Monica Lewinsky’s Story Isn’t a Clinton Hit Piece. It’s a Condemnation of 1998’s Feminists

She’s just trying to clear the air.

National Journal
May 8, 2014, 6:37 a.m.

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.

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