Monica Lewinsky may not have intended it this way, but she just did Hillary Clinton a big favor.
Lewinsky could be forgiven, of course, if she did not mean to join Team Hillary. She is the forgotten, tragic roadkill of the affair.
Bill Clinton paid the price of public humiliation and House impeachment, but he moved on, concluding what is remembered as a successful (if tarnished) presidency and a post-presidency at least as successful.
Hillary Clinton, humiliated in her own way, emerged seemingly stronger. Her marriage endured; she became senator and secretary of state. Having put cracks in the glass ceiling, she is poised to break it, should she choose, in 2016.
And then there is Lewinsky, who alone among the protagonists in the national soap opera saw her life irreparably shattered. Bill and Hillary made millions on the speaking circuit. Lewinsky, she writes for the June issue of Vanity Fair, “turned down offers that would have earned me more than $10 million, because they didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
Despite a master’s degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics, Lewinsky has never really held a steady job. “Because of what potential employers so tactfully referred to as my ‘history,’ ” Lewinsky writes, “I was never ‘quite right’ for the position. In some cases, I was right for all the wrong reasons, as in ‘Of course, your job would require you to attend our events.’ And, of course, these would be events at which press would be in attendance.”
Still, 16 years after the scandal broke, she is recognized nearly every day. Now 40, she has never married.
Lewinsky did not exactly turn into a recluse. She launched a line of designer handbags, appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” hawked a diet program, developed and starred in an HBO documentary about you know what. But she has mostly remained backstage as Clinton Inc. thrived.
So the timing of Lewinsky’s Vanity Fair piece — as the political world awaits Hillary Clinton’s presidential determination, as Chelsea Clinton prepares to have the first grandchild — would seem not exactly fortuitous for the Clintons. Who wants to remember the stained blue dress and presidential phone sex and West Wing thong-flashing?
Lewinsky writes that, in choosing this moment, she was inspired, in part, by the example of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers freshman who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate Web-cammed him kissing another man. In the aftermath, Lewinsky writes, “my own suffering took on a different meaning. Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation.”
Maybe, although a more compelling reason may have come with the release a few months ago of notes by the late Diane Blair, Hillary Clinton’s closest friend, in which she quotes the then-first lady describing Lewinsky as a “narcissistic loony toon.”
Lewinsky’s response? “Yes, I get it. Hillary Clinton wanted it on record that she was lashing out at her husband’s mistress,” she writes. “She may have faulted her husband for being inappropriate, but I find her impulse to blame the Woman — not only me, but herself — troubling.”
Lewinsky says it’s time to stop “tiptoeing around my past — and other people’s futures.” Other people? Hmmm, wonder who that might be. Here, though, is why her going public is good for Clinton 2016:
The Lewinsky affair never really came up in 2008; the subject was too raw and too fraught, and Clinton did not make it to the ugliness of a general election campaign. It’s clear, though, that the subject will not be taboo in 2016. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has already raised the question of whether Democrats in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, should consort with a “sexual predator” like Bill Clinton.
Lewinsky’s account makes clear that her affair with the president was between two consenting adults. “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship,” she writes. “Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.”
So her piece defuses Paul’s line of attack. And it does so before any Clinton presidential announcement.
If and when a Clinton presidential announcement comes, Lewinsky will be old news. “It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress,” Lewinsky writes. That would be good news for both women.