Thursday, July 09, 2020

Probably the first and last Shabbat I ever “went to the office” was Saturday, December 19, 1998. I can pinpoint the moment because it was the day President Bill Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. I was working, at the time, as a legislative assistant to a member of the House from California, the state where I grew up.

It was not a great day, for a number of reasons. I remember noting, with a kind of disappointment, that there were no non-automatic doors available for me to get into the Rayburn House Office Building, and I didn’t feel high-ranking enough to be able to call someone in advance and ask them to help me navigate the myriad of doors, escalators, elevators or stairwells to get to the office from the catacombs of the Capitol building.

I also remember that I was there that Shabbat as a victim of my own success. In a legislative meeting the previous year, I was elated to be allowed to handle judiciary issues for the congressman. It was a plumb post for me, but no one knew or imagined before that year that me, a 24-year-old staffer, would be asked to recommend whether or not to impeach a sitting president. Ordinarily, the job would be perfect for someone junior-level like me, dealing with police funding and intellectual property issues. It wasn’t an area of interest for my congressman, who was more at home on natural resource and agricultural issues. His highest-ranking staffers always assisted on those.

That day, like every other day the House was in session, every House member had to have a staff member in the office to record the various motions and make recommendations or provide directives (Vote yes! Vote no! Abstain!) based on any changes. It sounds exciting, maybe, but the actual day was a bit of a letdown; I remember looking at the clock to see if I would make it to shul later to catch seudah shlishit. I doubt I made it that day, but I do remember hoping it was the last Shabbat I would ever go to work.

Like the year preceding that vote, the day was just a part of the etching away of my idealism about national politics. In its place grew a strong mistrust of the Clinton White House and anything connected to it. These two identities—me as a patriotic American, and me as a Jew—were two strongly held, intertwined belief systems, but that day, for me, perhaps, represented a break with my Americanism in favor of practicing Judaism. I was like the child who looked at the emperor and realized there’s something missing and very, very wrong.

When the news broke in late 1997 about Monica Lewinsky and her relationship with President Clinton, I had been shocked that someone essentially my age could have done such a big, destructive thing. The power of the presidency was besmirched for me, forever, when a “single Jewish female,” not so dissimilar to me, and only one year older, was recorded and caught in a sting operation and accused of such public misdeeds. Her parents, her grandmothers (eeek!), everyone she ever went to school, camp or college with, how would they come to terms with knowing these horrifically salacious details of someone they previously thought of as a “nice Jewish girl”? How would this young woman be able to get past such a thing that, in many other cases, hopefully would have been moved past as a youthful indiscretion?

The evidence was overwhelming and it was not a difficult job for me to recommend that my boss vote in favor of the articles of impeachment in their entirety.

Fast forward 18 years. It’s 2016. I work for a Shomer Shabbat company and help run a Shomer Shabbat newspaper. I enjoy Shabbat with my husband and children and (usually) don’t even discuss work in any way on these special days, in a kehillah that similarly holds these days dear.

But I will never, ever forget the Clintons, or “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” I watched the First Lady, a woman “standing by her man,” against every shred of blue dress evidence. It was painful to witness, and to this day, that is all I think about every time Hillary Clinton makes a statement, about basically anything. She was a U.S. senator when I lived in Manhattan, and I tried to tune her out. I mostly succeeded. When she was Secretary of State, I cared a little more and listened with half an ear. With regard to Benghazi, when a sitting U.S. ambassador was stalked and assassinated, I came back to my earlier belief; I didn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth, and I still don’t. People died, and a sitting Secretary of State said her department didn’t know anything about it. That made me angry.

I believe strongly that Hillary Clinton sacrificed her personal life in favor of her own political career by staying in a marriage that bore the brunt of more than a normal person might or should ever have to bear. I felt for her, I really did, but this life was her choice, and she is now the empress of a very large political machine.

Eighteen years ago, I was a young woman with an exciting job and opportunities to see elected leaders at work every day. But after that impeachment Shabbat, I only lasted another year before I left Capitol Hill forever changed. And whether she wears a sensible pantsuit or not, to me… the empress has no clothes.

By Elizabeth Kratz