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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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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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