The First Bimbo

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
Jan. 30 1999 3:30 AM

The First Bimbo

Monica Lewinsky, patriot.

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4. She displayed execrable judgment in posing on a beach with an American flag for Vanity Fair. Her vanity duly engaged--as whose would not be?--Monica lacked the maturity to balk at the magazine's tasteless choice of props. And maybe, after months of house arrest, she wanted to make an up-yours gesture toward Starr. In this case, her elderly betrayer was her then-lawyer, William Ginsburg. Remember him? During his 15 minutes, now thankfully past, he was not in a position to advise anyone to avoid the cameras.

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L ike many impressionable young women through the ages, Monica fell under the sway of bad companions. But are these crimes worthy of a lifetime in media purgatory? Not only is she forced to dance whenever Starr pulls the strings on her immunity agreement, but it is difficult to see how and when she can resume a normal life. I have it on good authority that the main reason that Monica hasn't taken a job or even done volunteer work during her ordeal is that she is rightfully fearful that her co-workers would immediately sell her out to the tabloids.

As an intellectual, Monica may be a few boutiques short of a mall. But her Valley Girl airhead image is a cruel caricature. She was smart enough to object initially to the choice of Ginsburg as her attorney. And it is evident from the Starr transcripts that she captivated many members of the grand jury. She also retains a sense of humor about her plight--these days, she jokes, she can make any small company famous by wearing its logo on a baseball cap.

Sure, the Linda Tripp conversations do not make her sound like Simone de Beauvoir discussing her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. Even Monica, I'm told, was appalled by her incessant use of the word "like" on the tapes. But give the girl a break. Monica is not the only twentysomething obsessed with sex and shopping. What would you talk about with Linda Tripp--military readiness? (And keep in mind that Tripp was covertly trying to keep the conversation going and to steer it in a certain direction.)

A high-ranking middle-aged woman in the Clinton administration said to me recently, "If the world knew about my messy love life in my 20s, I wouldn't be in this job." Monica is an ordinary young woman, who blundered badly when she was exposed to extraordinary temptation. Like Helen of Troy, she's caused a helluva mess--but that doesn't mean she's responsible for it.

Walter Shapiro has covered the last seven presidential campaigns and just completed a fellowship at the Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He can be reached at wshapiro@belnord.org.