Mulling Over Monica Lewinsky

Editor's Notebook

Remember When: Monica Lewinsky’s moment in the spotlight has long since passed. Fourteen years later, she plans to relive the White House scandal in a new memoir.
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Remember When: Monica Lewinsky’s moment in the spotlight has long since passed. Fourteen years later, she plans to relive the White House scandal in a new memoir.

By Jane Eisner

Published September 27, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
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When word leaked out in late September that Monica Lewinsky was writing a tell-all book, the story shot to the top of the “most read” list on our website within hours. We reported that, according to the New York Post, Lewinsky — the world’s most famous, and infamous, White House intern — had secured a deal worth $12 million to write a book for an undisclosed publisher about her affair with President Clinton 14 years ago.

Your guess as to whether any of this is true. But if it is, it won’t be the first chance she’s had to tell her story: Lewinsky cooperated with a 1999 book, “Monica’s Story,” written by the celebrity author Andrew Morton. I read that book (for work, certainly not for pleasure) and reviewing that piece now, in light of the recent news, reminds me what a complete embarrassment Monica Lewinsky was and remains. She is a Jewish woman who embodies the worst stereotypes of the narcissistic princess — who, with an equally narcissitic president, wreaked havoc on a national stage.

But I was also reminded that she came by that narcissim naturally. The Morton book makes clear that she was raised in a family and a particular culture that put personal, material interests above all else. Her parents were children of Jewish immigrants who swiftly climbed the economic ladder to land in Beverly Hills, but that doesn’t mean that they were wise stewards of their children.

The account of their divorce is classic: Her father’s a rich doctor who has an affair with a nurse. Her mother serves him divorce papers while he’s consulting with a cancer patient.

She takes the children to their favorite restaurant on Sunset Boulevard to deliver news that she actually thought they would welcome — heralding a new era, as Morton writes, “an idyll starring just the three of them.”

Monica promptly throws up in the bathroom. Younger brother Michael cries. Their mother is left speechless.

Since her spectular fall from grace, some commentators have argued that Lewinsky was more victim than vixen, caught in an ugly, politically driven quest to unseat Bill Clinton by whatever means possible (and in this case, with his infuriating, irresponsible help.)

Richard Cohen wrote in The Washington Post a few years ago that Lewinsky “did what so many women at that age would do. She seduced (or so she thought) an older man. She fantasized that he would leave his wife for her. Here was her crime: She was a girl besotted. It happens even to Republicans.”

She might not have imagined that her “girlish” crush would have led to only the second presidential impeachment in American history, I’ll give her that. But she sure should have known that what she did was terribly wrong under any circumstances, especially under these circumstances, involving the occupant of the Oval Office with the potential to damage an entire administration.

Others complain that Clinton has been able to move on to spectacular success, and that she has not. True: Even pursuing a graduate degree in London reportedly hasn’t brought Lewinsky money or satisfaction. Perhaps she believes this book will. But it will stir up the memory of a painful public episode that brought out the worst in many people, including the former president. And the author.


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