Monica Lewinsky Is Not A Hapless Innocent

Monica Lewinsky Not Innocent With TED Talk, Wikimedia Commons

It was what she said about “earning her presidential kneepads” that did it. Remember that rumor among all the hearsay and blame throwing that surrounded the Clinton-Lewinsky affair? The thing where people alleged that Monica Lewinsky had told friends she was going to Washington to earn her “presidential kneepads,” a euphemism, we all assumed, for oral sex with notorious philanderer President Clinton.

Maybe I could have felt sympathy for Monica if it hadn’t been for that. And maybe that rumor was false and all my feelings subsequently have been misplaced. But in the late 1990s, and ever since, I’ve regarded Monica Lewinsky as untrustworthy, a woman with whom I would not want to enjoy drinks at happy hour, a person I would not trust in the workplace, someone I wouldn’t introduce to friends or family. Her judgment was not just bad, it was willfully bad. She didn’t make a mistake, she deliberately seduced the President for sport.

Look, I’m the same age as Monica and in those years I was doing a fair bit of shagging around. I was young. I was attractive and bright. I was hanging out with other young, attractive, and bright people and we hooked up with each other. Coworkers, friends of friends, guys I met at parties or in bars. I shared drinks and dinner and kisses and more with plenty of people back then. I didn’t then and don’t now condemn people for their sexual choices. Having sex, enjoying sex, bragging about sex is not the issue.

The issue for me back then was that Monica made the decision, allegedly in advance, to sleep with a married man. A high profile married man. A high profile married man with people panting to bring him down for something, anything. A man with a wife and a child who were in the same public eye as he was and had been targeted by the same acid tongues of his political opposition. Monica ignored the marriage, and the enemies, and the repercussions to his family. She went ahead and had a sexual relationship with him, initiated a sexual relationship with him, allegedly, for her own ego. Then she talked about it – to Linda Tripp certainly and probably others – and set in motion a cascade of bad outcomes. She was not a hapless innocent. She was an active participant and a direct cause of what happened next.

By 22, I knew what happened when you told people about your love life. If you talk about it, others will talk about it. This was true in the bubble of my tiny undergraduate school, it was true in the artsy circles I moved in after college, and it was true for Monica Lewinsky in Washington in 1998. Did she make a mistake and trust the wrong person with her confidences? Maybe. Or did she need an audience for her exploits? Did she share with a handful of friends only to find what we all found out after talking about a Saturday night hook-up, that there aren’t many secrets and even friends gossip? Or did she share for the shock value, for the locker-room accolades? Was her telling of the tale a human urge to share an monumental event in her life or was it closer to the urge to share the naked selfies a lover sends you? Whatever. She talked. She had an affair with a married man, an act usually laced with admonitions to stay quiet, and she told people about it. She talked on purpose, without regard for anyone else.

Now — and let me be very clear here– what happened next was not OK. The Starr report, the millions of tax dollars spent on the investigation, Bill’s hideous press conference where he sat at his desk and lied, and the media pillory of Monica Lewinsky was not OK. The names that people called Monica Lewinsky were not OK. The erosion of her privacy, the destruction of her future social and career prospects was not OK. None of it was OK and I’m still angry about the Dirty Tricksters of the 1990s GOP that put all of it into motion. It was not okay but it was also not unexpected or unpredictable.

Monica Lewinsky did a TED Talk recently and seems to be trying to remake herself as a the face for victims of cyber-bullying and I don’t begrudge her success if she gets it. She deserves a second act as much as Bill Clinton does. But I don’t trust Bill and I don’t trust her. I think they’re both opportunists who will say anything to save their own skins, and their motives don’t change that essential grasping fact. To me, the story of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair will always be a cautionary tale about the dangers of talking about matters best kept private and how one selfish decision can ruin so very many lives.

Rebekah Kuschmider is a DC area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theatre and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector.  Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at ,, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.

  • lena mcfarland

    This is an egotistical article. Who cares if you trust Monica or not? The point is that she was publicly humiliated for years after the affair. Do you think she deserves (d) that? Do you have any compassion for her? Bill Clinton kept his life. She has had to struggle to keep hers. Double standard.
    Leave her alone. Whatever price she was supposed to pay for her sins, they’re more than paid. Articles like this are making me hate the broadside and want to stop reading it. Seriously.

  • I’m also the same age as Monica Lewinsky. The double standard here is shameful. Bill Clinton’s selfish choice to disrespect his wife & his marriage vows definitely ruined many lives. he is still a popular public figure while she’s been cast as the harlot. Sorry, no.

  • I did not intend to comment but after reading this yesterday, I woke up still disturbed by it this morning in a highly personal way and I’m trying to pinpoint why. Much of it is the hypocrisy; while you decry (kind of, in passing, as an afterthought) the fact that calling her names or trying to destroy her future was not okay, here you are doing the very same thing with the hopes that others will join you. Then, in a textbook case of double-standards, you assign all of the responsibility of an affair to a young girl, and not to the older man in power who, let’s be honest, had some say in the deal. (Last I checked, witchcraft was not involved.) You refuse to forgive her or show any compassion for a terrible decision made by a young girl two decades ago, even after she reinvents her life, dedicates herself to helping others, and asks for forgiveness. You spend three whole paragraphs explaining why your 22-year-old self was better than hers.

    I stand here, proverbial hat in hand, counting myself among those who feel absolutely horrible for every joke I ever made about Monica. I see things differently now. Because yes, she’s grown, but turns out I have too.

    • m freewald

      She chose to “Tell All.” Instead of keeping her mistakes to her self. Which would have saved her much ridicule. Now she regrets it, Imagine that? Looks like she keeps making the same mistake over and over by courting attention …Sad.

  • Jen Lemen

    i adore monica lewinsky. i love her for seducing the president. i love her for being so completely unaware of how much danger she was in and doing it anyway. i love how raw and completely “wrong” and bad her sexual expression was. i love that him being married didn’t matter to her. i love that she got away with it for so long. i love her for embodying everything dark, shadowy, earthy and feminine that church, religion, society, patriarchy, etc has been trying to smooth over or eliminate for centuries. i love that she is rising now, finding her voice. i only wish that she was never sorry. and that she could have had someone around her or something in her to carry her defiance the whole way. she made audacious, incredibly powerful moves that were natural to her and in doing so, revealed a side of desire that clearly we are still not comfortable with but is needed desperately in this world. was it messy? yes. were their casualties? absolutely. but in the end, the one felt the consequences more than this woman, so let’s let her be and ask ourselves why we hold to man-made morals and societal conventions so hard that we can’t even see the other side of the story? that we still feel the need for her to shut up?

    • Andrea Kennedy

      I hope she steals your husband

  • lisasolod

    I agree far more with the commenters here. We have no confirmation that she said that. Indicting her on a rumor is what happens to women all the time. Lewinsky had her life destroyed while Clinton got away nearly scot free. People don’t immediately think of her when his came comes up but with her name it is ALL people think about. Imagine her life. It must be so damned difficult, all for a stupid mistake at 22, whether it was intentioned or not. She didn’t kill anyone. She slept with a president, like countless women before her. I think everything she is trying to do to gt her life back is absolutely justified. And I was and am a Clinton supporter: both Bill AND Hillary.

  • bettylemons

    You writing this article but conveniently claiming what happened after the ‘affair’ was wrong makes you a hypocrite. Aren’t you just riding the publicity band wagon and rehashing what’s dead and buried and urging people to take a stance, once, again on something that happened 17 years ago. Seriously, I don’t care if you trust Monica Lewinsky. You’re just looking for attention. You even put her name in the headline for SEO. Own it.

  • E.M.Wilson

    I think you hit the nail exactly on the head. It has always bothered me that Monica premeditated the entire thing before she even met Bill Clinton. No excuses for his role but I don’t see her as the innocent victim she would like to play. Perhaps she was somewhat naive but not sexually or morally. Her naïveté, if it can be said to exists, is just how much she would be excoriated once it became public. When she spoke to Linda, I have no doubt that she did so in order to luxuriate in the attention and “naughtiness” of the whole thing. It was a narcissistic act. She was reaching out for solace or advice, she wanted attention, and to seem a bit more important, even exotic to others. She wanted to see the OMG look on their face, knowing that she had perpetrated something that no one else had or probably could. She never imagined that Linda would get the DNA. She, I’m sure, had thought that denial would always be defense enough. No, it is somewhat sad what a price Monica Lewinskt has paid. But it is a price that she brought upon herself. She not only actively seduced the President but did so with marked premeditation. She made her own proverbial bed.

  • Jon Kua’ana

    First, to compare the lives of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton as equivalent is a joke. No doubt Monica suffered much criticism for her involvement in the affair but the harm to her potential career is speculation. The woman had no achievements other than being a White House intern. Having an affair with Bill Clinton gave Monica notoriety which is more of a kind of celebrity today. For a time Monica even tried to parlay her fame into designing bags and endorsements. The kind of woman that Monica was at her age and Hillary at the same age are oceans apart. So to suggest that the consequences were unfair or more harsh to Monica as compared to Bill Clinton is not a fair comparison. Their lives and accomplishments are no match neither are the potentials that Monica and Bill possessed. They both suffered for their indiscretion.

  • Rebecca Behrent

    I think we ought to have compassion for someone who was very young at the time she engaged in “moral indiscretions”. I don’t think she had the maturity to fully appreciate what the long-term consequences of her actions might or would be. Although I thought I was mature at her age, looking back on my life I realize I was not nearly as mature as I thought.
    What is disingenuous about those in society who attack her is that this is the same society that has encouraged moral turpitude. They encourage sex outside of marriage. They encourage and rationalize adultery. Then they turn around and attack someone who does these things!
    A young woman who clearly has not fully matured can be pitied and forgiven. However – a grown man, and one who is entrusted with the office of President of the United States, should not be given any pity, and I would be hard pressed to forgive him. The office of President requires the highest degree of responsibility and maturity. Bill Clinton obviously did not show either quality, and in my opinion, was unfit for the office. He was much older than Monica, and should have acted like it. Yes – Monica may have been “of age”, but that is no excuse to take advantage of someone, whether they were willing or not. Bill Clinton is a man who understands people – and I think he clearly knew he was dealing with a very immature person, and he took advantage of that. It is just as bad as someone taking advantage of someone who is mentally handicapped. Most of us have the moral integrity and the compassion not to do such a thing. What happened to Bill Clinton’s sense of moral integrity and compassion?
    Now we have fully-matured Monica Lewinsky who clearly regrets her past – a past she cannot change. All she can do is go forward and not make the same mistakes again. As far as I know, she has not made those same mistakes. Yet, society continues to berate her for something she cannot change! That is not fair, and certainly not kind.

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