During the early years of the Clinton administration, many citizens had developed a significant amount of admiration for the president himself. Following the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment proceedings, however, a number of those citizens became disillusioned. A hidden flaw in the president's personal character had been revealed, which served to polarize much of the country. It could be said this scandal revealed that an admired public figure did indeed have "feet of clay." Although many other positive aspects of Clinton's personality had not changed, the revelation of a hidden weakness did negatively affect his public persona.
The expression "feet of clay" can be traced back to the biblical Book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar experienced a terrifying dream in which he saw a massive statue constructed from various precious metals. The feet of this statue were composed of a mixture of iron and clay, making it especially vulnerable to an attack. Indeed, an massive stone did strike the statue at its clay feet, reducing the entire effigy to dust. The prophet interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream as a warning that the kingdom was in danger of disintegration at the hands of unseen enemies.
This vulnerability in the statue's literal feet of clay became a metaphor for the hidden flaws of those who have been exalted or placed on pedestals by others. The idea is that all of us have vulnerabilities, even those people whom we admire from afar. These weaknesses and flaws may remain well-hidden throughout a person's lifetime, or one moment of personal weakness could expose them to the entire world. Many times, an admired politician or entertainer or religious leader reveals his or her weaknesses only after a personal failing has been made public, but some may own up to their personal shortcomings in order to avoid disillusioning their supporters later.
Having feet of clay is considered to be a natural outcome of being human, although those in the public eye may feel the need to hold themselves to a higher standard. Many people apply the analogy after a public figure has already been brought down by a scandal or other exposure. Sometimes, the revelation can be the first step towards earning the true respect and admiration of those who may have been disillusioned the most.