If Hillary Clinton had any doubts, a 2016 run for president definitely presents challenges. Clinton has already been hit by a shoe and the return of Benghazi as a major Fox News talking point. Now comes Monica Lewinsky, breaking a long silence about her affair as a White House intern with then President Bill Clinton.
In an essay for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky writes about her regrets over the scandal, the humiliation she endured and the lasting effects on her mental health and career.
As Lewinsky, now 40, puts it in excerpts released this week, it’s time to stop “tiptoeing around my past — and other people’s futures. I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”
Some may argue the timing is good for Hillary — it’s far enough away from the official start of the 2016 presidential campaign season to allow separation — and it lets Bill Clinton off the hook when it comes to the theory that he pressured Lewinsky into a sexual relationship. As Lewinsky writes, “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: It was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.”
That’s better than describing what happened as non-consensual, because that would be rape. But Lewinsky’s re-emergence on the public stage is not something Hillary Clinton, presumed Democratic contender, would really welcome. At the very least, it’s a reminder of the tawdriest aspect of the Clinton administration, and gives the public more grist for Clinton fatigue. Does anyone really want to revisit Lewinsky’s blue dress, and whether Beyonce was correct to sing, “He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown”? According to Lewinsky, it should be “He Bill Clinton’d all over my gown.”
And Lewinsky also raises judgment questions about Hillary. Responding to reports that Hillary Clinton had characterized her as a “narcissistic loony toon” in correspondence with a close friend, and also blamed herself for Clinton’s dalliance, Lewinsky writes, “I find her impulse to blame the Woman — not only me, but herself — troubling.” That thought, injected into the national political debate, is not a good one for Clinton, the potential presidential candidate who talks about empowering women.
During a recent appearance in Boston, at a women’s leadership conference, Clinton said, “I believe that advancing the rights, opportunities and full participation of women and girls, here at home and around the world, is the great unfinished business of the 21st century.”
She also said American culture needs to address a confidence gap between men and women, noting that “it’s always surprising to me how many young women think they have to be perfect. I rarely meet a young man who doesn’t think he already is.”
It’s hard to read that and not think about Lewinsky, and her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts after her affair with a president who happened to be Hillary Clinton’s husband.
Bill Clinton has moved on. He gets to be a sought-after party elder and philanthropist-in-chief, not philanderer-in-chief. Lewinsky, who is sadly stuck in the past, gets to stick it to Hillary Clinton, who has good reason to continue pondering what running for president really means at this point in her life.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.