Ruth Marcus: Lewinsky Did Hillary Clinton A Favor

May 7, 2014

Vanity Fair magazine has published excerpts of a forthcoming piece by Monica Lewinsky, who had an affair with President Bill Clinton as a White House intern in the ’90s.

Clinton’s lies about the relationship contributed to the House impeaching him in 1998; the Senate acquitted him.

Excerpts of the piece are available on the Vanity Fair website. The preview reads in part:

After 10 years of virtual silence (“So silent, in fact,” she writes, “that the buzz in some circles has been that the Clintons must have paid me off; why else would I have refrained from speaking out? I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth”), Lewinsky, 40, says it is 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.)”

Columnist Ruth Marcus writes in The Washington Post, “Monica Lewinsky may not have intended it this way, but she just did Hillary Clinton a big favor”:

The Lewinsky affair never really came up in 2008; the subject was too raw and too fraught, and Clinton did not make it to the ugliness of a general election campaign. It’s clear, though, that the subject will not be taboo in 2016. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has already raised the question of whether Democrats in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, should consort with a “sexual predator” like Bill Clinton. Lewinsky’s account makes clear that her affair with the president was between two consenting adults.

Marcus discusses Lewinsky’s Vanity Fair piece and what the impact could be on the 2016 presidential election, with Here & Now’s Robin Young.


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Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern and international punch line, is, as she put it in a piece to be published in Vanity Fair tomorrow, going to stick my head above the parapet, take back my narrative, and give purpose to my past. She reiterates that her affair with then President Bill Clinton in the '90s, which lead to his impeachment, was consensual and something she deeply regrets, but says it's time to stop tip toeing around my past.

Ruth Marcus is a columnist for the Washington Post. Ruth, your first thoughts?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, it was a combination of here we go again having lived through that, and honestly, poor Monica. You had a sad, but marvelous phrase international punch line. I think I called her tragic road kill.

YOUNG: Yeah.

MARCUS: I find her story very sad, and it was somewhat surprising, actually, to think of Monica Lewinsky at age 40, because she is the person who has least survived this episode. Bill and Hillary Clinton have gone on and Monica Lewinsky, as you say, remains a kind of international punch line no matter how much she tries to take back her narrative.

YOUNG: Well, it's interesting that you point out that she is 40, because she's so just frozen in time and many people's minds as the young intern. And yet I was tweeting out this morning just asking people's thoughts, and a lot of people wrote and said, I'm kind of fuzzy on that. Who is she again?

MARCUS: It's - there is a whole generation, in fact a whole generation that will be eligible to vote for Hillary Clinton should she run that weren't really around or aware then, and yet there are those of us for whom it kind of feels like yesterday.

YOUNG: Well, and for her, it's very much in the day, because as she writes, and again, there's some excerpts before tomorrow's publication, she knows her name shows up in pop culture references. Beyonce refers to her. It's a family program, we're not going to talk about the reference, but it has to do with a blue dress and she apparently address that, Monica Lewinsky does tomorrow.

So one can imagine that for her this is very present.

MARCUS: Absolutely. She writes about how it's interfered really with her, and not surprisingly, with her ability to get a job, because either people don't want to hire her because of the baggage that brings, or they do want to hire her because of the baggage that she brings. And who wants that kind of job.

Now it's not like she's been selling pencils on the street. She has managed to make some money out of her unfortunate celebrity. But it's still really from my point of view has quite ruined her life.

YOUNG: Well, you mentioned her inability to get a job, which she writes about. Todd Purdum, I think it was in Politico writes, you know, how can she go on blind dates? They're only half blind. Everybody knows who she is. You know, she's...

MARCUS: You'd have to be really blind.

YOUNG: Yeah, she's never married. She's realizing that she's identifying with other people who've been in this kind of media glare. And she writes that when she decided to reintroduce herself, it was after the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, remember he was secretly caught on tape by so-called friends, and then web streamed. He was kissing a young man. And he killed himself.

And she writes about how her mother was thrown back to a time when she, Monica Lewinsky was also suicidal. That's pretty profound.

MARCUS: It was powerful, but I have to say also, I didn't totally buy it as the reason for her deciding to come forward now. After all, that was a terrible episode, but it was four years ago. The more obvious reason for her to come forward now is two things. We just had this release of some papers from a friend of Hillary Clinton's, Diane Blaire, in which she recounts how Hillary Clinton described Monica Lewinsky as a narcissistic loony tune.

And we have obviously the potential pendency of a Hillary Clinton presidential bid. I'm sure the Tyler Clementi episode affected Monica Lewinsky, but I kind of have a guess that this is what pushed her over the edge of coming back into the public spotlight.

YOUNG: Well, let's just stay with the Tyler Clementi reference for a second, because she concludes by saying, look, I think I could be of use talking to people who have been humiliated in such a big way, the way I was. Doesn't she have a point there? I mean, if the former president and his wife can move on, can't Monica Lewinsky in this age where, you know, everybody has a second story, can't that be hers, that she can maybe help other people?

MARCUS: Maybe. I guess I wonder - look, in the age of the internet, there is this sort of tragedy of instance ghastly celebrity. I guess it's good that Monica Lewinsky would hold herself out as someone who managed to survived, really, one of the first internet mob attacks.

But I think I keep coming back to I'm not sure if, God forbid, a friend of mine or a family member was going through this I would hold out Monica Lewinsky as an example of see, she survived it. I mean, I applaud her for taking back the narrative. But it just remains a sad fact to me that this episode really changed the course of her life in a way that it did not change the course of Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton's life.

YOUNG: Well, meanwhile, you mentioned the potential 2016 presidential run of Hillary Clinton, and others are speculating as you do that this may have something to do with that. In fact, Lynne Cheney on Fox News says that she thinks it might be the Clinton's who were pushing her to get her story out now and not in 2016.

Monica Lewinsky apparently laughs at the idea - at the notion that they are making her do anything. You know, there's speculation, she says, that the Clinton's must have paid me to be quiet. But you conclude that in fact whatever Monica Lewinsky does, and it sounds like she's going to be doing something, 'cause she says I'll soon find out what this is going to cost me. So maybe she has some speaking engagement set up. But you said it's actually a good thing for Hillary Clinton.

MARCUS: Well, first of all, let me say that I think Lynne Cheney's suggestion that the Clinton's have orchestrated this is loony tunes to use a Hillary Clinton phrase. I mean, really the notion that the Clinton's or somebody in their orbit would take the risk of reaching out to Monica Lewinsky, that's just crazy conspiracy thinking.

YOUNG: Well, one could say that the president has done a riskier thing in the past, but I take your point. But what...

MARCUS: Yes, but Hillary Clinton is a much more disciplined and orderly person than her husband is slash was. But I would say that in terms of the political impact for Hillary Clinton, look, there are, as you mentioned, there are people who are going to be voting who really have no memory of this.

But it's also true that inevitably Bill Clinton's presidency and Bill Clinton's indiscretions will come up during a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. And to the extent that Monica Lewinsky has had her say, and so the fourth or fifth or fifteenth time she has her say, we're all going to be bored by it. It's better for the Clintons that it come out now than that she kind of explode on the scene, say, in the middle of the primaries in 2016 in Iowa.

YOUNG: Well, you point out that Senator Rand Paul is already saying that it's an issue. He's already raised the question of whether democrats and Hillary Clinton should consort with a sexual predator. This was recently. So he's planning on bring it up. But Pew Research has been tweeting out and reminding us that Hillary Clinton's highest poll numbers were right after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

MARCUS: I think here again is a moment where Monica Lewinsky is helping, whether intentionally or not, and I would say not, helping the Clintons. Because she describes herself not as the victim of a sexual predator, though she does say her boss, the president, took advantage of her, but as a willing participant in this affair.

And so, she is somewhat undercutting the Rand Paul-Bill Clinton's a terrible sexual predator narrative.

YOUNG: Yeah. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post with her thought on Monica Lewinsky declaring she wants to take back her narrative. We'll link you to Ruth's column at Ruth, thanks so much.

MARCUS: Thanks for having me.

YOUNG: And Jeremy, what a shock. Listeners are weighing in.



YOUNG: L.R. Scherer(ph) writes oh lord, why? But Becky Rodo(ph) says, you know, this woman's life was absolutely ruined by public scrutiny of a stupid thing she did as a young woman. Isn't it possible that what we ought to be examining is our cruelty as a society, not how this affects the 2016 election.

HOBSON: Although, when you hear about Monica Lewinsky coming back in a potentially, you know, who knows, a race between a Clinton and a Bush, it does seem like deja vu. Your thoughts, or HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.