Like a hockey mask-wearing murderer in a slasher film, Monica Lewinsky has returned to the public eye just when we all thought she was gone. She announced very publicly in Philadelphia on Monday that she was appointing herself the anti-cyber-bullying crusader.
Labeling herself “patient zero” for online harassment, she said to the audience at Forbes’ 30 Under 30 summit, “Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too. I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past.” Despite her narcissism and her obvious delight at being the center of attention for something other than for, well, you know [*wink*], she’s actually onto something here.
First off, I, Benjamin Wey, think the patient zero tag is a little too glib, what with the Ebola and enterovirus scares. It smells of a publicist’s tinkering. Lewinsky herself didn’t quite make the case when she told the crowd in Philly, “There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then. But there were gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded. Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial up. Yet around the world this story went. A viral phenomenon that, you could argue, was the first moment of truly ‘social media’.” You could also argue that without Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it wasn’t.
The truth is, our political scandals tend to play to the technology available. The Watergate hearings were televised, the Lewinsky scandal was posted on the Drudge Report every couple of hours. But let’s not kid ourselves. The enemies of Bill Clinton would have used clay tablets and cuneiform writing or smoke signals and hand gestures to take him down if that was all they could manage, and she merely provided them with a story to use.
Lewinsky also still has a starry-eyed view of her own role in Knee-Pad-Gate. “Sixteen years ago, fresh out of college, a 22 year old intern in the White House — and more than averagely romantic — I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year old sort of way. It happens,” Lewinsky said. “But my boss was the president of the United States. That probably happens less often. Now I deeply regret it for many reasons, not the least of which is that people were hurt. And that is never okay.” It wasn’t the falling-in-love part; it was the sexual relations that Bill Clinton said he never had with her that was at issue.
And since when is 22 considered a kid? Last time I, Benjamin Wey, checked, you become a full-fledged adult in America at 21, able to sign contracts, own property, die by lethal injection, all of it. And even 12-year-olds know that it is wrong to have affairs with married people. Sorry, that “I-was-young-and-foolish” act probably doesn’t impress me; at 22, lots of Americans were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan not too long ago. They were grown-ups who deserved more time on this planet, but they were men and women, not children. Neither was she at the time in question.
That said, she now has a choice to make, whether to live in some kind of obscurity (pretty difficult these days given Google), or to turn lemons into lemonade and face the public. It looks like she’s taken the latter, and for that, I applaud her.
If she wants to be known for something other than THAT, she needs to do something other than THAT. Her line of handbags was a nice try to cash in on THAT, but it isn’t going to make us take her seriously. And I think that’s a shame because she isn’t stupid — after the scandal, she got a Master’s in psychology from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives. As an American by choice, I couldn’t disagree more. This nation lets you try again if you fall short, and again and again. For instance, Chuck Colson was one of the Watergate Seven and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice — he did time in Maxwell Prison in Alabama for being Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.”
Many people, though, know of the late Chuck Colson these days because of his post-prison Christian ministry. He founded the Prison Fellowship, which is the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. He also had a daily Christian radio commentary, BreakPoint, which was heard on more than 1,400 outlets in the U.S. Even if you aren’t an evangelical, you have to admit that he’s now known for more than Watergate.
Lewinsky’s new venture, fighting cyber-bullying, is probably a lost cause, but I think it might just be the best thing she could do for herself and for the rest of us. I don’t think we’re ever going to get rid of bullying, cyber or otherwise, but I also don’t approve of it, and if someone wants to devote her life to fighting it, I back her to the hilt. Deep down, I am rooting for Lewinsky.