“Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words.” –Monica Lewinsky
Mr. Wallace and I began dating in 2003, and the first lovers’ spat we ever had was over whether or not Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached. People who know us in real life will assure you of just how on brand that truly is. Anyways. I posited that impeachment was the correct choice; he disagreed. Sixteen years later, the spat has been resolved and we are in complete agreement. Mr. Wallace is firmly on Team Bill Clinton Sucks and If He Goes to Jail Because of Jeffrey Epstein So Be It. Obviously, the most important part about this entire issue is that I was right. Duh. But coming in a close second is why.
William Jefferson Clinton was a gross, abusive sleaze who deserved impeachment for abusing the power of his office and denigrating women. I’m convinced the only reason anyone under age fifty argues against it is because they find Ken Starr to be quite the unsavory character. On this last point no one is wrong: Ken Starr is quite the unsavory character. And the investigation he led was a wrong, stupid, petulant fishing expedition. Even many self-identified Republicans and conservatives, especially those of the “youth vote” variety found Starr and congressional Republicans to be an embarrassment back then. Sure, if the President does something impeachable, then by all means impeach him. But you don’t start there and work backwards, which is precisely what Starr and his goons did. However… that doesn’t make Clinton’s sexual misconduct with Lewinsky fruit of the poisonous tree. And the only footing you have for a No Impeachment argument is to claim otherwise.
I think it’s entirely believable that had there been no Ken Starr, Clinton’s impropriety with Lewinsky still would’ve come to light. Neither of them were being terribly careful to cover their tracks. In this counterfactual there likely wouldn’t have been occasion to charge perjury, but impeachment still could and should have proceeded.
President Clinton engaged in a gross abuse of power. It was at best sexual misconduct, at worse, outright abuse. He used his position of power to prey on someone vulnerable to achieve fleeting sexual gratification. It’s creepy, it’s skeezy, it’s predatory. If you do shit like that, you don’t deserve to be President. Plain and simple. With power comes responsibility, and Clinton abdicated his.
Conservative and liberal Baby Boomers may not have agreed on Bill, but they quickly and seamlessly united in their derision of Monica. As a young woman only a few years younger than her, I saw the situation quite differently. A lot of us did.
Lewinsky wrote last year about how alone she was, how even a simple acknowledgement of such today can still bring her to tears. While there’s no way she could have known or felt it then, and it is of little comfort today, I know she wasn’t as alone as she thought. I was about twenty when the Starr report broke and the news went bonkers. I thought about Monica a lot back then.
I kept thinking about how horribly she was being treated. How disgusted I was when Clinton reacted by throwing her to the wolves to save his own skin, how he could use her infatuation and emotional connection and vulnerability to get himself off when the urge struck, then discard her like dirty bath water the minute convenience wore thin. It’s not just that he denied the encounters. Of course he did, every public figure does. It’s how he denied it. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” That woman. The words uttered with a glare and the now infamous menacingly pointed finger, his cheated-on wife, clearly mortified and almost cowering behind him. That woman. He spat out the words like a bitter poisonous taste, like Lewinsky wasn’t a human being but rancid milk he couldn’t get out of his mouth fast enough.
Monica was not as alone as she thought, and I hope it’s not insulting to say that, as the sympathy and concern did nothing to change her nightmare in real time. We felt a certain solidarity with her, not to mention a lot of fear, like some (probably less public) version of that hellscape could’ve been me, or one of my friends. We felt the stomach-churning unease of knowing that could still be us in a few short years, when we graduated college and sought our first “real jobs” as entry level young women not making much money. It was such a surreal feeling to not only know that yes, a powerful male employer could prey on us, but also have to wonder if our parents would even have our backs if one did. Would they support us? Or would they scoff and snort and speak of their own daughters in the same contemptuous manner they demeaned Lewinsky? Who is someone’s daughter, by the way.
We had so little power to help or change anything back then. But we cared. Sitting around our dorm rooms, pretending to study, snacking on chocolate-orange candies and definitely not sipping white wine spritzers, we’d talk about how badly she was being treated. We’d think and muse about the stupid mistakes we had made that either never saw the light of day or earned us the merest of wrist slaps, and pictured having instead been caught so publicly, like Monica. We turned off Jay Leno in disgust when he brought out navy dress dancers with cigars. We made excuses to leave our parents’ slut-shaming conversations. We spit anger at our then new boyfriends and called him sexist for shrugging off Clinton’s abuses in favor of a good economy. In practical terms, it amounted to nothing. But, we aren’t twenty anymore, either.
Today, women my age have a larger voice and much less vulnerability. Now we can and do agitate for society to relegate Bill Clinton to the dustbin of philandering neoliberalism to which he belongs. We can demand he answer for his sins, or at least just shut the fuck up.
Monica Lewinsky is a fucking hero. Erect a statue of her, put her face on money. Whatever she wants. If I’m able to achieve even half of her grace and resilience for myself, I’ll consider it a life well lived.
FX is making a third season of their hit show American Crime Story, this one focusing on the Clinton impeachment. You know who’s been hired as a producer? That’s correct, my friends: Monica Lewinsky. The arc of the universe is long, often too long, but it does eventually bend toward justice.
Parmesan Pancetta Risotto
- 8 oz deli sliced pancetta, divided
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 4 Parmesan cheese rinds
- Drizzle of olive oil
- 1 shallot, diced
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 4 oz, or about 1 cup, shredded Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- Chop 6 ounces of the pancetta and set aside. Place the remaining 2 ounces, torn into pieces if they are large slabs, into a medium stockpot. Pour the chicken stock over the torn pancetta and add the parmesan rinds. Turn the heat to low and let it just barely simmer for about 20 minutes. You don’t want it to evaporate, you’re just infusing all that flavor.
- Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil, then the chopped pancetta. Cook, stirring frequently with a slotted spoon, until the pancetta is crisped and the fat is rendered. Remove the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate, leaving the fat in the pan.
- You’ll need a good tablespoon of pancetta fat, so supplement with more olive oil if you don’t have enough. If you have a little too much, that is not an actual problem in life, so don’t pour any off. Turn the heat to medium, then add the shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring continually, for about a minute, until softened. Now add the rice and stir to toast and coat, about one minute. Pour in the white wine and stir until it has absorbed into the rice.
- Turn the heat on the chicken stock to its lowest point. Ladle about one cup of flavored stock into the rice and stir continually until it is absorbed. Repeat with the rest of the stock, ladling it in one cup at a time and stirring until absorbed. This entire enterprise will take about 30 minutes. Taste for texture, and if the rice is still too chewy or hard, keep adding water the same way you added stock until the rice is al dente and creamy. Also taste for seasoning. The stock is going to be pretty salty, but add a little kosher salt if necessary.
- Turn the heat to low and melt in the butter and shredded Parmesan. Serve garnished with plenty of reserved crispy pancetta and more shredded Parmesan if desired.