Monica Lewinsky re-entered public life this week. Actually, this is the first time she volunteered to enter the spotlight. Her first foray was involuntary and embarrassing. It also was her own fault. Well, hers and President Clinton’s.
Lewinsky gave her first public speech on Monday at the Forbes “30 Under 30 Summit” celebrating young achievers. She spoke for 25 awkward minutes, but she could’ve delivered her message in half that time if she were speaking comfortably. But as stilted as the delivery was, the content was worse.
Poor, sweet, innocent Monica was exploited, abused and bullied back in 1998 when her affair with Bill Clinton was made public. And she was. But not by who she blames for her humiliation.
Lewinsky blames Matt Drudge, Ken Starr, Linda Tripp, the media in general and the Internet in specific. She blames everyone but Bill Clinton and, most importantly, herself.
In talking about when the story broke, she told the crowd, “Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one. I was Patient Zero. The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet.”
But Monica’s reputation wasn’t destroyed. The façade reputation she created for family, friends and co-workers, and maybe even herself, was destroyed. When the Drudge Report broke the story that Newsweek had spiked Michael Isikoff’s story of her affair, we learned a lot about Newsweek. But we also learned what kind of people Monica and—to a lesser extent since he already had a reputation for this kind of thing—Clinton were.
Monica Lewinsky was a victim in one respect only—the most powerful man on the planet saw an opportunity to use a young sycophant for his own sexual pleasure and took it. But she was a willing victim, and she was an adult.
She said, “I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year-old sort of a way.” Well, 22-year-olds are responsible for their actions; they aren’t babes in the woods. If she didn’t look at an affair with a married man who happened to be the president of the United States as something that might end badly, no matter what her emotions may have been, that’s on her. “Young and stupid” might apply to 5-year-olds who break their legs trying to jump off the garage and fly. But it does not apply to people with two decades of life under their belt.
The only people who victimized Monica Lewinsky were Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton.
She recounted the lows she went through after the news broke, the threat of prison time over committing perjury in a sworn affidavit in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and the fear she felt at the time. But that isn’t “bullying,” as she claims; those are consequences of willfully taken actions.
It hard not to feel some degree of sympathy for Monica Lewinsky, but it’s harder still to care.
Near the close of her remarks, Monica said something that shows she doesn’t get what she was involved in doing, or just hopes you don’t.
“I don’t know which came first: the coarsening of the culture or the worsening of behavior,” she said. “Either way, what we need is a radical change in attitudes — on the Internet, mobile platforms and in the society of which they are a part. Actually, what we really need is a cultural revolution. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit – an Empathy Crisis — and something tells me that matters a lot more to most of us.”
After the Clinton/Lewinsky affair broke in 1998 the culture did change, radically. The media and the Democratic Party spent years telling us it was “only about sex,” and stigmatizing judgment on such issues. Since then, our culture has developed a new class of celebrity.
Were it not for Monica Lewinsky, the media, and the Democratic Party, we would not know the names Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Farrah Abraham and countless others people famous for things that would’ve mortified them prior to 1998. Are we better off as a society because of their “celebrity”?
That people would push back against that change for the worse is not only common sense, it’s a good thing.
Monica said she wants a “cultural revolution.” Well, she got one. It might not be the one she wants, but that’s the risk you run when you start something without thinking through the consequences first. Something with which she is intimately familiar.