Monica Lewinsky is back in the news, and we welcome her return. That’s partly because things are now so dreary a fresh infusion of smutty fellatio jokes is needed to lighten the national mood, but mostly because Lewinsky is an embarrassment to many people who still need to be embarrassed.
The former White House intern who was at the center of the most publicized presidential sex scandal in history has penned her long-awaited tell-all book, intriguingly titled “Shame and Survival,” and excerpts have already begun to appear in Vanity Fair. Highlights of the first batch of include her deep regrets about her affair with President Bill Clinton, a claim that “my boss took advantage of me” but in the same sentence an insistence that it was consenting relationship, an admission that suicidal thoughts sometimes occurred to her during the scandal, and the revelation that her international notoriety did not enhance her prospects for a planned career in public relations. None of it is particularly surprising or at all salacious, but it’s sufficient to get the Lewinsky name circulating through the news cycle until the next installment and remind the public of stained dresses and cigar tricks and and imaginary vast right-wing conspiracies and what the meaning of “is” is and all the other wacky things that made the Clinton administration a late-night comedian’s dreams come true. Everyone will recall the hilarious farce that played out on the evening news and the talk show monologues, and some will even remember that it was also a tawdry and damaging tragedy.
Too many people missed that crucial point as the scandal played itself out. In the end Clinton temporarily lost a law license that he wasn’t going to use in any case, but otherwise he suffered no significant harm for his actions. He survived impeachment with the unanimous support of the Senate’s Democrats, his poll numbers improved, the opposition party that had attempted to hold him to account was punished in the following mid-term elections, and his enabling wife was rewarded with her own seat in the Senate. Everyone else who had the misfortune to become embroiled in the imbroglio took at hit, though. The Lewinsky scandal let loose a flood of stories about the President exposing himself to a state employee and inviting her to “kiss it,” groping a grieving widow who had come to his office in need of help, telling his rape victim to “put a little ice on that lip,” but somehow the unimpeachably circumspect Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr wound up being portrayed as a sex fiend. Clinton campaign aides talked openly of their aggressive tactics for dealing with “bimbo eruptions,” but a Lewinsky friend who taped their conversations to protect herself from that outfit was portrayed as a villainous and ridiculed for her middle-aged looks. Clinton had an amazing knack for this sort of thing, to the extent that even today he’s remembered as the economic genius who delivered us balanced budgets and Newt Gingrich is still known as that stingy grouch who wouldn’t let Clinton spend more money on the poor, and he’s beloved for the housing boom that resulted from his subprime mortgage policies while his successor is pinned with all the blame for their inevitable collapse, but “Slick Willie’s” slide out of the Lewinsky mess his finest work.
He was the gray-haired president of the United States, she was a 24-year-old intern, and the storyline went that she was entirely at fault for anything that might have happened, and that anyone who had a problem with it or with any subsequent lies that were told about was just a sexually-repressed old blue-nose who needed to get with the swingin’ ’90s. People bought it, for the most part, and it was really something to see. Even the mainline feminists who had been so thoroughly outraged just a few years earlier by a Republican Senator’s more mildly boorish behavior went along, and to many horny young men of our acquaintance Clinton was even regarded as a sort of ne’er-do-well folk hero. The loss of the House majority that had accomplished many of the things Clinton still gets the credit for was stinging to the Republicans and conservatives in general, to the point that many would just as soon not revisit the matter now.
This time around might be different, though. The political passions that drove the Clinton loyalists’ have surely faded some over time, or been transferred to a newer hero, and the past many years afford a different perspective. Lewinsky is now 40 years old and regretful, still attractive in a zaftig sort of way but with an unmistakable look of damaged goods. Many of those horny young men of our acquaintance now have 11-year-old daughters and wouldn’t want them anywhere near Bill Clinton. All those 11-year-old girls who first awareness of what adult relationships sometimes entail by watching the news for a current events class are now 27, and mostly loyal Democrats because of that Republican war on women thing, but we can’t help but wonder if they’re satisfied with the sexual landscape they’ve traversed since the likes of Bill Clinton became exemplary. Even the mainstream feminists are probably eager to pounce on the next Republican caught in a similar scandal, and will at last concede that Clinton’s behavior was unacceptable no matter how strongly he supported a right to abortion. The press might decide to bolster their current guy’s reputation as a family man by contrast, and they’ll be hard pressed to whip up any indignation against any of those long-forgotten villains from the past. Lewinsky’s talking now, the jokes are sure to follow, and we can’t imagine that anyone named Clinton is happy that the subject has come up again.
Welcome back, Monica.
— Bud Norman