Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Apotheosis of Saint Monica

Commentary by Martin Kelly
June 30, 2004

The universally bad reviews that My Life has garnered all make mention of Clinton’s penitence for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. However, his sociopathic self-justification (‘I did it because I could’) has had me troubled.

Can someone tell me when the clock turned back to 1883?

The conservative commentary surrounding the book’s release paints the Clintoin/Lewinsky relationship as something from a penny dreadful novella of the 19th Century. I’m quite sure that the 42nd President is capable of a lecherous leer when the mood is on him, though it would be better if those moods had not taken him when he was discussing troops movements with Sonny Callahan. All that’s necessary to complete the picture are spats and a handlebar moustache, with maybe a subtitle like ‘His Wicked Way’ and Slick Willie could be the villain from a Charlie Chaplin silent. Maybe the scenario ends with Monica swooning at the thought of being sent into white slavery, or at least of getting a cable show.

Baloney. Indeed, in a pathetic and utterly self-serving interview that has been broadcast on the UK’s Independent Television network, Monica has once again come out of the woodwork, to say how Bubba was a rat, and how she comfort eats to get over the stress of what has happened to her.

Get over it, baby. Life is usually never the same once you’ve been involved in a cause celebre.

The creation of the cult of Saint Monica Lewinsky, wronged woman, will only gain strength from this book launch. 40 years of feminism can be rolled back in a minute, and it’s OK for Monica to be portrayed as a dizzy wee flibbertigibbet, swept off her feet by Hot Springs’ own Rhett Butler. Female commentators, in focussing on how badly she feels she’s been done by, completely forget that in this matter, at no point did Monica Lewinsky cease to be a moral actor in her own right.

Like any number of extremely ambitious young women, she was willing to enter into a physical relationship with a more senior colleague whom she knew was married. In her case, she most certainly couldn’t have failed to know that, as altar-bait, Bubba was out of bounds. But that did not stop her continuing the adulterous conduct for over a year, with varying degrees of intensity.

It’s said that power is a great aphrodisiac. Maybe yes, maybe no. But closeness to power never absolves one from one’s own moral obligations. The fact that Bill Clinton’s sexual morals came from the barnyard, and that at the time he was also being sued for sexual misconduct prior to election, should at least have given her pause, but she went ahead and did it anyway.

One is not suggesting for a moment that she suffer the same fate as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, condemned to wear the scarlet letter for the rest of her days, heaven forefend no, one can’t possibly be seen to be making moral judgments these days. But in the times of which Hawthorne was writing, the stocks were also in use. Now, because I’m not an American I can get away with this, but wouldn’t it have saved a ton of taxpayers’ money if he had just volunteered to go into the stocks for a few days, you could have thrown rotten tomatoes at him and the whole thing would have been over and done with? Instead of going through a whole series of litigations in which the government of the USA was weakened, and its enemies emboldened, by a stasis over the meaning of the word ‘is’?

Ultimately, his sins are the worse ones. He was subject to the discipline of civil marriage, she was not. He was in a particular position where he must be trustworthy, she was not. The particular defects of his own character led him to lie, she did not. However, the events that have brought about their ruin were consensually entered into, and Monica Lewinsky is not particularly worthy of sympathy, if only because she is not the first and will by no means be the last young woman to be dumped by an older married man. She is no saint.

Now, I’m off to find my sewing needle and my big scarlet A. Yoo-hoo! Monica!