Whenever I read anything about Monica Lewinsky — and there have been several articles recently — I always hope to read that Bill Clinton has reached out to her to say something, I don’t know quite what. I don’t even know what I would say in a similar situation — Sorry. How are you doing? God, what was I thinking? — but what I do know is that she has never quite recovered from the scandal that almost ended the Clinton presidency, while he has gone on to huge popularity, established a foundation that does enormous good and has cleansed himself of all dirt — yes, dirt. She has remained in a purgatory, surfacing occasionally with a stab at doing something (designing handbags, etc.) — and recently gave a TED talk which, like all such things, was seen by many billions of people, but not by me or, possibly, you.
Actually, I don’t even know that Clinton has not contacted Lewinsky. I only know that if such a thing happened, I don’t know about it. A recent New York Times article about Lewinsky said that “she declines to discuss” the Clintons, so it remains possible that Bill — certainly not Hillary — has, in fact, reached out to her. All I can find on the record is an account of his 1998 speech to a roomful of religious leaders at a White House prayer breakfast in which he famously said, “I have sinned.”
“It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.”
If that’s all, then it won’t do. You cannot put Lewinsky in the same sentence as the White House staff and Cabinet, not to mention “the American people.” Clinton’s aides were deceived and inconvenienced, and some were hopping mad, but none of them were flamed on the Internet, denounced as a tramp and a stalker, viciously condemned by commentators of both sexes, including a covey of journalistic harridans who have forever been on the lookout for any suggestion of extramarital sex in Washington. They simply won’t permit it.
Jessica Bennett, the writer of the commendably sympathetic Times piece, found Lewinsky to be “acutely intelligent, something for which she does not get much credit.” Actually, she does. Both her defense lawyers and even the prosecutors described her as both charming and smart, but it was important for her critics to consider her a crazed ditz, as if Clinton was her victim and could not have been genuinely charmed by her. (Remember how much they talked on the phone.) Lewinsky represented a middle-aged woman’s worst fear: the on-the-prowl young woman they once themselves were. She had to be dealt with.
I like Bill Clinton — always have. I think he was a very good president, and I think he’s a remarkable man, moral in a macro way. But I think his “I have sinned” statement is treacly crap, so generalized as to be meaningless. As he once acknowledged to me, he is forever linked to Lewinsky. They’re a couple on countless Web sites, in the National Archives and in the memories of those of us who were appalled, titillated, engrossed, threatened, educated and horrified (Linda Tripp!!) at the time. They’ve since gone their separate ways, which is right and proper and, of course, the only thing that could have been done — but I want in some way for Clinton to reach out to Lewinsky, not so much to apologize as to acknowledge that life has been golden for him, much less so for her.