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On the eve of President Clinton’s impeachment trial, our thoughts drifted back to an earlier attempt — this one successful — to drum a federal official out of office for an incident involving sexual matters. So we called former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for insight into her ex-boss’ predicament.

The president sacrificed you in 1994 to the moralizing right wing over your suggestion that it is appropriate to teach children about masturbation. How do you feel about that now, given his own troubles?

As the chief executive officer of this country, the president did what he had to do at the time for the good of the country. If that meant he had to “sacrifice” me, then that’s OK. I was sorry and disappointed, but I understood.

On the other hand, I never felt [that] what I said about masturbation was wrong.

Throughout this scandal, the public has made clear its indifference to politicians’ sex lives. If it happened today, would you lose your job for talking about masturbation?

Probably not. I think this whole thing may have been good for America because it has made us talk about sexual matters in a more open and honest way. The political class is starting to get the message from the American people that it’s time to be more adult about sex.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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