While the impeachment trial was dragging on, it made perfect legal sense for those in President Bill Clinton's camp to say it was all just about sex. Meanwhile, in the other corner there were his Republican tormentors, strapping on their armour to defend the constitution and reminding us that it was in fact all about the rule of law. Now the smoke is beginning to clear, it is time to get it straight; while there was some cursory sexual content to the Monica Lewinsky saga (if that's what you would call those Oval Office encounters), and while there were indeed abuse-of-power issues stemming from Mr Clinton's behaviour, neither factor was central to the struggle of the past 13 months. The president's impeachment and his subsequent trial were only tangentially about sex and power. The real issue, the sub-text underlining it all, was culture. Monicagate was the battleground for a bloody, almost nuclear culture war, and Mr Clinton - the philandering, manipulative, lying, immoral Mr Clinton - won it hands down. What his victory means for the state of American society is anybody's guess; and while Republicans are tempted to throw up their hands and weep at it, their real task lies in learning the right lessons from it. The culture war pitted not just Mr Clinton, but his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, against a large proportion of Republicans and (secretly) a handful of Democrats who have despised them from the day they entered the White House, and even a little before. When the First Lady spoke famously, just after the Lewinsky scandal broke, of a right-wing conspiracy to attack and bring down her husband, she had the right idea but, it turns out, was using the wrong language. Her terminology tended to make one think of a kind of Machiavellian court intrigue, where rivalries are purely political in nature. But it would be wrong to think that the Clintons' enemies hate them simply because of their (supposedly) liberal, centre-left politics. The loathing has always been far more visceral, as opposed to anything that has been logically thought through. To understand what motivates the Clinton-haters, one has only to look at some of the prominent figures in the Lewinsky saga. First there is Kenneth Starr, who is not merely a Republican but a deeply Christian jurist motivated by a strong sense of moral indignation; Henry Hyde, chief House of Representatives prosecution manager, who used the 'culture war' image himself, when he said in his closing speech last week: 'I wonder if after this culture war is over that we're engaged in if an America will survive that's worth fighting to defend . . . I wonder in future generations whether there'll be enough vitality left in duty, honour and country to excite our children and grandchildren to defend America.' Then there's Linda Tripp, who some may regard as a poor candidate to be casting stones, but who revealed during TV interviews this week that moral outrage was a strong motivation in her decision to take her secret tapes to Mr Starr. Moral venom even fuels the anti-Clinton prose of Christopher Hitchens, the leftist journalist currently in hot water for snitching on Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal. When, as he does in a recent column, the writer refers to Ms Lewinsky as the president's 'comfort woman', it betrays more disgust than a thousand speeches from the House floor. It is almost painful to have to say this, because one lays oneself open to being accused of justifying Mr Clinton's conduct, but there is not a shred of doubt that Mr Clinton and his wife have been subjected to an unprecedented campaign of personal and political vilification over the past seven years. All the other scandals that have touched the Clinton White House - Whitewater, the Vince Foster suicide, Filegate, Travelgate, Paula Jones - were fed by an energetic, well-organised coalition of Clinton haters dotted around the media, conservative think-tanks and law firms. But as Mr Starr himself conceded in his report to Congress, they were all much ado about nothing. Why have the Clintons inspired such terminal dislike? After all, Democrats loved to hate Ronald Reagan's politics, but they could never find much negative to say about the man. But those who hate the Clintons most are those who see them firing from the opposing trenches in the culture war. Mr Clinton was the first baby boomer to enter the White House, the first to admit trying pot, the first to avoid the military draft - not to mention actively protesting against United States' involvement in Vietnam. Just that one image of a young, bearded Oxford student bad-mouthing his country's foreign policy has been enough to sustain three decades of distrust ever since. To his enemies, Mr Clinton encapsulates everything that has gone wrong in America ever since the 1960s and the counter-culture movement. And having a forceful, feminist wife who pursued her own career, kept her own name and limited herself to one child only helped bolster the image. Bear in mind that some of Mr Clinton's chief ideological foes - for example, Senate leader Trent Lott and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich - were only born a couple of years before the president. They also grew their political wings during the 1960s, but of a different colour. When you think of it, the Clinton presidency - culminating in the Lewinsky scandal - has given social conservatives ammunition to keep fighting the same cultural war that started in the 1960s. In this way, it might seem fitting that the scandal which did nearly sink Mr Clinton was the one with sexual and moral overtones. But the president's personal weaknesses of the flesh should not be confused with the free-love, hedonistic doctrines of his flower child contemporaries. In fact, if any of his enemies stopped to catch their breath, they would see that few of their cultural fears about him have materialised. How many flower children are card-carrying Southern Baptists with their own spiritual advisers? How many former hippies would have been as hard-line as Mr Clinton in trying to ban pornography on the Internet, forcing TV channels to implement a ratings systems and refusing point-blank to legalise marijuana for medical use? About the most radical Mr Clinton got in office was revealing his taste in underwear on MTV. In short, you can take Bill Clinton out of Arkansas, but you can't take Arkansas out of Bill Clinton. If truth be told, he is a rather traditional, conservative man who likes pets and raised a wonderful daughter. If he really is the Republicans' prime enemy in the culture war, it's no wonder voters believe the party is out of touch. It is ironic that Mr Clinton's sins allowed his wife to emerge smelling of roses; because scratch at away the surface of the outwardly prim-and-proper First Lady, and you will find much more of a true, 1960s radical. If she does decide to run for the Senate, it is a safe bet that her foes will stop shedding crocodile tears for the wronged wife, and start polishing their guns.