It’s been 20 years since Bill Clinton ensnared himself in a legal and moral mess dubbed “the Monica Lewinsky scandal.” I always thought it should have been called “the Bill Clinton scandal,” but the Clintons had so many scandals –- about five a week, it seemed –- that we needed names to differentiate them all. For that reason, this particular scandal will always carry the name of the woman who, as a naive 22-year-old White House intern, had the misfortune of getting involved with Bill.
Lewinsky has written a thoughtful piece for VANITY FAIR that reflects her many years of self-examination and healing from the trauma she experienced. Though I might normally choose not to comment now on the choices she made 20 years ago, the fact that she has gone public with her feelings and writes so intelligently about them makes me feel that I can.
As it happens, Monica didn’t meet Ken Starr until a chance encounter at a New York restaurant on Christmas Eve of 2017. She felt uncomfortable, understandably, as she “struggled to decipher the warmth he evinced.” Reading between the lines, it seems he was just trying to be nice to her, asking her more than once if she was doing okay. But his “pastoral” demeanor creeped her out a little; she will always remember him as “the man who turned my 24-year-old life into a living hell in his effort to investigate and prosecute President Bill Clinton on charges that would eventually include obstruction of justice and lying under oath...”
It’s true that the investigation into Whitewater ended up dealing with an entirely different scandal. (Again, we’re talking about the Clintons, and there were so many!) Back then, special counsels had even wider powers than they do today. In case you’re not old enough to remember, the only reason Ken Starr ever crossed Monica’s path was because of Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual aggression towards Paula Corbin Jones. The American Spectator did an expose about Clinton’s long-ago use of Arkansas state troopers to help him procure women, and it mentioned a girl named “Paula.” Paula came forth and sued Clinton over alleged sexual advances in a Little Rock hotel room, and (this is key) the Supreme Court ruled that a sitting President could be sued in civil court, leading to depositions in which Clinton, being Clinton, blatantly lied. At that point, whatever evidence Starr could get to prove perjury and obstruction of justice was fair game, including Monica’s blue dress. It must have been a nightmare having her personal life paraded in public and, of course, being abandoned by the older, powerful man who had let her grow so close to him.
Monica has spent long years in therapy, coping with post-traumatic stress and moving forward with her life. She has obviously read widely and quotes Salman Rushdie: “Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” She makes it clear that her healing process will never be completely over.
She credits the #MeToo movement with helping her feel supported and less alone. She regrets her choices but is just starting to realize the position she was put in by Bill Clinton. She’s always maintained that the relationship was consensual, but says, “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us ever got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station and privilege.”
And that is why it ultimately goes back to Bill. His authority, his power, his fault. That’s not what Monica says, at least in so many words. That’s what I say.
One last, curious thing. Lewinsky acknowledges that what she did was wrong and that what the President did was a “gross abuse of power,” but she has nothing negative to say here about Hillary’s behavior. Instead, she says, “We watched a First Lady and First Daughter move through the year with grit and grace.” Um, this is the First Lady who graciously called her a narcissistic loony tune and worked behind the scenes to discredit scores of erupting bimbos. Perhaps acknowledging this will play a part in the next phase of Monica’s healing.
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