In the wake of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s extraordinary gaffe in Washington the day before Paddy’s Day, I‘ve been thinking about Monica Lewinsky, the intern he so crassly referred to in his ‘off the cuff’ remark.
So who was Monica Lewinsky? What went on between herself and Bill Clinton, then the most powerful man in the world, and twenty-seven years her senior? And what were the outcomes for her. And for him.
Back to when it all kicked off. She was a bright, freshly minted grad who jumped at the chance of an internship at the White House. She developed a ‘crush’ on Bill and soon the ever-opportunistic Mr. President was inviting her into the Oval Office for an increasingly intense sexual affair.
Not only was the affair ‘reckless’ on his side, it took place as the Republican Party were gathering forces under a new, viscously partisan cabal made up of right-wing parliamentarians, partnered with a shadowy group of lawyers and key professionals known as ‘the Elves’, all desperate to bring this Democratic Love God down.
This nasty lot had cosied up to a distraught young woman Bill had exposed himself to, and asked to, eh, kiss the mighty phallus.
At the same time a years long, $70 million trawl conducted by Judge Kevin Starr into Bill and Hilary’s involvement in a land deal in Little Rock, had pretty much come to a dead end, when the circling sharks were handed live meat: forget the girl asked to kiss yer man’s pee pee, currently the President of the United States is shagging a twenty-two-year-old intern. In the White House.
But, Monica Lewinsky was no longer in the White House. Her superiors, worried by this semi-blatant affair, had shunted her off to the Pentagon, where aged twenty-two, miserable, heartbroken and horribly confused – why wasn’t her powerful lover bringing her back to him? – she confided her woes in a tough older woman, named Linda Tripp.
Tripp by name and Tripp by nature, the lovely Linda, surely spotting gold was to be made, began taping her conversations with the distraught young intern and doing the rounds of literary agents, and journos with dynamite tale in hand.
It’s still blood chilling to hear this older woman advice a confused and clearly lovestruck Lewinsky to keep every gift the President has given her, make sure NOT to dry clean the blue dress with the President’s semen still on it, and not to worry, all will be well. All the while taping the conversations, leading the young woman deeper and deeper into a trap.
Next, the judge who’d unsuccessfully spent millions trying to entrap the Clintons via a land deal in Little Rock, was tipped off by a helpful member of ‘The Elves’ as to what was going on. Smelling blood in the water, he pounced. This could actually bring the President down.
The sting took place one day in a shopping mall where Linda and Monica were to meet for coffee. Linda approached, flanked by FBI, and a terrified Monica was escorted to a pre-prepared upstairs hotel room where lawyers for Mr. Starr awaited.
Monica, refused a lawyer, refused even a call to a lawyer, still unaware that all her conversations had been taped, and shared, was told she MUST co-operate fully and agree to wear a wiretap to entrap the President, and unnamed others. The alternative was years in jail. Jail perhaps also for her Mum and Dad?
She was alone, terrified, mortified, suicidal.
God love her, she refused to co-operate. She still loved Bill.
Eventually, after hours of this travesty of justice, she was allowed phone her Mum.
Her Mum, very sensibly, urged co-operation. Her Dad got a lawyer. Eventually she and her Mum were allowed creep off, battered and exhausted, to her Mum’s apartment where they holed up for months, the press camped outside their window.
The big guns now turned their sights on the Pres.
For months the American media, public, and Congress were convulsed with fascinated horror as the details of the affair tumbled out.
In thanks for her co-operation every snog, every orgasm, every breathless gush, pace Linda Tripp’s tapes, was made public. All detailed by Monica herself.
The President eventually slithered free: ‘I did NOT have sex with that woman’. Went on to finish his term, write a bestselling memoir, charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches, and keep his marriage. Hilary her hair coiffed to within an inch of its life as the drama dragged on, standing by her man: ‘He was a hard dog to keep on the porch’. The hard dog grinning away, delighted with himself, doling out settlements for hundreds of thousands of dollars for women he’d sexually harassed to women he’d outright raped.
Monica meantime was universally pilloried.
She became a national joke. ‘A slut’. ‘A Bimbo’. ‘An over sexed blabbermouth who couldn’t keep her mouth shut’.
Even solid gold feminists and lefties like Gloria Steinem and Michael Moore got stuck in.
She was fair game.
For years, in her own words, she ‘floundered’. She tried celebrity schlock. Handbag design. Dieting endorsements. But eventually removed herself from the public eye. She went to the London School of Economics and did a Masters in Social Psychology . She decided to take control of her story. She co-authored a book. She supported MeToo. ¸She did a Ted Talk. She became an ambassador for anti-bullying, helping ‘survivors of the shame game’. She openly criticised the ex-President who to this day likes to cast himself as the helpless boy and she ‘just a buffet and he couldn’t resist the desert’.
It’s a tale Shakespearian in its breadth. And tragedy. But she is the one who has emerged with flying colours. The President, and sadly his wife, once a proud feminist, and the cohort of savage Republican lawyers and parliamentarians, do not come out of this so well. Oh no.
So perhaps next time Leo goes off piste in one of his speeches he might do a little background reading first. Make certain who is the butt of his jokes, made only hours after cosying up to Mrs. Clinton.
Fuck the Patriarchy. Let the Patriarchs starve.
Feature Image: Clinton with Lewinsky in February 1997.