Andrew Morton Puts the Hanky Back in Monica’s Hanky-Panky

Monica’s Story , by Andrew Morton. St. Martin’s Press,

288 pages, $24.95

Reviled as a tart and liar, derided for her figure, claimed as the

poster victim of sexual harassment and exploited by the media, Monica

Lewinsky went on to win esteem for her spunky, poised independent behavior

before press, prosecutors, grand juries and legislators, and for her

reluctance to be a rat. When prurient congressmen, unable to forgo a last

chance to ogle those red, red lips, put her through a final gratuitous

ordeal, she came through as intelligent, courteous, more than their

match–and the nation cheered.

But with an amanuensis like Andrew Morton, Ms. Lewinsky doesn’t

need enemies.

Just when we were getting to like her, Mr. Morton shows us a spoiled,

demanding, emotional, tantrum-thrower–indeed, a stalker, a

liar–someone without the slightest sense of proportion about the

Presidency of the United States. On nearly every page of this sodden book

are floods of tears, bursts of tears, torrents of tears: “I was just

suicidal. I was hysterical, I was screaming and crying.” And so are

her father, mother, friends, Linda Tripp–even Bill Clinton tears up.

You wonder if all the tears are a stylistic tic left over from Mr.

Morton’s books about Princess Diana.

Ms. Lewinsky’s limited but hair-trigger emotional

register–tears, hyperventilation, threats–and the giant gulf

between her exalted view of her “affair” with Mr. Clinton and

what boils down to a few sessions of what would have been described in my

high school as “heavy petting” (initiated almost always by her),

goes a long way to explain why everyone babied her along as patiently as

they did. The White House, especially the women staff members, seems to

have realized that she was a loose cannon, even if she could be sort of

nice. What doesn’t come across in Mr. Morton’s book, though he

mentions that she has these qualities, are the charm, generosity and

intelligence Ms. Lewinsky must have had, to have attracted not only Mr.

Clinton but many other people who knew her, and which were apparent on

television.

Mr. Morton has calculated that people will relate to her pain more than

to her charm. Is this an astute estimation of the American national mood,

or some strangely British misunderstanding? He would not be the first Brit

journalist to fail to understand American events (just read the last six

years of The Economist ).

Americans are post-pain. We have grown up enough to prefer the heroine

Monica to this lying, manipulative, dysfunctional Monica whose apparent

confidence in letting this account of herself be published suggests a

completely egocentric universe.

Mr. Morton’s Monica throws herself into suffering, and then people

“owe” her because they’ve made her suffer. Even her parents

had to “handle” her. No one (except, apparently, William

Ginsburg) just treated her like a grown-up. They were afraid of provoking

an array of symptoms and psychopathology from hyperventilation to binge

eating, to staying in bed and by the phone for days on end, crying, crying,

crying.

What is the culture that could so deform a lively, bright, loyal,

pretty, witty girl like Monica Lewinsky? What made her believe the world

revolved around her emotions? Her family? California? Life in Beverly

Hills, a friend of Ms. Lewinsky’s tells Mr. Morton, is “very

unkind to heavy people.” Is Ms. Lewinsky unique or a symptom? Reading

Monica’s Story , we realize that television’s version of

90210 might be true.

Here is Ms. Lewinsky in action. In one of the dozens of similar letters

she sent Mr. Clinton nine months after he tried to extricate himself from

her for a second time, she writes: “I asked you three weeks ago to

please be sensitive to what I am going through right now and keep in

contact with me, and yet I’m still left writing notes in vain. I am

not a moron. I know that what is going on in the world takes precedence but

I don’t think what I have asked you for is unreasonable.… I

am trying to deal with so much emotionally and I have nobody to talk to

about it. I need you right now not as President but as a man, please

be my friend.”

In response, Mr. Clinton concedes he might manage a short visit the next

day, but when Betty Currie fails to set it up, Ms. Lewinsky becomes

“upset and resentful.” So Ms. Currie smuggles her into his study

for a few uneventful minutes. While waiting, Ms. Lewinsky tries Ms.

Currie’s desk drawers–locked–and fumes because some gifts

she has brought are gone. Goes home, writes another anguished letter on her

computer (“I am consumed with this disappointment, frustration and

anger …”), then records it aloud, runs the tape by Linda Tripp,

sends it by courier, then calls throughout the next day, “each time

becoming more and more frustrated and tearful because the President had not

yet received her private message.” Finally, he gets the package but

tells Ms. Currie to tell Ms. Lewinsky he’s too busy to see her. Ms.

Lewinsky has meantime snooped around and found out that Mr. Clinton is

watching a movie with Erskine Bowles. She calls Ms. Currie, “almost

hysterical with rage” and says, “I can’t take this

anymore,” threatening, “I’m telling my parents

tomorrow.”

The sympathetic Mr. Morton explains that “Monica simply felt that

the President had taken such advantage of her that she wanted to hurt him

in return, to make him understand how their affair was affecting her

life.” She tells every one of her friends her “secret.” No

one is spared her emotional blackmail.

If Ms. Lewinsky and the society that formed her come out badly in Mr.

Morton’s account, some of the other players do slightly better. Her

mother, Marcia Lewis, widely viewed as the stage mom from hell who kept the

dress, is here mostly presented as concerned, careful with her volatile

daughter, a bit afraid of her, trying gently to wean her away from her

obsession with Mr. Clinton. Between the lines we also see a hysterical,

suicidal, overdramatic woman who inadvertently left her divorce papers

where the sensitive Monica could find them, and was too scared of Kenneth

Starr’s men to venture out and destroy the dress.

Bill Clinton himself, in the Monica’s Story version, comes

across as more sentimental, naïve and considerate than one would have

expected. A lonely man in a stressful job, he behaves with the

affectionate, doomed docility of the true Don Juan. With a fairly good

grace he seems to recognize he will pay a heavy price for his weakness, in

exasperation, not to mention eventual humiliation, though once he does

snap, after she extensively berates him for not paying enough attention to

her: “In my life no one has ever treated me as poorly as … you.

Outside of my family and my friends and my staff, I have spent more time

with you than anyone else in the world. How dare you make such a

scene?” And when she berates Betty Currie, he lashes out: “You

had no right to talk to anyone like that.” Ms. Lewinsky whines,

“All I want to do is see you and you don’t give me an answer. I

don’t understand–why is it so hard?” She really doesn’t

get it that he might have important things to do. When Mr. Clinton begins

to understand that this girl is trouble, she twists the knife:

“Trouble? You think I have been trouble? You don’t know

trouble.”

For impeachment junkies, the main interest of the book lies in Ms.

Lewinsky’s account of her treatment by Mr. Starr and his minions,

something she was obliged by the immunity agreement not to talk about, but

for some reason can write about. Here was an opportunity, underutilized,

for a serious examination of the misbehavior of Kenneth Starr’s brutal

prosecutors, who threatened, bullied, intimidated and illegally detained

her in a hotel room without a lawyer–a 24-year-old who had committed

no crime. They brandish guns and handcuffs, won’t let her call her

mother or lawyer (which would have saved her from filing her false Paula

Jones affidavit and denied them their hold over her) and tell her

she’ll go to prison for 27 years. She was scared. Surely that should

scare all of us.

The miserable performance of American journalists (who with few

exceptions have chosen merely to sniff around Ms. Lewinsky’s wardrobe)

is beyond Mr. Morton’s brief, though he does give some details of what

seems in his presentation a conspiracy between Newsweek ‘s

Michael Isikoff, Lucianne Goldberg and her son Jonah Goldberg, and Linda

Tripp to entrap the President. For instance, Ms. Tripp encourages presents

for Mr. Clinton, then suggests to Ms. Lewinsky that she send the presents

by courier, and then suggests a courier company that belongs to Goldberg

mère et fils , which in turn hands over delivery records to

Mr. Isikoff or Mr. Starr. The role of the appalling Ms. Tripp emerges in

this account as so Machiavellian as to be nearly incredible, even requiring

as it does a naïveté from Ms. Lewinsky that is also nearly

incredible. Is it really possible that Ms. Lewinsky never tumbled to this

sting?

It was clear early on that the impeachment prosecution, besides being

generated by a dislike for Mr. Clinton that seems irrational to Washington

outsiders, was an aspect of the so-called culture wars. It seemed to many

almost a revival of the Civil War, largely driven by Southerners (though

the quarry, too, was a Southerner). What Yankee did not view those House

Managers with as much mystification as dislike, with their strange accents,

unapologetic hypocrisy and completely unfathomable cultural assumptions

about womanhood (Mr. Morton refers to misogyny) and God?

No doubt strong passions lurk in Southern hearts about godless Yankees.

But maybe it’s a Generation X thing. Neither Ms. Lewinsky nor Mr.

Morton seems to feel Ms. Lewinsky is anything but right when she resents

that her “Handsome” has to go meet with Israeli dignitaries or

deal with a military crisis. She is entitled to a job at the White House or

some other good job. Why? Because by not being available to see, be alone

with, hang out with her, Mr. Clinton has caused her to overeat.

If nothing else, Andrew Morton has made it clear that beside the

steaming American social fissures that this case opened, separating North

from South, and Baptist from Episcopalian, and Gen X from Boomer from

elderly legislators, and the press from the rest of the nation, the

distance between California and the East is greater than we imagined. And

California is usually thought to indicate the direction of the nation.

Scary–though Washington is much scarier.