It’s hard reading about someone who’s dead, or gone from the scene, especially when that person was a beautiful woman. But it sometimes happens that you discover the secret side belatedly through the memorials site or books or recollections of friends, relatives and strangers who stayed. The words in the memorial jump out at you: ‘she cried herself to sleep afraid to die alone’. ‘It was her sister (or cousin, friend, grandmother) who was her rock in the final days’. You realize that underneath the memory there was someone you never knew or never could know, that beneath the gloss lay someone who didn’t understand the cynical game of life; and improbably never appreciated the power of their beauty, intelligence and position; who foolishly wanted to be loved for none of these, but only for themselves.
Edgar Allen Poe once said “the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” It’s true even if she’s not so beautiful, for in every man worth the name lurks a hidden compulsion to ride to the rescue of a damsel in distress. It’s present even in hobbits: for what did Merry feel in his bones when Eowyn faced the Nazgul? “She should not die, so fair, so desperate. At least she should not die alone, unaided.” Doubtless feminism would disapprove, but the instinct is there all the same.
Not that every man responds when he should. The deepest sources of shame in men are memories of the women they wronged; left in the lurch, or to whom they did things that they should not. Of all the reproaches one can feel in later life, the memory of moral cowardice may be the deepest. Which is why what the Atlantic calls Monica Lewinsky’s Second Act is so hard to watch.
According to a write-up on the magazine’s website, Lewinsky described the public humiliation she suffered during the endless coverage and investigations of her affair with President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment more than 15 years ago. She talked about her “love” for Clinton at the time and reportedly teared up in recalling the shame of being, for a time, one of the most infamous young women in the world.
Lewinsky, now 41, said she was “the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet.”
No. She had no reputation, none that counted in the world she blundered into and that was the point. Monica Lewinsky never belonged. Men in politics have often had mistresses, but unlike the well publicized paramours of European leaders, she could not take care of herself. Those women had the angles figured. They gave no pity and deserved none. Lewinsky didn’t even know what the game was. In the loveless, pitiless, strangely sexless world of power politics, the only reputation that counts is how you do as a player. Monica wasn’t even in the running.
The sad truth is that for both sides of the political divide, then as now, it was never about Monica, it always about Bill. One political side used her to get at him, while the other used her as a firewall against the president. She had no more significance in the proceedings than a tennis ball at Wimbledon. But it was the president who put her in an invidious position — and left her there.
News of the Clinton–Lewinsky relationship broke in January 1998. On January 26, 1998, Clinton stated, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” in a nationally televised White House news conference. … Clinton had also said, “there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship” which he defended as truthful on August 17, 1998, hearing because of the use of the present tense, famously arguing “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”
Never perhaps since Peter issued his famous denials was there ever a less truthful admission. Oh, there were probably reasons of policy for cutting her out. A whole ‘agenda’ was at stake, and in that balance, what was the worth of a single intern, a single mote of dust in the scale of the greater good? Hillary didn’t stand by her man. She stood by something even greater — her cause, or if you prefer by her career, which was the same thing — a good soldier and martyr in that greater cause.
And when the papers lionized Bill ever after for doing the ‘right thing’, she probably didn’t understand. That was the saddest part. I wish for sentiment’s sake that Bill had said: “although I have decided not to leave my wife, Hillary, it is I who bears the predominant responsibility for what happened. Leave Monica alone.” Would that he showed as much sand as Edward the VIII, who whatever his faults gave up the throne and took what was coming. “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”
But in these more modern, less extravagant days, people do what they have to do. They move on and leave the people to yesterday’s news. But woe unto those who never get with the program. The diaries of broken, beautiful women reveal that many of them never realized that the road missed was never the result of some defect; of a word unsaid, a gown unworn, a smile ungiven. They had everything they needed to trade. They just never caught onto the game.
It’s not Monica’s Second Act. There was never even a First.
For its hard not to think that Monica Lewinsky still holds up some torch for Bill, hers once, hers in her mind forever. But the truth lady, is that he was never worthy even to hold your hand. Not in the way you think. He didn’t choose Hillary. He chose that impersonal and ultimately barren thing that people call ambition. You’d best leave him to it. Everyone in that game deserves what they get. Count on it — they do — every penny’s worth. He had his chance on the Pelennor Field and left you to the Nazgul. Of course others besides Bill have done that. That is manhood’s collective shame. The difference is, the better of them know it.
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