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Jewish World Review Feb. 9 2001 / 15 Shevat, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Mind your manners and NEVER say "Monica Lewinsky" --- or you may well get sued! -- ESTEEMED historians, journalists, political operatives, and caterers are no doubt cooking up a long series of conferences dedicated to determining the True Clinton Legacy. One suspects the former president himself may address some of these gatherings, seeing in them a chance to further spin his own story and also check out the waitress action in local Waffle Houses.

Yet with all due respect to the noble participants, one relishes the prospect of missing these events. Not only will they produce droning so profound as to further glaze the eyes of corpses. They can also be counted on to largely miss the point. Bill, and his defenders, will understandably insist that he will be best remembered for matters associated with the economy, international affairs, and perhaps AmeriCorps. Yet if truth were the ultimate goal, the legacy hunt would lead directly to a courtroom in New York's Northern District.

It was in that courtroom that Judge David Hurd ruled (just last week) that calling a woman "Monica Lewinsky" can be considered a form of sexual harassment. Unfairly or not, these two words (or, for that matter, either one uttered separately) best sum up what most Americans will remember about the Clinton era. No degree of spinning can change this fact.

Judge Hurd now known in some quarters as the Learned Hurd came to his conclusion as he considered a lawsuit against Mr. Alex Young, a garrulous professor at the State College of New York. Mr. Young's troubles stem from allegedly having created a "sexually hostile environment" for a former student by calling this student "Monica Lewinsky." Mr. Young also aired references to Monica's "more notorious conduct," including a crack along these lines: "Shut up, Monica. I'll give you a cigar later."

One is obviously hesitant to lend any support to such a lawsuit. As is all too common these days, a little good-natured jibing is seen as an opportunity to cash in, this time by an immigrant named Inbal Hayut, who complained not only of "shame and humiliation" but also charged the references to Monica caused her grades to suffer. How fast the immigrants learn our shoddy ways.

Yet it is also true that calling a woman Monica is not exactly a pat on the head. Like the name Bork, the name Monica is now synonymous with a specific type of human behavior. In most of the world's major cities, in selected districts, the mention of her name will inspire the immediate recitation of a price list, with a possible discount on President's Day. Students from late elementary school on up nod wisely when the name is uttered, and before much longer criminal defendants in some parts of the country will no doubt hear themselves charged with "Commission of a Monica in the first degree," etc.

This isn't fair, it can be reasonably argued. There were many pleasant events we can associate with the Clinton years, including NAFTA, welfare reform, and the raging Dow. It should also be remembered that the president worked hard for peace in the Middle East and kept his sense of humor in the face of danger, as when an apparent maniac attempted to pilot his small aircraft into the White House living quarters.

Yet human nature, American-style, dictates that all those play a distant second to Monica, a name that sums up the Clinton years as a time of sleaze so deep and disfiguring that to simply call a woman by the name of the president's former love interest is to maim her and possibly render her worthy of financial reparations.

Understandably, Monica wishes this were not so. "Monica is dismayed this incident ever occurred," her publicity agent, Juli Nadler, said last week, "but that was in 1998, when her name was linked to presidential scandal. It's February 2001, and when people hear her name now, they think Monica Lewinsky handbag designer, e-commerce entrepreneur, Yahoo Internet Life cover girl, and the Post's own 'It' girl. Clearly, she has moved on and taken her good name with her."

That is spin worthy of the master himself. It is also utterly in vain. The fact is, Monica could dig up the Holy Grail and she'd still be known primarily for one thing, and one thing only. Bill finds himself tarred by the same brush, reminding one of the old joke about the great industrialist: "I built great bridges, roads, hospitals for the indigent. I built homes for orphans and widows, fed the poor of Africa and Appalachia, bought shoes for the world's peasants and fed the hungry on all the continents. But just one little indiscretion with a goat, and that's all anyone remembers."

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000, Dave Shiflett