Sound Bites and Fury

Scholars Deconstruct the Impeachment

"On the other hand, it isn't yet established that consensual sex is nobody else's business. So in that gap there's an opportunity for sexual witch hunters and it creates a cognitive dissonance, particularly among these neoliberal journalists who on the one hand are scandalized, and use privacy as the reason they're scandalized, but what they really want is secrecy so that patriarchal morality can go on undisturbed. And so they're now very angry at Clinton for having blown this."

Feminists have seen their old mantra, "the personal is political," transformed from critique into moralism. Media scholar Laura Kipnis is perturbed by "the depoliticization of feminism. You get all these women enacting grievances with men, using feminist language and idioms but detached from a feminist politics. Newt Gingrich calling Clinton a misogynist: that was my favorite line of the last year. All these men get a chance to strut their virtue and become the protectors of women." The impeachment was the moment for the right wing's redefined politics of the personal to flower. Instead, it sprouted and died.

Greg Spalenka

Eternal verities. What remains alive is the virulence of stigma. "Clinton ends up functioning like the Jews do in these 19th-century British novels," says Fred Moten, who teaches performance studies. "They're absolutely important for the circulation of capital, but you don't want them at your dinner table." In other words, the Jew is useful but must be socially ostracized. This describes the ultimate paradox about the impeachment rite: the most powerful person in the world, our commander in chief, assumes the role of pariah. "So it seems to me that the trial is a perfect way to pay tribute to his extreme functionality," says Moten, "but at the same time exclude him." Not from power—this is America, after all—but from respectability.

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