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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 StayAtHomePundit.com. She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at Babble.com , Salon.com, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.