TIME politics

The GOP’s Monica Lewinsky Boondoggle

Monica Lewinsky attends the Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portr
Monica Lewinsky attends the Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portrait photo exhibit at Mary Boone Gallery. New York Daily News Archive—NY Daily News via Getty Images

There was a time where dredging up Lewinsky reminded Americans of Hillary’s shortcomings, but it certainly doesn’t anymore.

Did you know that “Monica Lewinsky” is how Republicans pronounced “Benghazi” in the 1990s? Because regardless of whatever Ms. Lewinsky’s motives are for releasing her story now, the only reason conservatives are foaming at the mouth to revisit the scandal is to try and tarnish the unimpeachably popular Hillary Clinton. It won’t work.

After all, it didn’t work before. We already knew Hillary’s husband cheated on her when she almost won the Democratic primaries in 2008, and even today she has the highest polling advantage for 2016 of any non-incumbent potential presidential candidate in history. Maybe there was a time where dredging up Lewinsky perversely (and stupidly and sexist-ly) reminded Americans of Hillary’s shortcomings. But certainly it doesn’t now. If anything, Hillary’s tough-and-admired leader image is further burnished by the reminder of all the mud she has climbed through, and that she has still managed to thrive.

Still, Republicans have nothing else. After 13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents, 50 briefings and millions of dollars in taxpayer money spent to “investigate” Benghazi, Republicans still haven’t turned up anything more than slander in an attempt to pin culpability on Hillary for what was plainly a tragic mistake, not a scandal. And so here comes Monica, dropped in Republican’s lap — and they’re sadly going to try and re-exploit her they way they did in the 1990s. Of course, the person who’s going to actually be hurt by this isn’t Hillary but Monica, who will endure yet again the ugly attacks, insults and shaming that Matt Drudge and other conservatives piled on back in the 1990s and which Lewinsky says she’s hoping to escape. The real scandal here isn’t the Clintons, but conservatives’ impulse to perpetually whip up scandals to distract from their own unpopularity and lack of substance.

I’m not going to defend how Hillary and the Clinton Machine attacked Lewinsky when news of the affair first broke. I’m no great fan of Clinton centrism to begin with. And although Hillary is in general a great defender of women, I suppose when you find out your husband has been having an affair with an intern, this is not a moment to expect feminist solidarity with the other woman. Still, it has always struck me as sad that a woman who withstood so much sexism in the media could be complicit in sexist slut-shaming attacks against a girl almost the same age as her own daughter—and even in one instance, albeit private, calling Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon.” Not cool, Hillary. Not cool at all.

Perhaps one of the best things that could come out of Lewinsky sharing her story now is not only to get the inevitable revisiting of salacious details out of the way before the 2016 elections, but to also give Hillary a chance to repent for the tone she and her surrogates took in skewering Lewinsky. I’m not sure that will happen, but it would be nice. And it would be a fine thing for feminists, who arguably let the Clintons off the hook back then, to push for now.

But beyond all the political optics and opportunism, to think that the Lewinsky story has anything to do with Hillary is absurd. After all, it wasn’t Hillary who had an affair with Lewinsky in the Oval Office, right? The whole incident has nothing to do with Hillary’s leadership nor qualifications to be president. I only wish that some day the shameful practice of using the ideas and actions of one’s husband to try and smear women in public life will be as much a thing of the past as the Lewinsky affair.

Sally Kohn is a CNN contributor and columnist for The Daily Beast.

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