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When it comes to other people’s sex lives MYOB

It’s not for nothing that the most chilling scene in George Orwell’s prophetic novel “1984” involves an act of puritanical voyeurism. Secret lovers Winston and Julia are lying together in their hideaway in the London slums when a steely voice comes out of the wall.

“You are the dead,” it says. “Remain exactly where you are. Make no move until you are ordered.”

Black-clad storm troopers burst in and carry the couple away, never to see each other again. Under Big Brother, “desire was thoughtcrime.” Love affairs threatened party solidarity. Even worse, Julia was a uniformed member of the “Junior Anti-Sex League,” basically a Girl Scout troop for professional virgins.

A passionate, if secretive, man mourning his wife’s sudden death, Orwell believed that nothing would so dramatize the threat of totalitarianism as government intrusion into citizens’ bedrooms.

We do it differently in the USA, where policing public figures’ sex lives has become the responsibility of the news media. The instinct, however, remains sadistic. Keeping our own sins discreetly hidden, we newspaper pundits and TV talking heads pronounce upon the romantic entanglements of the great. Everybody’s a gossip columnist. The New York Times differs hardly at all in this respect from the Hollywood Reporter.

The hypocrisy would be staggering if not so familiar. Everybody pretends to be shocked and horrified, when mostly, they’re titillated. Nothing so thrills the partisan mind as somebody from the opposite party being caught with their knickers down.

Failing that, there are always America’s all-purpose punching bags, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Even liberal pundits who’d staunchly defend your right to have sex with armadillos appear to believe that focusing upon Bill Clinton’s peccadillos decades later constitutes the highest duty of a free press.

Hillary’s, too.

Last week, the failed 2016 Democratic presidential nominee gave a couple of TV interviews. She told CNN that her party needs to toughen up. “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she said.

As she didn’t say anything rude, it’s hard to know what Hillary meant. New York Times columnist Michelle Cottle, however, cowered, worried that the remark was “extremely likely to electrify the Republican base, in whose collective lizard brain Mrs. Clinton still looms large.”

As if there were anything she could say that wouldn’t.

But what really got Cottle going was what she called “an even juicier midterm gift for Trump & Company,” specifically Hillary’s telling a CBS News interviewer that, no, her husband shouldn’t have resigned the presidency over Monica Lewinsky.

“President Trump being a pig and an alleged sexual predator,” Cottle wrote, “in no way excuses Bill Clinton from being a pig and an alleged sexual predator.”

Key word: “alleged.”

Over at Slate, Christina Cauterucci relitigated the Clinton marriage: “Hillary exhibited atrocious moral, political and intellectual judgment by staying with Bill.” The author, whose bio indicates that she was in third grade when these events transpired, is perhaps too young to understand that other people’s marriages are foreign countries where she doesn’t speak the language.

My view is that unless she’s running for president in 2020 — a perfectly dreadful idea both for her sake and the Democratic Party’s — Hillary needs to stay off TV. Otherwise, she should tell interviewers that she’s already said everything she’s going to say about her husband’s wicked wandering eye, as that great Arkansan Johnny Cash put it, and will no longer answer questions about it.

There ought to be a statute of limitations on adultery; if people want to stay married, they have to quit talking about it.

As to the “alleged sexual predator” part, it’s a classic example of pundits being solemn when they can’t be serious. As all cops and newspaper reporters used to know, anybody can say anything about anybody else.

However, since Bill Clinton can’t very well sue anybody for libel, it’s open season on him.

Would you call Brett Kavanaugh an “alleged sexual predator”?

Absent a proper investigation, I wouldn’t. But then a real probe never took place. The whole thing was upside-down.

Ironically, Kavanaugh himself had a role in investigating Bill Clinton’s sins. And like every halfway skeptical reporter I know, he came up empty apart from Monica Lewinsky. Even regarding Juanita Broaddrick, currently the subject of a Slate podcast and a “tell-all” book entitled “You’d Better Put Some Ice on That: How I Survived Being Raped by Bill Clinton.”

Today a dedicated Trumpist, who also hosted fundraisers for Clinton soon after the alleged atrocity, Broaddrick has also repeatedly denied the allegation — both in an affidavit and a sworn deposition regarding “unfounded rumors … that Mr. Clinton had made unwelcome sexual advances toward me.”

After Starr’s intrepid sex sleuths twisted her arm, Broaddrick changed her tune. But even “The Starr Report” called her tale of woe “inconclusive.”

Absent clairvoyance, so must we all.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons

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