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Monica Lewinsky, Maureen Dowd, and 'the concept of a private life'

For the past week or so, I've spent a surprising amount of time thinking about Monica Lewinsky. What's more surprising is that I think it has been time well spent.

I should start by saying that I was in high school, and not much interested in politics, when Bill Clinton was impeached. What I knew about the scandal came mostly in the form of jokes and sketches on Saturday Night Live. (I remember watching John Goodman as Linda Tripp, and I remember not being sure who Linda Tripp was.) So it has always been background for me. I'm a little too old to be a "millennial," but I can affirm that what Jeremy Stahl says at Slate is true: "There will be an entire voting bloc in 2016 with limited memory [of] or interest in Lewinskygate." His unnamed colleague speaks for me when she says, "The whole scandal remains opaque to me to this day....  I guess I should read up on it and inform myself, but it just seems so silly in hindsight that I wouldn’t waste my time.”

Still, now that Lewinsky has resurfaced with an article in Vanity Fair, I have found myself reading a number of think-pieces about her legacy, mostly by people in my general age cohort (people whose adult lives and careers came after the impeachment mess had ended). And it turns out most of us, if we think about it at all, feel pretty sorry for Ms. Lewinsky. After all, Bill Clinton came through that mess all right, and stands tall today as an elder statesman and personification of successful Democratic government -- which is why what was, at the time, a major upheaval can look, in retrospect, like a "silly" distraction from the big events of recent U.S. history.

I don't subscribe to Vanity Fair and so have not read Lewinsky's essay. I did, however, admire the analysis of Rebecca Traister, a senior editor at the New Republic. She is perceptive about Lewinsky's shortcomings as a commentator -- "there are certainly inconsistencies in her argument about her attempts to escape notoriety" -- as well as convincing in her argument that, as the title has it, "Monica Lewinsky Is the Perfect Person to Kick Off the Conversation about Hillary Clinton's Presidency."

The facts of Clinton’s liaison with Lewinsky remain; it was complicated, ugly. And if his wife runs for president, the right is going to make hay of her husband’s fraught legacy of alleged sexual impropriety and harassment.

It’s vastly preferable to have this conversation kicked off in earnest by Lewinsky, a person who has more right than anyone—and certainly more right than any of the Republicans who once wielded her as a weapon and now shake their curly heads sorrowfully over the sexual predation she suffered—to offer her take on the events of two decades ago.

Not only, I would add, does Lewinsky have the right to offer her take; she has very little choice in the matter. What can she do but go on being Monica Lewinsky? What graceful exit from infamy did she have access to? Yes, she was the author of her own downfall. But it's hard to get excited about throwing stones at her if you are conscious of having made your own much-lower-profile stupid mistakes in your early twenties. Most of us manage to move on from early screwups and build secure adult lives. Thanks to the public airing of her assignations with Clinton, Lewinsky didn't have that option.

The whole thing has always been a tough case for feminists -- was Hillary a hero for surviving, or a sellout for standing by her man? Or maybe the perceived need to take a side is a symptom of the problem that feminism should be trying to overcome? Looking back, Traister is clear-eyed about what Hillary and Monica had in common:

In the fervid investigation and coverage of it, both women got hammered—as slutty and frigid, overweight and ugly, dumb and monstrous. They each became cartoons of dismissible femininity—the sexually defined naïf and the calculating, sexless aggressor, characters who illustrated the ways that sex—sex that’s had by men as well—always redounds negatively on women. These two women weren’t at odds; they were in it together.

It's hard to talk about contemporary coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and not talk about my favorite columnist, the New York Times's Maureen Dowd, who, in 1999, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary "for her fresh and insightful columns on the impact of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky." The columns she won that prize for are available online to this day, and it turns out they read more or less exactly like you think they would. In particular, her reliance on stale gender roles and sexist assumptions was as prominent and conflicted and sour then as it is now.

On that subject, Slate's Amanda Hess has a comprehensive roundup of "how Maureen Dowd painted Monica Lewinsky as a crazy bimbo—and won a Pulitzer for it." She quotes a stream of Dowdian mean-girl insults masquerading as serious political commentary, but what's most galling is the way Dowd started out objecting to just that mode of analysis. "It is probably just a matter of moments before we hear that Ms. Lewinsky is a little nutty and a little slutty," she predicted, before deciding that the easiest course for a columnist like her would be to lead the jeering and snickering. And now that Lewinsky is back in the news, Dowd -- who really never stopped revisiting her own career highlights in the form of references to That Woman -- is striking an innocent pose. She wrote last week, "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." Lewinsky once objected, in person, to Dowd's "scathing" depiction of her in her columns, but the way Dowd remembers it, "I felt sorry for her."

She had a funny way of showing it. Let the record show that Dowd couldn't stop holding Monica Lewinsky up for ridicule, even when Lewinsky had not obliged her by doing anything ridiculous in public. She imagined Lewinsky mooning over Clinton, raging like a sexpot scorned, and -- of course -- being fat, and then she blamed Lewinsky for being such a ripe target (i.e., "Why are you hitting yourself?"). In a column headlined "Monica Gets Her Man," Dowd sneered, "The 25-year-old says she is eager to get on with her life. But does she still dream that her life will include an ex-President named Bill?" For some reason, it was very important to Dowd to assume that the answer was yes. And now, as Hess says, Dowd "appears unaware that it’s the caricature she helped to build that’s still haunting Lewinsky after all these years."

If the Lewinsky scandal were unfolding now, I might not be able to muster much compassion for the woman at the center of the circus. I can understand why it was difficult to step back from the Starr Report and the inanities in the Tripp transcripts and see the real, mortified human being behind the blue dress and beret -- to see her as someone's daughter, or even as someone like yourself, caught by a toxic confluence of youthful stupidity and political machinations. The circumstances of Lewinsky's particular foolishness were so peculiar and so hard to fathom for most civilians, and the melodrama that grew up around her was so ridiculously out of proportion, and the political stakes were high enough to obscure the human ones. I know it's easier from this distance to regret how it all played out. But even when the frenzy was in full swing, I can't believe that bringing Lewinsky up week after week just to revel in tearing her back down, junior-high style, was ever the most "fresh and insightful" way to cover the scandal. And was it really so hard, even then, to imagine that, having endured unimaginable humiliation and having seen her own name become a punchline to a dirty joke, Lewinsky might honestly have wanted to just "get on with her life"? It's as though Dowd was so convinced by the cartoon she'd drawn that she found Lewinsky's claim to three-dimensional personhood proof of how very cartoonish she was.

After Hess's piece went up, blogger Dennis Earl pulled a few more examples of "slut-shaming" from Dowd's archives, including her complaint that "Monica still doesn’t seem to appreciate the concept of a private life." Imagine! And via Earl, I discovered this long, very thoughtful essay by D.C. journalist Jake Tapper, which is a rare example of someone showing compassion for Monica Lewinsky at the time of her humiliation, instead of fifteen-plus years later. He wrote it in 1998, at the height of the frenzy, and the title "I Dated Monica Lewinsky" suggests that he's joining the pile-on. But in fact, having known her socially, as a peer, makes it possible for him to see her as a person, "a girl I'd gone out on a date with a few weeks before" who was caught up in something awful, rather than as -- how did Dowd put it? --  "the Gen-X Leech Woman, the indefatigably exhibitionistic Monica Lewinsky, who insists, all her alleged humiliation notwithstanding, on not going away."

Maureen Dowd may have started out objecting to "the slander strategy." But within the year she had convinced herself Lewinsky only got what she deserved.

It may be de trop to punish this President with impeachment or resignation. In his case, the punishment is the crime. Monica will never let him go....

It will not be in the way she envisioned, but she will get to ride off into the sunset with her man after all. Monica Lewinsky is Bill Clinton's legacy. They are linked together forever and ever.

In its own way, it's a perfect ending.

Looking at how the respective parties have fared in the scandal's long wake, it's hard for me to see that as a fresh and insightful take. But I suppose it depends on how consistent you like your feminism and how complex you like your columnists. I'm much more impressed with Tapper's reflection: "She may be guilty of poor judgment, but she never asked for this." Meanwhile, Dowd is back to shaking her finger at the silly younger woman she feels sorry for: "Monica," she warns, "is in danger of exploiting her own exploitation." Yes, and good luck to her. People like Dowd worked hard to make sure that was the only choice she'd ever have.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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There was a sweet and innocent quality about Monica Lewinsky that came through in the t.v. interview she did with Barbara Walters years ago. When asked about what she would tell her children one day, Monica said;"boy did mommy make a mistake!".I admire her today for not going the easy route;she could jump on the "feminist" bandwagon and declare herself a victim of abuse, sexual harassment even rape due to the inbalance of power between her,a young intern and the President of the United States. Instead she makes a point to say that their relationship was consensual.THAT is admirable in todays   woman- as- victim -and  divisive identity culture.Especially as, if any one could claim victimhood it was her. That she has enough authenticity to know  and to not back away from saying  that she indeed wanted him as much as he wanted her and that she still believes that  their relationship was based on a real connection, is refreshing and genuinely feminist.I know she really wanted a family and children;I wish her well that she gets that.

Oh, dear. First as farce, then as tragedy?

I am old enough to remember and, believe me, Molly, the affair does not deserve the thought you and the others you cite are putting in on it. Bill Clinton was a frat boy president who -- like Sen. Strom Thurmond, who was way too old to be a frat boy -- couldn't pass a skirt without pinching what was under it. The Republicans had nothing on him except that, so they took it and ran with it. We immediately learned that Chief Justice William Rehnquist had spent too much time at Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. But the sex fun cost the Republicans two consecutive speakers of the house (Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston) and embarrassed Rep. Henry Hyde, KSG, by exposing a four-year affair from his pre-sanctimonious past. Let's not forget all that. The affair also exposed Kenneth Starr as a voyeur, which probably cost him appointment to the Supreme Court where he would be very happy today.

It was boys being bad. Washington (and most state capitals during the Sessions) was like that then and I would be surprised if it is not like that now. After 2000, the Code of Silence was reimposed. The only excuses for replaying yesteryear are that Ms. Lewinsky is 40 now and afraid she may have been deservedly forgotten and that Mrs. Clinton may run for president. And of the latter lame excuse, I have to ask: How often are she and Bill even in the same state these days?

I can't think of any reason to bring up what happened then except to try to doom Hillary Clinton's bid for president.  Hope she wins.

I sometimes think about what it must have been like when the first person was canoeing down the Niagara River and came across the falls.  That's how I think about Monica Lewinsky.  It might have occurred to her that the swiftness of the current was not normal and to be cautious, but she seems to have ignored all thoughts of looking ahead.  Who cares what comes at the end of this ride?  What strikes me most is that although she was a young woman of some talent, she set for herself the trivial, lazy and demeaning goal of becoming sexually attractive to Bill Clinton, in whatever way was accessible to her.  As an adult you come to realize it doesn't take much for a woman to make that happen for men who are receptive.  Not much talent, not even much in the way of looks.  No, I don't think she deserved the level of humiliation she got, but she is not someone I admire.  She took a tremendous opportunity (it's not easy to be selected to work at the White House) and she trashed it, even before she got "caught" for her trouble.  It strikes me that she had not been denied much in her young life and was not used to facing consequences, which doesn't make the behavior of others towards her right, but others suffer far worse for relatively trivial things.

Reminds me to wonder what Marilyn Monroe was all about.

Trivial ,lazy, demeaning goal?For some especailly when young-there is nothing trivial ,lazy or demeaining about sexual desire.White house intern[cool], master's degree,all well and good acomplishments.Having an affair  with the good looking  President; what a thrill! In the scheme of a life, I'd be proud of such a "mistake".

Last week-end I watched a few episodes of the BBC series Kavanagh Q. C. on Youtube.  In one of the episodes Kavanagh (John Thaw) mentioned de Clérambault's syndrome. After a few attempts at googling due to misspelling, I found the definition on Wikipedia. It is a type of delusion in which the affected person believes that another person, usually a stranger, high-status, or famous person, is in love with him or her.

From what I remember, Monica Lewinsky told her friends and family that she thought that Bill was going to leave Hillary and marry her.



How is deciding to have a sexual relationship with someone who's married  something to be proud of?

It isn't Crystal. I think that she is conflicted. The reality is she was used. A long string of young women, and she was justs next in line. That is just a fact. She invents this veneer some kind of love affair and it wasn't. 

The whole thing feels just sad and pathetic and I feel for her,  a bit like Blanche Dubois.

 But aside from issues that many people have with bogus sexual harassment, Paula Jones was entitled to a fair hearing and when you swear to tell the truth you should do so. Sorry, I can understand adultery but perjury, especially when you are president, is bad and he should have resigned but I will not revisit that history.

At any rate, this is not Hillary's shame to bear.



Let's all get into the act. Let's see how far we can go in trivializing political discourse. Immigration? Climate change? Income distribution? Quality of schools?

Noooo! Let's instead replay Lewinsky and Clinton. It lets us emote without having to think about the problems we face.

And yet, astonishing enough, there are young men and women who manage to control their impulses in order to achieve something greater than being the cause for putting another notch in the bed post of their married boss.  I don't remember all the stories that accompanied Lewinsky's saga -- her own parents were divorced IIRC, and she probably had a distorted view of marriage. 

Without Ken Starr, this story is a footnote. Mollie has one villain. Troubling since her talents can be better used stimulating us on the subjects Bernard asked  about. So many other great stories. Like the discovery of new planets and possible life elsewhere. The author of Exorcist getting a nod from the Vatican that Georgetown should be investigated. The Indian scholar that Mueller is going after. Etc. 

Looks like Monica might be moving on. As Hillary will. Even Dowd. But will Mollie? Or Slate?


These scandals are, in fact, what people are drawn to. Don't shoot the messenger, Slate, Mollie, et al.

During the health care debate in the US, the Tiger Woods story broke. I think the breakdown in terms of viewership was 10 to 1 in favour of Woods issue.

Nietzsche actually predicted this very thing. Heck up in Ontario Rob Ford will likely be re-elected!! 

With Hillary in the running expect more melodrama. Who is to blame? He (Clinton) did bring it on himself. At least Obama's scandals were all policy related!!!




Monica Lewinsky has suffered enough. I applaud her for taking responsibility for her actions and stating the affair was consensual, but please, let's move on now. As for Hillary, I think she took the high road by sticking with Bill, whom she seems to genuinely love in spite of everything.

As for Maureen Dowd, she's mean-spirited, but is an equal opportunity shrew. She skewers all sides. But unfortunately,  she doesn't contribute to the more civil discourse that we all keep calling for.

I recollect that Monica was absolutely thrilled by her celebrity and talked on tv about its awesome implications. I do not recall any scenes of a tearful, or upset, or shocked Monica -- did she even expressed a sense of disappointment or betrayal over the sublimely named Linda Tripp? Clinton's would-be Kennedy stunt was history repeating as farce.

"These scandals are, in fact, what people are drawn to."


Is this your criteria for blogging on matters? Journalists are not messengers. The exceptional one is objective. That is why the public's opinion of them is just below a used car salesman. They are interpreters. Today it is social media.and too often the subject is personality rather than substance.  This blog is part of social media.  It is a decision to discuss something and to offer an opinion. In our age where things go viral at any time, we all have a responsibility to work on putting things in perspective. We can report on the culture. But when we are contributors to the disease we need a gut check. 

As for Maureen Dowd whom Mollie appears obsessed with, you wrote: "She skewers all sides." That is a rare quality indeed. 


You can take the high road, defending serious journalism from the enroachments of gossip and celebrity, or you can praise Maureen Dowd. You cannot do both.

Zing! Nicely done, Matthew.

The appointment of Kennth Starr forced the anystream press into the gossip wallow. Ms. Lewinsky's farewell tour in the pages of Vanity Fair (hardly the place to get on with one's life) reliquifies the wallow.


I think Bill Clinton is a predator.  I don't  think he was some aging guy who was ensnared by a younger womnan.  He was the most powerful man in the world who took advantage of a young girl who worked for him, because she was there for the taking.

Exactly Matthew!  I


Irene you are exactly correct. Anybody else, and I literally mean anybody else would have been fired. A principal had sex with an educational assistant and was fired. Why? Because the appearance of unfairness and inequitable treatment based on sexual favours. 

As for Ken Strar, Clinton dared him to prove perjury and he proved it! And his license to practice law was suspended. Hard to believe but even lawyers have standards.

As for Monica, it's still a man's world as she is oh too painfully realizing! She is damaged goods but Bill is a hero. Life isn't fair but there it is.


It is hard for me to use the word predator in describing Bill Clinton here. After all, a predator is someone who hunts down prey. There are many young women who willingly throw themselves at a smooth talking man with power and prestige. They are not prey, naïve maybe, and some might fit the definition of predator themselves (not saying that about Monica Lewinsky.)

So, let me coin a new term. Sexual Opportunist?


"... Bill is a hero."

Not in my books. I would like to take the back of my hand and slap him so hard that he would be seeing stars (Starrs?) for the rest of his days. (This is not meant to be acted on.)

He disgraced himself, the Democratic Party and, in my humble opinion, caused the election of G.W. Bush.

But, I'm not sure how Gore would have been as president or if Obama would have been elected president.


Sexual opportunist sounds about right for both Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton.  The difference is that Clinton understood that and Lewinsky did not, and from what I read of the VF interview, still might not.  "She was used" rings pretty hollow when set beside her own intention to "use" another.  She had the excuse of being young, but there are a lot of young people (maybe most) who would never do what she did.  We were all 25 once -- I told a married man that I wasn't interested in him even though I was.  Others have too.  You are allowed to be better than you need to be, even when you are young and stupid.  

People who call Bill Clinton a "predator" do so usually because they are Republicans. Not only was the relationship between him and Lewinsky consensual; she was the aggressor. The whole thing started when she flashed her thong panties at him, remember? Clinton should have refused her offer. But the pretense that Lewinsky was a victim of Clinton is actually anti-feminist (which is why conservatives promote it). 

Feminists believe that adult women (Monica was 24) are full-fledged human beings with the right and responsibility of moral agency. We can make decisions about our sexual and reproductive lives without paternalistic politicans and clergymen limiting our options and controlling everything we do.

The true victimizers of Monica Lewinsky were her "friend" Linda Tripp, who secretly taped their personal conversations and leaked them to the press, and Kenneth Starr. Starr forced Lewinsky to cooperate with his jihad against the president by threatening to have her parents prosecuted for tax evasion and other offenses. His behavior was an egregious example of prosecutorial abuse.

As far as impeachment is concerned, lying under oath about sexual behavior doesn't qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanors." Those who set a perjury trap for Clinton in an attempt to undo the results of two elections weren't patriots. They were partisan hypocrites whose attempt to undermine democracy fortunately failed.



Predator may be too strong a word.  But what President Clinton did was abusive, even if Lewinsky was an adult and even if she consented.  He should have known better.  He did know better.  

I've always thought that what he did went beyond a sordid affair.  He was president, and he dishonored the presidency.  I don't blame Monica Lewinsky; I blame him.  I'm not over it.  I don't have any nostalgia for him.  I certainly don't see him as a venerable elder statesman.  

I don't think this really has much to do with Hillary or her candidacy, except that any attempt to present her candidacy as a "two-fer" falls flat.  In my  view, he's more liability than asset. Her best bet is to tuck him away somewhere in Nepal or Equatorial Guinea until about 2025.   

That she wanted him and she got him;the sexy president of the US.Was it wrong considering he was married?Of course. It was a youthful lapse in judgement.  Looking back  she can recognize  now that  it was wrong but having  suceeded in having an affair with the president of the US is a coup;a coup she desired, pursued and achieved.The inbalance of power was for her part of the thrill.For that "acomplishment",why not be proud,of getting what you set out to get,what you really wanted at the time, consensually?A page on a resume is one thing,a dime a dozen prudent  thing. She wanted a thrill.[Like the line in the Leonard Cohen song;one muse? says;you must not ask for so much;another muse  says; hey, why not ask for more?She wanted what to her then,was more.]His promiscuity does not detract from the fact she got what she wanted.Was she being exploited,used, played by this older, powerful man?Was it superficial, meaningless for him?Perhaps,Perhaps not.That's between them.They both got something that they wanted  from the encounter.That he is now loved and respected the world over while she is a foot note to his "sleazy" story,shows that her youthful mistake backfired on her.She paid the price for being young,subordinate to power,yet brazen enough to be  sexually ambitious.As no one will hire her apparantly and as she never married or had children which she wants,so far. The charismatic powerful man can step out of line ,come back triumphate [as he did when the impeachment failed which made him a  victim of his political enemies] but not the subordinate woman especially when she refuses to play the" feminist"  victim card.For that she really is a victim.

Sure, rose-ellen, she wanted a thrill and thereby exposed for us her values and priorities.  That she got more than she bargained for doesn't make her a victim and it certainly doesn't make her admirable.  And one reason why young women in this situation suffer more than the male in the story is that the targets of their lust have succeeded for OTHER REASONS HAVING NOTHING TO DO WITH WHO THEY SLEPT WITH.  Those accomplishments (like being elected to the presidency) are durable and personal to themselves, whereas, whether she admits it or not, Lewinsky was seeking to define herself by who she successfully bedded -- to live vicariously through a successful man rather than by the strength of her own accomplishments.  For that, she needs to do something that constitutes an actual accomplishment of her own, and being caught up in an ugly scandal makes that less rather than more likely.  So, for instance, if Martha Stewart had an affair with a young guy that turned sour, she would still have a multi-million dollar enterprise when it was all over and he would not. 

For some here it comes down to party bias. W lied and lied and lied. Sending troops to get killed and thousands of Iraqis. Give me lying about a sexual tryst anytime in comparison. How Ken Starr gets a bye on this thread is stunning. He told Clinton Aides "That we are going to fry your man." When he intimidated and lied to Monica. That is the reason the country, nor women,  did not go against Clinton. They saw the political machinations. More importantly the economy was booming. 


Maureen Dowd remains one of the best writers in the country. She does not write for Commonweal. Get it. 

All this condescending moralizing about two adults having sex?  It's hard to miss the nascent envy underneath the thin veneer of rectitude on display here.  Enough already.

I hope it isn't lost on anyone just WHY the media is focused on this twenty-year old sexual tryst right now?  It wouldn't be because a woman is within inches of finally having her hands on the real levers of power in our politics?  It's making the political old bulls crazy.  

I don't seem to recall a equvilent amount of moral outrage coming from Catholic sexual prudes when a certain drug-addled president ordered a military intervention - "Shock & Awe" - in a country that didn't threaten us, eventually killing hundreds of thousands of innocents all so Cheney and his oil-buddies could steal with impunity.

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky didn't kill anyone - they had sex, that's all.  And in the process, they handed GWB a campaign applause line that he went around the country pontificating that he would "restore honor and dignity to the White House."  Yeah, how did that work out for us?

We're humans, people.  Humans sometimes make horrible mistakes.  Humans are fated to do destructive things - its what makes us vulnernable, and ultimately lovable.  We often don't fall in love, or in lust for that matter, with the right man or woman.  

[Haven't any of you ever been to the opera and seen La Traviata - Italian for "The Fallen Woman"???] 

That is just the very powerful allure of millions of years of biological evolution of the human need for sexual connection.  Social conventions like "sacramental marriage" are recent newcomers in the relatively last nano-seconds of our human existence on the planet - despite what our aging celibate, mostly gay, clerics would have us believe.   

As my sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, used to say to us:  "There is a reason why there are erasers on the ends of pencils."

Move along, people ...


Thank you, Tom Blackburn @4:05, for that cautionary and widely applicable term. I shall take it to heart. If it isn't already too late.

I wonder now whether sanctimony is the result of a faulty memory or of compensatory self-congratulation for lost abilities.

Jim, for some of us, this ugly and degrading scandal raises issues related to women in the workplace.  The notion that Monica Lewinsky is a victim, that she needed protection, that she should be excused for her own inappropriate behavior because she was a young woman in search of romance, have consequences for other women and how they are treated in the workplace.  They might seem unimportant to you, but they might be important to others of us. 

Right on, Barbara. The first thing that crossed my mind when this issue hit the news was

what a setback for all that we in the 60s were promoting and encourageing for women.

Jim: I agree that is the overall scheme of issues the Iraq War was much more devastating. The tragic thing is that it is immoral as well despite that fact that not too many people think about it that way.

Re your comment: "It's hard to miss the nascent envy underneath the thin veneer of rectitude on display here."

Please explain your reasoning. I am curious as to how you have come to your conclusion.


Maureen Dowd remains one of the best writers in the country.

There is no accounting for taste, Bill, but your repetition of this peculair judgment is not really a response to my point, which is that, whatever you think of Dowd's qualities as a writer (and, like Mollie, I don't think much of them), her bread and butter is gossip about VIPs, not income distribution, climate change, or any of the other subjects Bernard mentioned. You urge Mollie not to waste her talents on trivia like the Lewinksky affair but instead to write about "the discovery of new planets and possible life elsewhere." When's the last time Dowd wrote about a scientific discovery? You seem to think that the Lewinksy affair was good enough material for Dowd's Pulitzer Prize–wining columns but not good enough for Mollie to write a blog post about. Strange.

What Barbara says is true as far as it goes, but Mollie didn't say that Lewinsky wasn't responsiible for her actions or that her actions weren't foolish. Mollie's point is that it must be very hard to be Monica Lewinksy—and the difficulty is only partly her own doing.

Most of us manage to move on from early screwups and build secure adult lives. Thanks to the public airing of her assignations with Clinton, Lewinsky didn't have that option.

That seems like a fairly obvious but important point to me. There may or may not be second acts in America, but there are certainly none for the likes of Monica Lewinsky: there are only dispiriting encores like the Vanity Fair article. What is now little more than a footnote in Bill Clinton's career is the only thing Lewinsky will ever be known for, no matter where she goes or what she does.

Jim, for some of us, this ugly and degrading scandal raises issues related to women in the workplace.  The notion that Monica Lewinsky is a victim, that she needed protection, that she should be excused for her own inappropriate behavior because she was a young woman in search of romance, have consequences for other women and how they are treated in the workplace. 

Hi, Barbara, I'm not sure whether you were addressing this to me or Jim Jenkins (or maybe another Jim).  Fwiw, my view regarding Monica is that she behaved inappropriately in the workplace.  Workplace affairs are problematic in virtually any context, particularly among non-peers, and most particularly when the affair involves the person who is supposed to be setting and enforcing the workplace ethics.  Just speaking for myself, I've never viewed her as somehow emblematic or representative of women in the workplace.  Fwiw, I've seen my share of both men and women who misbehaved sexually in the workplace.  I've also seen office romances between two single people that have blossomed into good marriages.  

I don't think Lewinsky misbehaved because she is a woman; I think she misbehaved because she had some behavioral issues that she brought with her into the White House.  I hope she has somehow been able to overcome those issues, whether through treatment, maturity, or some other way.


Of course we should read and talk about Monica and Bill -- for the same reason that people watch and talk about soap operas.  It's the way we (especially the young people) learn about morality in the concrete world with all of its complexities and ambiguities. It's one thing to learn moral principles and another to apply them.  We learn prudence by talking about the Monicas and Bills.

Talking about people who aren't part of our own little village and talking about stories is better for the tribe than talking abou the real, flawed individuals who are parts of our own tribes for the simple reason that we can't be objective about ourselves and our own.  

"We're humans, people.  Humans sometimes make horrible mistakes.  Humans are fated to do destructive things - its what makes us vulnernable, and ultimately lovable."

Oh, come off it, Jim Jenkins.  Yeah, human.  That means we sometimes commit horrible SINS.  And if we were FATED to sin then we wouldn't be responsible.  And it you think YOUR sins make you LOVABLE, you're off your rocker.  Fortunately, there's more to you and all the rest of us than our sins.

So there.  Have a nice day. 

I just don't see any news value in Monica Lewinsky's story.

Between Monica's little blue dress and Benghazi, Hillary Clinton is getting unfairly trashed before she even makes her Election 2016 bid official. And the former is particularly unfair because Mrs. Clinton was an unwilling victim in the sex scandal, which ought to have cast no imprecations on her character. And I say this as someone who is not enamored of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. She may be a woman, but she's too much of a hawk for my taste.

Ms. Lewinsky seems to be a bright, attractive, and well-educated woman who has suffered for her sins and learned to do a lot of really excellent knitting. I don't know what she stands to gain, aside from a nice check, from this update on her personal growith and development in VF. Certainly, she can't have any new salacious details to tell us; Ken Starr saw to that.



Lewinsky was an unpaid intern from a wealthy family living in her mother's luxury apartment in the Watergate. Her situation had nothing to do with contemporary "women in the workplace."

So, Ann, we are not fated to sin, but because of the actions of two people who lived in a garden many thousands of years ago, we are so overwhelmingly predisposed to sin that out of billions of humans descended from them, only a couple of people, and they special cases, have succeeded in living sinless? In a Venn diagram of Fated and Doomed by Inheritance, even the most discerning eye would see nothing but overlap, although the range in flavor and gravity of individual sins might still be very large.

There must be a better explanatory model for human behavior than either of these two ancient ideas, if personal responsibility is to have a role.

She started a hand bag business and she got a master degree.Material and intellectual  acomplishments.Living vicariously by getting close to power when you're a young intern at the white house and you're naturally attracted to the man in power!Not a big moral lapse in my book.Not when  you're 20  and there's nothing else you want more at the time.And he appears to respond in kind.A risk worth taking,in my book. Now she wants to reach out to people who are the victims of internet bullying. She has compassion and empathy  as a result of her experience of feeling victimized  .See! She's grown ethically as a person.What more do you want from someone?I find her endearing and always did!

John P. --

Fated and predisposed are not the same thing.  Original Sin (whatever that means) only predisposes us to sin, it doesn't force us to sin.  And sins are of varying gravity.  As to a model with which to think about human nature, I see us as, yes, inclined to sin, and this does lessen our guilt at times, but surely not always.  In other words, there are degrees of guilt, and "being saved" (whatever that means exactly) is not a simple either/or state of either being doomed or saved.  

There is an in between stage of life, we hope, in which God provides Purgatory for a final purifying process.  (I think that Purgatory is one of the wisest teachings of the RCC.  When people think they're either certainly bound for either Hell for Heaven it leads to the sort of holier-than-thouness found too often in Protestant fndamentalists.  So Purgatory makes great sense to me.  Very Dantean of me.)

Jean --

The news value of the story at this point is that the young people haven't heard the story before, and, rightly or wrongly, it will probably be made part of the debate surrounding the next election.  As you say, that isn't fair to Hilary, but there it is.  

rose-ellen --

Doesn't adultery count for anything in your books?  Surely you don't think it's OK, for the sake of personal fun and games and ambition, to risk destroying a marriage?   Or do you think that Monica simply wasn't aware that the consequences could deeply injure people other than herself and Bill?  

@ Ann Olivier:  Last time I  checked, Jesus never was put-off by the sins of the company he kept.  In fact, Jesus seemed to downright prefer the sinners to the pretentiously self-righteous he encountered.  

If I remember correctly when confronted by the Pharisees of his day with the woman caught "having sexual relations with a man who is not her husband," [I wonder if her name could have been Monica?] Jesus simply opined "Anyone here who is without sin can throw the first stone."  When the woman's accusers had embrassingly drifted away, Jesus said, " I also don't judge you guilty."

Isn't about time Ann you dropped those heavy stones you have there in your hand? 

Singer-song writer Billy Joel said it best:

Come out Virginia, don't let me me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
But sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one
They showed you a statue and told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
But they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done...
Only the good die young

They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
Sinners are much more fun...
You know that only the good die young



So there.  You have a nice day too, Ann. 

I'm a liberal democrat and a feminist, and while there are of course problems with a relationship where there's a disparity in power between the two participants, I don't see Monica as a victim.  Clinton and Monica were both jerks ... they lied, cheated, and betrayed other people. The only reason I can see to dredge all this up is  that conservatives want to tarnish Hillary's campaign.

"You seem to think that the Lewinksy affair was good enough material for Dowd's Pulitzer Prize–wining columns but not good enough for Mollie to write a blog post about. Strange.

Ok. Matthew. Let's just call this blog Slate II and be done with it. 

The news value of the story at this point is that the young people haven't heard the story before

That's not news, that's history. It's a paycheck for Ms. Lewinsky, who probably doesn't need it. It's also VF stirring up the proverbial doo doo. They love that stuff. Remember Annie Liebowitz's photo of Klaus von Bulow on the cover in his scary black leather jacket? 


Jim (Jenkins)

I would still like to hear your reasoning.

Re your comment: "It's hard to miss the nascent envy underneath the thin veneer of rectitude on display here."

Please explain your reasoning. I am curious as to how you have come to your conclusion.


If people who are Mollie's age have no strong memories or impressions of l'affaire Lewinsky, then presumably the same can be said of the entire Clinton presidency.  I don't know if that's good or bad for Hillary's presidential prospects.


Whoa whoa whoa! People are allowed to quote Billy Joel lyrics, but I can't drop an f-bomb!? 

Something is seriously amiss here...

Again....we forget the core issue; namely Paula Jones' right to an open an  honest presentation of the evidence to support her claim that because she refused then Gov. Clinton's sexual advancements, she suffered in her career advancement.

Alan Dershowitz argued that Clinton's lawyer was grossly negligent and that he should hav never put him on the stand to be deposed. Better to default on the case. And alanDershowitz actually agreed with Ken Starr.

This is not about private affairs as damaging as those are in real life. I don't think Jim J has any real life experience or he would not so breezily dismiss this as sinners having much more fun.

i just cringe when I hear Monica but if she wants to make this a consensual affair so be it. Saving face and all that.

As for W and the Iraq war. Both the senate and house voted to authorize militar action if necessary. It's called check and balances for a reason. 

The president is not an emperor - that is the genius of the American system. Speaking of which, why has there been no action on curtailing executive authority to wage war. Obama's appeal to congress wrt Syria was indeed visionary and a very good lasting legacy - like Benedict resigning, he voluntary scaled back executive authority.

Finally, the last thing the world needs is more US bullying so please pass a resolution that the only controlling authority for international military action is the United Nations.



@  Helen:  I believe that is a what they call in the business:  "a set-up."  Excuse me if I don't take the bait.

Something tells me Helen that you very well understand the English language as your mother taught it to you.  If not, consult your dictionary.

I wrote what I wrote.  I meant what I said.

"As for W and the Iraq war. Both the senate and house voted to authorize militar action if necessary. It's called check and balances for a reason. "

!. Rumsfeld said the reason for the war was 9/11. W did not disagree

2. This was a preemptive war. Virtually unheard of in American history.

3. No major allies were on board.

4. Congress votes on poles. Not conscience. Fault Hilary here also.

5.Many liberals backed this war. It was unbelievableolic 

6. The Catholic neocons marched to Rome hoping to persuade JPII. To his credit he denied Neuhaus, Weigel, Novac and Co.

7. The Iraq war was a total shame and failure. Led by "mission accomlished" the worst president in American history.

"Finally, the last thing the world needs is more US bullying so please pass a resolution that the only controlling authority for international military action is the United Nations.

Now you're talking. As if the neocons would listen.

I'd like to know why Alan Dershowitz thinks Clinton's lawyer shouldn't have let him testify.  Clinton's lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that Paula Jones' sexual-harassment suit should be suspended until Clinton left office--and the Supremes denied that request.  

So Clinton really didn't have a choice of whether or not to testify; he was ordered to by the highest court in the land.  Since Dershowitz's law practice is mostly appellate cases, he of all lawyers should know that.

Thanks to Jim Jenkins for his translation of "La traviata" -- the first opera I got to know, without ever finding a good translation of its title. What a difference it would have made if this piece had pursued its glorious career under the telling title of "The Fallen Woman"!

Irritated by the buckets of tears shed by sentimentalists over his opera, Verdi remarked, "After all, she's only a prostitute!"

Recycling the Monica story may paradoxically shore up Hillary's chances in 2016, reminding Americans of the great aspects of the Clinton presidency and also of how well Hillary handled the domestic scandal. 

As to Clinton being a sexual opportunist, I recall him confessing this publicly at a prayer breakfast, in rather edifying tones, like King David (the cynic in me murmuring, "If you can fake that....")

Jim J. --

You're really hard up for a defense when you have to advise me to go out and sin so Jesus will love me.  

Jean --

To young people history is news.

Dershowitz said that Bennet should have been sued for malpractice. There was simply no way that Bill Clinton could walk in to that deposition and testify truthfully. They were provided with the list of witnesses who they were going to ask about. Monica Lewinsky was on that list. It would take five minutes to figure out she was an intern at the Whitehouse and another five minutes to figure out that the defence had something on them. Bennet knew his history; everyone knew his history. In fact, this is precisely why Clinton referred Monica to a lawyer to write out a false affadavit. He figured that he covered all the bases and the tracks were clean.

Of course, Bennet later wrote to the judge saying he had no knowledge that Clinton was going to lie under oath and had no pre-knowledge of the sexual relationship. Legally, he has to do that as it is, apparently, illegal for a lawyer to knowingly support a client in perjuring themselves.

Dershowitz's point was that a lawyer must protect his client and is also an officer of the court. So there is a dual obligation and an ethical obligation (don't laugh).

Dershowitz, when asked what he would have done, said default on the case, settle but under absolutely no circumstances would he ever permit him to testify because there is simply no way he can do so truthfully. And he didn't.

I was involved in an ethics class at the time, and as Ann mentioned, this was a very useful case study to discuss various ethical issues in real time (at the time).


Ah Abe, you clearly have failed to grasp the gravitas of the topic under discussion....wait....perhaps I should have said gravity....they're so similar.

Goodness, if it had not been Clinton it would have been someone else in power taking the opportunity to exercise extremely bad judgement.  If it has not been Lewinsky it would have been someone else looking to move up the food chain.  Why this topic deserves anything like serious consideration is beyond understanding.  Have all you mature, experienced, highly educated, eloquent folks completely forgotten just how spellbinding sex was in your youth?

My only real,defensible complaint is my anger at the two for showing such disrespect for our home, the White House.

Might Be:

You are aware that sexual harrasment and misconduct (and that is defined as an executive having sex with a subordinate) has lost people their jobs. There are examples that I am aware of just in my small hamlet. I know there have been others. I also know that in many instances there is no action taken.

At issue is fairness, evaluation, and how we assess these kinds of issues. What are ethical standards of conduct? How are they enforced? Who decides? What constitutes professional misconduct meriting dismissal.

This situation is a case study in that very issue.

If you want to dismiss this as so much triviality, then we might as well dismiss the entire tradition of employees signing codes of conduct, of ethical review panels for professional associations, and any and all sexual harrasment legislation.

By all accounts Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a competent executive at the IMF. What forced him to lose his job was private sexual misconduct that became public. Was that also prudish?





Have all you mature, experienced, highly educated, eloquent folks completely forgotten just how spellbinding sex was in your youth?

Not me. But then, I am neither mature nor experienced nor highly educated nor eloquent, so maybe that's how. 


As to the OP, my views on the two key figures, plus one issue referenced in its title:

1. Monica Lewinsky: I don't have anything to say, good, bad or otherwise, except that I pity her.

2. Mauren Dowd: her writing style reminds of Gossip Girl.

3. the concept of a private life: the thing about private life is that presumably, nobodywants their privacy invaded, except when said invasion entails positive news stories about yourself. Then, hardly anybody complains. Such strange creatures, humans are.





I had missed that Jim Jenkins wrote that "It's hard to miss the nascent envy underneath the thin veneer of rectitude on display here."

Once upon a time, way, way back before anybody remembers anything, in the early 1980s, a summer law clerk complained to her supervisor at a toney law firm about a summer event in which all the female law students were asked to participate in a wet t-shirt contest.  Supervisor smirked and said that she was complaining only because whe was envious of the other contestants and knew she couldn't win. 

You mean that kind of envy?

@ Barbara:  I think "You mean that kind of envy."

Sure Jim, I get it, you think you are the voice of reason, and taking the high road, when, so far as I can see, you wrote something ill-considered and don't want to clarify.  Whatever.

First of all, I'm not joking: the Billy Joel stuff makes me want to puke death.

Second, I once spent a weekend at a cabin with Monica Lewisnky (um, other people were there, too). This was only a year or so after the Starr stuff. Actually, what I normally first tell people about concerning that vacation is that I saw a wolf eat a deer. That was a lot more interesting than Monica.

Abe- you can't throw out there that you vacationed with Monica Lewinsky and just leave us hanging.


We don't have a policy against quoting Billy Joel lyrics (something we should perhaps revisit). Nor do we have a policy against missing the point, or praising Maureen Dowd, or posturing as a feminist and then saying obviously sexist things (in part because that's hard to distinguish from "praising Maureen Dowd"). But we do have a general policy against being egregiously snotty and/or insulting. I probably shouldn't have allowed Jim Jenkins's first comment on this thread. Mea culpa. I won't be allowing any more.

Abe total thread drift but my quasi ADD can't help it. Once ice fishing, I had seen a deer on the ice and wolves running away as they had heard us coming. Apparently, wolves chase deer on ice where they have a hard time moving. Also. wolves luring dogs occurred when I lived in the country and was a problem.

They are truly fascinating animals; understandably an object of primal fear as they are just so cunning and run in packs but also very interesting in terms of dynamics of team work. The role of the alpha male and female, how packs break-up, the rare lone wolf.

Oh, and to bring it back the the subject at hand, in the main, they are actually monogamous!

P.S. Abe: I heard the deer was asking for it.

Oh, deer me! Wolf eats deer. Dog bites man. Bear behaves unspeakably in the woods. Man and woman do stuff together. What a world! Where are my smelling salts? I think I need to lie down.

You heterosexuals have ALL the fun!

I think that she was not aware of the consequences ;that she would deeply injure Bill,his wife and herself.I also don't think that she did it for ambition but for the romatic/lustful thrill of it.Is adultery wrong?Well of course;it violates the commandant because  it harms people.For that she sinned;objectively.She does not justify it now,but regrets it. I admire her for not blaming him when she could have gotten alot of sympathy had she done that. Was it wrong for her to pursue him since he 's married? yes of course. However it is forgiveable and considering her youth and position vis a vis him,understandable that she would risk so  much for the perceived satisfaction of having an affair with him.For her partuicular situation at that time-I don't see it as a grave matter subjectively,in her case. I do admire her for taking a risk regarding something she freally wanted-since it was mutual.But yes it was wrong ethically .

Yes,Ann; adultery counts as very serious in my book.But when you're 20 and an intern at the white house and the president is attractive and flirts.In that case-it's still wrong-but not THAT wrong, to paraphrase Augustine.

John Prior's last was the best thing on here.

But I like Abe's party crashing, with or without expletives, his threats to puke on something, and his general lack of decorum. But, then, I miss my dear departed Uncle Dick who used to show up late and half-drunk on Christmas Eve with the announcement: "Here I am! Let's get this f***er started!" Everyone instantly felt better, if only because he made the rest of us look good and gave my grandmother something to deplore, which was one of her favorite pasttimes.


I too would enjoy Christmas Eve with Jean Hughes Raber.  Sounds like my family.

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