The Monica Lewinsky scandal seems like a long time ago, and it was. Get this — the former White House intern whose intimate relationship with President Clinton gave rise to more bad jokes that you can count is now 40. She’s decided to resurface so that she can “take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.” I’m not sure that it’s possible for Ms. Lewinsky to “take back her narrative” under any circumstances, but in her piece she says she deeply regrets her fling with the Prez, insists it was a consensual arrangement between two adults, believes it’s time to bury the notorious blue dress, and discloses that she was humiliated and suicidal as the scandal progressed and she became a kind of punching bag for people on all parts of the political spectrum.
I don’t blame Lewinsky for her decision to talk about her past. These days, just about everybody does it, so why should she be any different? But the Lewinsky period was an intensely embarrassing one for everyone involved — whether you’re talking about the dissembling President who unbelievably engaged in a grossly improper relationship while in office, or the overreaching House Republicans, or the President’s overly aggressive defenders and detractors — and for the country at large. Having lived through it, I have no desire to relive it, and therefore I’m not going to read the full Vanity Fair article.
I wish Ms. Lewinsky the best, but I’m perfectly content to let her fade into the past along with ’90s music, the dotcom bubble, and other dimly recalled vestiges of that decade.
I don’t know why people make sex tapes — it seems narcissistic, sleazy, and extremely weird, all at the same time. Given that, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that John Edwards was involved in making one. He seems to have all of the embarrassing qualities that you would normally find in a sex tape participant and producer.
Do the people who make sex tapes actually watch them? That seems even more bizarre to me — but in any case I’m glad not one moment of national dialogue will be devoted to people talking about watching the John Edwards sex tape. We don’t need it.
In fact, we would all be better off if John Edwards’ name were never mentioned again — except as part of a cautionary tale about how the mighty have fallen and are brought low by their wretched excesses.
What lessons can be learned from this sordid story? Two points seem obvious. First, the lie and the cover-up are almost always more damning than the original misdeed. Weiner’s behavior in sending intimate photos and messages to unknown internet acquaintances was extremely weird, but he probably could have survived it if he had not aggressively lied about his Twitter account being hacked in an attempt to avoid disclosure of his conduct. For most people, his knowing, repeated, straight-faced lies were far more disturbing that his strange activities on the web.
Second, recognize when you are going down, then pick the time and structure the message. Weiner’s admission that he had engaged in the unseemly conduct and lied to the public made it inevitable that he would have to leave office — particularly when Weiner must have known that other pathetic photos and internet dalliances would come to light. By vowing to fight, Weiner only exposed himself, his family, and his party to ongoing ridicule, shame, and distraction. If he had resigned at the outset, he would have spared everyone a humiliating spectacle. And why publicly read a statement in a forum where you could be jeered and spoofed by shock jocks and other bottom-feeders at the media trough? Weiner would have been well-advised to follow Jim Tressel’s lead, issue a high-minded written statement, and leave his position out of the media spotlight.
So, Anthony Weiner exits stage left. When will the next Washington, D.C. media frenzy begin?
We hear about the Anthony Weiners and Dominique Strauss-Kahns, the John Edwardes and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Bernie Madoffs and stud athletes and CEOs who break the rules or break the laws, and we shake our heads and wonder: How could they be so reckless and brazen?
I suspect that part of the reason is that such people simply have not lived in the real world for a very long time. Even if they began somewhere close to normal, for years their lives have been spent in a kind of protective cocoon, surrounded by aides and boosters and supporters and staffers and contributors. People arrange their meals and social functions for them. They really don’t need to carry cash anymore. They get chauffered to events in limousines. When they arrive at a restaurant, a guy whispers in their ear to let him know if there is any problem — any problem whatsoever! — and it will be taken care of immediately. They fly first class, get to board when they want, and sip their complimentary champagne and try to ignore the stream of disheveled coach passengers who walk by. Why shouldn’t these folks feel that they are different from normal people? They live lives that are different from normal people. And when they make little missteps, those missteps always — always! — get taken care of by members of their retinue. The missed tests get retaken. The tickets are torn up. The meetings get delayed to accommodate their late arrival. Their peccadilloes are forgiven through cash payments or side deals or secret agreements.
But then, at some point, a line gets crossed. The police get called. A send button is inadvertently hit and reckless private communications become public. A person who is facing jail time and knows about the misdeeds decides to roll over and cooperate with the crusading prosecutor in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. And then the mystified member of the elite finds that the cadre of fixers and sycophants aren’t there anymore, that their confident assurances, angry threats, wheedling, bullying, and lies, don’t work anymore. Suddenly, they are being treated like the common people who, for years, they have seen only in passing or at carefully arranged events — and they realize, to their amazement, that those common people seem to be enjoying their travails.
I imagine that the one common emotion felt by every member of the mighty who has been brought low is . . . astonishment.
Americans have always been interested in the lives of the rich and famous — particularly when the story involves their misdeeds. The arrest for sexual assault of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now-former head of the International Monetary Fund, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s belated confession to fathering an out-of-wedlock child are just two of a long line of tawdry scandals that have captivated American audiences.
The sordid tale of Strauss-Kahn provides an especially rich trove of detail. He was staying in a $3,000-a-night hotel room when the incident occurred. He flies first-class on Air France whenever he wants. He jets around the world, passing judgment on the economies of sovereign nations and spending other people’s money. He’s French, and a Socialist. And, according to the hotel housekeeper who is his accuser, when she entered what she thought was an empty room he burst out of the bathroom like some Gallic satyr, assaulted her, and engaged in forced sexual contact. His apparent defense is that the encounter was consensual. And, to complete the required story line, his resignation statement professes his innocence but says he is giving up his post for the good of his wife, whom he loves “more than anything,” and the IMF.
One point that distinguishes the Strauss-Kahn tale from the others is that he is French, and therefore people from both sides of the Atlantic are reacting to his arrest. Initially, many in France seemed to blame his arrest on American prudishness and to complain that he wasn’t being treated in a deferential way that acknowledged his lofty position in the world. More recently, the prevailing view seems to be shifting away from reflexive sympathy for Strauss-Kahn having to deal with the unsophisticated, benighted Americans to a realization that the conduct of which he is being accused is, in fact, criminal and is properly treated as such. If this incident causes the French to be a bit more concerned about sexual assault crimes, and a bit less willing to give a pass to the misconduct of the high and mighty, that would be a good thing.
Yet another leading American politician has resigned in disgrace, in the face of a lingering sex scandal and an impending ethics investigation.
This time, it is Nevada Senator John Ensign, whose inability to refrain from sexual dalliances has mired him in a protracted scandal that implicates federal lobbying laws. Ensign managed to cling tenaciously to his post for 22 months — 22 months! — as the Ethics Committee ponderously investigated the allegations. Ensign decided to resign only a few weeks before his deposition was to be taken.
And so, another carefully coiffed, silver-haired empty suit has proven unable to resist his base animal impulses as he roams the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Republican or Democrat, it makes no difference — too many of our elected representatives seem to think they are above the law. Good riddance!