It’s not likely that Monica Lewinsky will get much satisfaction from former President Bill Clinton’s new interview in which he talks candidly about his role in their affair, which nearly destroyed his presidency and left her demonized for decades.
“I feel terrible about the fact that Monica Lewinsky’s life was defined by it, unfairly I think,” Clinton said in “Hillary,” a new four-part Hulu documentary series, according to the Daily Beast and other outlets. “Over the years I watched her trying to get a normal life back again. But you gotta decide how to define normal.”
So, Clinton expresses sympathy for Lewinsky but also implies that it’s her fault if she hasn’t moved on? The 42nd president also doesn’t offer a direct, personal apology, though saying he feels “terrible” may be the closest he has ever come to expressing contrition, as the Daily Beast explained.
Lewinsky has yet to issue a statement in response to Clinton’s comments in the series, intended to be a portrait of his wife’s life and political career.
Bill Clinton’s critics made much of the fact Thursday that the former president said he pursued a sexual relationship with a much younger woman as a way to manage his “anxieties.” Clinton, 73, said he felt beaten down by the pressures of the presidency.
“You feel like you’re staggering around, you’ve been in a 15-round prize fight that was extended to 30 rounds and here’s something that will take your mind off it for a while, that’s what happens,” Clinton said.
“Whenever Bill Clinton opens his mouth to speak publicly about his affair with Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s, he inevitably ends up saying something astonishingly tone-deaf,” wrote New York magazine writer Amanda Arnold. She added that Clinton repeats much of what he’s said about the affair in the past, including how much he regrets the pain that it caused him and his family.
In the Hulu interview, Clinton insisted that he is a different person now than he was 20 years ago.
“Things I did to manage my anxieties for years. I’m a different, totally different person than I was, a lot of that stuff 20 years ago,” the former president said.
As people wait to see if Lewinsky responds, the anti-bullying advocate and speaker has previously offered her own take on whether she thinks Clinton has sufficiently taken responsibility for his actions, which led to his impeachment.
Lewinsky explained in a 2018 essay for Vanity Fair that the original imbalance of power between them dictated how the scandal affected her life.
During their affair, from 1995 to 1997, Clinton was president of the United States and she was a young woman in her 20s working as a White House intern — very much his subordinate. When news of the affair became public in 1998, Lewinsky wrote that Clinton dismissed her as “that woman,” in his now infamous statement, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
“With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began,” Lewinsky wrote. “As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.”
Lewinsky also wrote that Clinton “safely, even smugly” gave interviews for years without ever having to answer for how he treated her during the scandal and in the aftermath. This immunity to questions ended in June of 2018, amid the rise of the #MeToo movement, when NBC’s Craig Melvin queried Clinton about the affair and asked whether he thought he owed Lewinsky a personal apology.
Clinton said indignantly, “No, I do not.”
Clinton then insisted he had said “sorry” in public on more than one occasion. Lewinsky said she, too, had offered a number of public and personal apologies. She apologized to Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton directly in her 1999 interview with Barbara Walters.
“If I were to see Hillary Clinton in person today, I know that I would summon up whatever force I needed to again acknowledge to her — sincerely — how very sorry I am,” Lewinsky wrote. She also said she had written letters apologizing to many others, including to people whom she says “wronged me gravely.”
Lewinsky wrote that it was necessary for her personal growth to apologize. “I believe that when we are trapped by our inability to evolve, by our inability to empathize humbly and painfully with others, then we remain victims ourselves,” she wrote.
For this reason, Lewinsky said she thought Bill Clinton should want to apologize.
“What feels more important to me than whether I am owed or deserving of a personal apology is my belief that Bill Clinton should want to apologize,” she wrote. “I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him. He would be a better man for it … and we, in turn, a better society.”
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