs and cowardly in the face of danger.

Adultery was another sin charged to both presidents. In Jefferson's day the women cast in the putative role of. Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones were named Elizabeth Walker and Sally Hemings.

Parallels in the two presidents' political histories are as striking. Both had been governors of their southern states. Both won the presidency after campaigns against what they labelled elitist, unsympathetic administrations. Both stressed the need for change in the direction of more humane and democratic ideals.

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