Monica Lewinsky, Survivor

So I’m still on my YouTube kick, and recently discovered John Oliver’s “Next Week Tonight.” Just hilarious. Yeah, yeah, I know–just call me a late bloomer. Anyway, the show was about public shaming. When I think about it, it seems public shaming has become an American pastime. Oliver portrayed a woman who’d been publicly shamed and she said she had to basically reinvent herself because she couldn’t do the simple things, like find a job.

But the star of that episode was Monica Lewinsky. Remember her from the 90s? Remember what she went through? The sordid details of her affair with Bill Clinton laid bare in Attorney General Kenneth Starr’s report to Congress? I felt so sorry for her back then. To have your life cut open and dissected like a frog in a high school biology class. And she was only 22 years old.

On his show, Oliver aired various clips from speeches she’d given about her ordeal. In one, with tears in her eyes, she talked about the horror of having her name dragged through the mud and her reputation tarnished “on a global scale.” Can you imagine that? Everybody in the world knows your name, and though they might not know what you did, they knew it wasn’t good. Oliver also shared an interesting tidbit. Monica Lewinsky’s name has been mentioned in 193 songs by various artists. Gah.

The jewel, though, was an interview he did with her. Nearly 20 years on, she talked about what the scandal did to her, how she got through it, and what she learned from it. She talked about her difficulty in finding a job, and the difficulties she had job-hunting even all these years later when Hillary was running for President. At that time, one potential employer wanted her to sign an indemnification form. She makes speeches on the harmful effects of bullying and shaming. She said she’d been advised to change her name, but she refused. Her ordeal would always be known as “the Monica Lewinsky scandal,” but as she said, “no one suggested that Bill Clinton change his name.” Oliver asked whether the internet would have made her saga better or worse. She said more people would have been able to voice nasty opinions, but then there were those who may have supported her–maybe send a message like “I think what you’re going through is bullshit.” That, she said, “would have helped a lot.”

While the scandal was unfolding, I remember listening to several people chastise her because at 22 years old, “she should have known better.” Maybe so. But I gotta tell ya, Bill Clinton has some SERIOUS mojo. I met him while he was Governor of Arkansas. He was mesmerizing, his blue eyes boring into yours, listening to you and what you had to say like it was the most important thing in the world, and that you two were the only ones in the room. I actually felt light-headed. That’s when I knew I had to get away from him. I wasn’t rude about it, but I left as fast as I could. What I’m saying is, HE SCARED ME. And here I was, a savvy player in the game of federal and state politics, able to hold my own with anybody, and I’m running away from him like a spooked rabbit. So I understand why she fell under his spell.

From listening to Ms. Lewinsky, it’s obvious that she’s moved on with her life. Her sense of humor was heartening. The scandal left some deep, deep wounds, but they appear to have scarred over. The scandal will always be with her and has certainly helped shape her, but she has not let it define her. Most importantly, she seems to be happy.

Brava, Monica Lewinsky!

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