As a child of the ’90s, I cannot even begin to remember when I first learned of the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal. As unfortunate as this is, it would be like trying to remember when I first learned to walk or talk. That’s just how explosive the scandal was and continues to be (albeit unnecessarily).
As the media’s obsession with presidential elections begins to rear its ugly head two years before the next horse-race even begins, we are yet again reminded of the Clinton family’s sullied past as a result of ol’ Bill’s transgressions with Lewinsky, who was a young White House intern at the time of their affair.
When Lewinsky’s personal narrative was released in Vanity Fair this month, my initial reaction was to roll my eyes and declare that somebody would have to be either really stupid or really naive not to realize that this was just another political game, a ploy to dampen Hillary’s chances of becoming the first female president of the United States.
As of yet, I am far too cynical to completely rule out Lewinsky’s decision to bring yet more scrutiny to the scandal that rocked the nation as anything other than a strategic threat to Hillary’s potential campaign or a publicity stunt to gain more attention and public pity. Although I cannot imagine the toll all that humiliating publicity must have had on her, all these headlines about Lewinsky “finally breaking her silence” is just plain poppycock.
She first broke her silence in 1999 when she made the conscious decision to appear on Barbara Walters’s show in order to try to justify having an affair with not only a married man but the leader of the free world. Then in 2002 she appeared on Larry King Live to essentially promote the HBO documentary “Monica in Black and White” — a documentary idea that Lewinsky pitched to the network herself and one that would only fuel more rumors and attention to the affair that led to her downfall.
Although Lewinsky had every right to defend herself and try to correct any misconceptions she felt the public had, what bothers me about her interviews is that she tries to portray herself as a young, hapless, and naive victim who was hopelessly in love with Clinton and did not know better at the time. She was 22 years old, which made her four years older than the legal age and grown-up enough to realize that having relations with a married president was probably not the wisest choice she could have made.
Not only was there the integrity of a political party and a nation’s trust in their president to consider, but did Clinton or Lewinsky ever stop to think about how their actions would affect their families? Clinton had a wife and child while Lewinsky’s mother — per her narrative — had to witness her public humiliation and suicidal state when news of the affair broke out.
Being “young and in love” does not excuse such selfish, inappropriate behavior.
Known for his infamous charm and charisma, it is safe to say that many men and women were probably infatuated with the former president. However, not everyone chose to act on those impulses or further publicize it once the media circus began.
Lewinsky had years to explain herself to the public and, as evident by the aforementioned interviews, she was given many chances to do so. If she really, truly wants to put an end to the circus surrounding the scandal, she would let it die down by not willingly giving anymore interviews to high-profile journalists and networks.
Yet she chose to write a personal narrative in Vanity Fair. Mind you, the narrative was not very different than her statements made on Walters’ and King’s shows.
However, there is a lot to learn from the ultimate office-romance gone wrong. The public was far more forgiving of their president than they were of the young intern; however, it took two people to carry out the affair.
Clinton was as much at fault as Lewinsky — if not more, considering his status as president and his seniority over the younger woman.
Yet it was Lewinsky who bore the brunt of the scandal and who has been slut-shamed for nearly two decades. Although Clinton was nearly impeached, charges against him were dropped and he went on to gain further acclaim and respect as a political figure.
In fact, when I had to write a report on Clinton and rate him as a president for my AP U.S. Government class, I gave him an “A” regardless of the scandal. Although my teacher did not necessarily agree with this decision because his actions reflected negatively on the Democratic party, his accomplishments as president should not be undermined by bad judgment calls in his personal life.
Putting her intentions regarding speaking out about the affair aside, Lewinsky should have been afforded the same chance, yet both the public and the media were determined to downgrade her and gain cheap laughs at her expense. Had Clinton been a female president, I wonder if he would have received the same treatment Lewinsky has all these years.
In all honesty, the affair was blown out of proportion. So they had an affair — not exactly a bright decision, especially for a president, but life happens. Move on and bury this scandal along with Lewinsky’s blue dress.