Burning the beret
WASHINGTON — Monica Lewinsky says she would meet me for a drink.
In her new meditation in Vanity Fair, Monica mashes Hawthorne and Coleridge, proclaiming that she’s ready to rip off her “scarlet-A albatross,” “reimagine” her identity and reclaim her narrative.
At long last, she says, she wants to “burn the beret and bury the blue dress” and get unstuck from “the horrible image” of an intern who messed around with the president in the pantry off the Oval Office, spilled the details to the wrong girlfriend and sparked a crazy impeachment scandal.
I wish her luck. Though she’s striking yet another come-hither pose in the magazine, there’s something poignant about a 40-year-old frozen like a fly in amber for something reckless she did in her 20s, while the unbreakable Clintons bulldoze ahead. Besides, with the Clinton restoration barreling toward us and stretching as far as the eye can see to President Chelsea, we could all use a drink.
The last time I encountered Monica was at the Bombay Club, a restaurant nestled between my office and the White House. It was at the height of the impeachment madness, and she was drinking a Cosmo at a table with her family. After requesting that the piano player play “Send in the Clowns,” she leaned in with me, demanding to know why I wrote such “scathing” pieces about her.
My columns targeted the panting Peeping Tom Ken Starr and the Clintons and their henchmen, for their wicked attempt to protect the First Couple’s political viability by smearing the intern as a nutty and slutty stalker. I did think Monica could skip posing for cheesecake photos in Vanity Fair while in the middle of a plea bargain. But I felt sorry for her. She had propelled herself into that most loathed stereotype (except by Helen Gurley Brown): the overripe office vixen who seduces her married boss. Feminists turned on her to protect a president with progressive policies on women.
Monica bristled with confidence when she talked to me, but then she retreated to the ladies’ room and had a meltdown on her cellphone with Judy Smith. Smith would go on to fame and fortune as a co-executive producer on Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal,” which focuses on Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope, a blend of Judy, who was an African-American crisis manager, and her client Monica, who had an affair with the president.
Washington journalists fawned over the stars of “Scandal” last weekend at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner festivities, which served mainly as a promotional vehicle for the ABC show and HBO’s “Veep.”
The plot of “Scandal” is so luridly over-the-top, it makes the saga of the pizza-bearing intern who inspired it seem almost quaint. You’d think that the book “Monica’s Story,” the HBO documentary, Barbara Walters’ interview and the 1998 Vanity Fair spread would be enough about the most covered affair in history. Heck, the seamy Starr report was enough.
But she must feel that her reticence over the last 10 years of “self-searching and therapy” has led the public to hunger for her thoughts on the eve of Hillary’s book rollout in June and at a moment when President Barack Obama is struggling to pull focus back from the Clintons, whose past and future are more dominant than Obama’s present. Monica is in danger of exploiting her own exploitation as she dishes about a couple whose erotic lives are of waning interest to the country.
But, clearly, she was stung and wanted to have her say about the revelation in February that Hillary had told her friend Diane Blair, knowing it would be made public eventually, that Bill was at fault for the affair but deserved props for trying to “manage someone who was clearly a narcissistic loony toon.” Hillary also said she blamed herself for Bill’s dalliance. Monica trenchantly notes about the feminist icon, who is playing the gender card on the trail this time around: “I find her impulse to blame the Woman — not only me, but herself — troubling.”
Lewinsky said that Bill “took advantage” of her — in a consensual way. “Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath,” she writes, “when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.”
Disingenuously and pretentiously, Monica said that the tragedy of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate secretly streamed his liaison with another man over the Web, had wrought “a Prufrockian moment:” Did she dare disturb the Clinton universe to become a spokeswoman against bullying?
Her bullies were crude strangers in person and online who reduced her to a dirty joke or verb. Monica corrects Beyoncé, who sings, “He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown,” saying it should be “He Bill Clinton’d all on my gown.” But her bullies were also the Clintons and their vicious attack dogs who worked so hard to turn “that woman,” as Bill so coldly called her, into the scapegoat.
As Hillary gave a campaign-style speech in Maryland on Tuesday, warning that economic inequality could lead to “social collapse,” That Woman started her own campaign, keening about her own social collapse. It was like a Golden Oldie tour of a band you didn’t want to hear in the first place.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.