When Monica Lewinsky reemerged in the May issue of Vanity Fair, many speculated that the timing of the infamous former White House intern’s return to the spotlight was relatively good news for Hillary Clinton.
It suggested, some speculated, that Lewinsky’s determination to air the dirty laundry of the 1990s in early 2014 was good timing for Clinton, and that the issue would be fully litigated long before the 2016 campaign began in earnest. That assumption went out the window this month when Lewinsky joined Twitter and began to speak openly and without regret about the incident that made hers a household name.
Apparently, Lewinsky has done some maturing in the time she has spent laying low. In a speech she delivered recently before an audience at Forbes’s 30 Under 30 Summit, Lewinsky pulled off a deft maneuver: By adopting the language of the left, she presented herself as a pure and unimpeachable victim.
“I was Patient Zero,” Lewinsky said. “The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet.”
“There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then. But there were gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded. Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial up. Yet around the world this story went. A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media’.”
“Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” she said. “I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past.”
Lewinsky also adroitly avoided blaming the Clintons for her decades of misery. The villain in her tale was Matt Drudge and the other conservative outlets that dared to make her affair with the president an issue worthy of public scrutiny, but all understand that her abuser – the man who took sexual advantage of her in the White House — was President Bill Clinton.
Those are words you are not to speak in polite company lest they offend the sensibilities of a fan of the 42nd President and his wife, but they are implicit and laced throughout Lewinsky’s account of her harrowing experience.
Clinton fans are now palpably nervous about what the reemergence of this figure who forced Hillary Clinton, a self-styled feminist icon and likely Democratic standard-bearer, to stand by her man.
“She has a point that she wants to make, which is a legitimate and important point,” Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus said on Tuesday. “If she is making it simultaneous with a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, I don’t think that’s by any means fatal to a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign but I don’t think it’s helpful either.”
“The timing,” NBC News host Andrea Mitchell said in a segment on NBC’s Nightly News, “couldn’t be worse for Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
“I think no one was probably sorrier to hear Monica Lewinsky’s name raised again than Hillary Clinton,” USA Today columnist Susan Page concurred, noting that this represents an “extraordinary painful period” of the former first lady’s life.
But the most astounding display of concern for how this development affects Clinton’s political prospects came from reproductive rights advocate and MSNBC.com journalist Irin Carmon:
She noted that, while not endorsing the bullying Lewinsky received and continues to endure, “someone who had an affair with the president, a president who was being targeted by Republicans in an investigation, would have been slut-shamed, frankly, would have been treated badly.”
So, Lewinsky’s victimization is not appropriate, but it is excusable – primarily because Republicans cared. If you thought this equivocation had nothing to do with how this development damages Hillary’s 2016 prospects, Carmon clarified:
“I think it’s unfair to compare Monica Lewinsky with lifelong feminist activists and public statesman Hillary Clinton,” she added after being confronted with an opinion piece which suggested Lewinsky would win over more women if she displayed more emotionality.
“I think if Monica wants to use the fact that she is so notorious that her name is associated with things that are unsavory and people judge her all the time, if she wants to use those powers for good, I think that’s great,” Carmon continued.
Carmon later clarified that she wished she had added the caveat that Lewinsky’s actions could be “considered unsavory,” and are not necessarily objectively so, but her earlier remarks were far more surprising. Carmon, a popular feminist writer, essentially justified the “shaming” of Lewinsky for having fallen for and been seduced by an older man in a position of supreme authority. Those actions, in fact, made her “notorious.”
Lewinsky’s actions resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and earned her the hatred of a generation of Democrats, but her greatest crime – robbing Hillary Clinton of what the left believes is her due – may yet be in the offing.