Don’t believe the hype.
Despite the supernova level of buzz that it has generated in the political punditry, Monica Lewinsky’s Vanity Fair piece — out now for subscribers — says virtually nothing we didn’t know about Lewinsky’s 1998 affair with Bill Clinton. Nor is this a Monica-versus-Hillary smackdown — although everyone knows the media loves a good catfight narrative. But what does it mean for Hillary Clinton in 2016?
Sorry to disappoint, but to answer your question, “Very little.”
What Lewinsky’s story does offer, however, is a view into the world of a woman whose life has been ruined by the political circus. Lewinsky readily takes responsibility for her ruin, but is rightfully embittered that she’s the sole scapegoat.
It’s a weird time warp — the media portrayed 24-year-old Lewinsky as a conniving, power-hungry vixen. Now, the 40-year-old Lewinsky is a limp puppet for the Clinton agenda. Lynne Cheney suggested that the Clintons put Lewinsky up to this to get her story out of the way before 2016. Others, like The New York Post‘s Andrea Peyser, addressed Lewinsky more bluntly: “Shut up and go away.”
In The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus wrote that Lewinsky is doing a big favor to the Clintons by dredging up the 1998 affair. As Jonathan Chait put it, it’s hard to believe that when she wrote the piece, Lewinsky was thinking, “I really owe Bill Clinton a favor.”
That is not to say Lewinsky ignores the Clintons entirely in the piece. She does take issue with Hillary Clinton’s assertion that she was a “narcissistic loony toon,” and vaguely references the Clinton operatives who tried to coerce her into compliance.
What Lewinsky’s essay does well is remind us of how shamefully so-called feminists failed her when she needed them most. Maureen Dowd — or as Lewinsky called her at the time, “Moremean Dowdy” — painted Lewinsky as a crazy bimbo, and won a Pulitzer for doing so. While they leapt to defend Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, the feminists of the day treated Lewinsky as persona non grata.
Reading this New York Observer story from 1998 — titled, hilariously, “New York Supergals Love That Naughty Prez” — the big-name feminists quoted in it seem to personally resent Lewinsky for setting back their noble Cause. How dare she work her feminine wiles on the president! Clinton couldn’t help himself — you know how he loved those Southern beauty queens. (Lewinsky is from Los Angeles.) And besides, he’s just so gosh-darn charming!
Looking back on this conversation is positively cringe-worthy. The women comment on her intelligence (“not so brilliant”), her looks (“not that pretty”), and even the state of her dental hygiene. To put a fine point on it, it’s Slut-Shaming 101.
Meanwhile, they are happy to fawn over the other person who engaged in that ill-advised affair. “This is a president who takes risks,” says feminist writer Katie Roiphe. “He is the most incredibly charming man,” says fashion designer Nicole Miller. “He’s quite cute,” says former Saturday Night Live writer Patricia Marx. (I wonder if Marx still thought of Clinton as “cute” after reading Section 272 of the Starr Report.)
It’s only made more upsetting that, 16 years later, the same feminist leaders who were so eager to assassinate Lewinsky’s character now consider themselves ardent defenders against sexism — proud warriors who stand Ready for Hillary.