Page: Feeling that post-Monica remorse

Clarence Page

A surprising contriteness has taken hold of Bill Maher and David Letterman about one of their favorite high-value targets: Monica Lewinsky.

After reading Lewinsky’s first-person essay in June’s issue of Vanity Fair, Maher said on his HBO show “Real Time With Bill Maher,” “I was moved by it. I gotta tell you, I literally felt guilty.”

Letterman responded similarly on his “The Late Show” on CBS: “I feel bad about my role in helping push the humiliation to the point of suffocation.”

His guest Barbara Walters replied, “Good. Then we can stop.”

If late night comedians are suffering post-Monica remorse, what about the rest of us?

I feel my own version of the malady in looking back at some of my columns. Back in 2002, after watching the opening segment of the HBO special “Monica in Black and White,” which featured her last major interview until recently, I wrote sarcastically about helping her wish to be left alone: “I turned off my television.”

But 13 years later, “that woman,” as Bill Clinton famously called Lewinsky, finally seems to be finding the best way to make a comeback: Don’t make it about you; make it about what others can learn from your mistakes.

With Hillary Clinton likely to enter the 2016 presidential race soon, along with platoons of reporters looking for “What happened to Monica Lewinsky?” stories, the former intern wisely appears to be trying to get ahead of that story and define her own narrative.

Her image remake began with the poignant and perceptive Vanity Fair essay that impressed Letterman and Maher and was nominated for a National Magazine Award.

It describes the mangling that her reputation took as media cast her as a “little tart” (The Wall Street Journal), a “Portly Pepperpot” (the New York Post), and “ditsy” and “predatory” (Maureen Dowd in the New York Times) and “some little twerp” (feminist icon Betty Friedan), among other put-downs.

She also describes her difficulty with finding employment, even after she earned a master’s in social psychology in 2006 at the London School of Economics. It’s hard out here for a woman named Monica Lewinsky.

Most recently she delivered an 18-minute speech against “The Culture of Humiliation” in front of a Vancouver audience for the TED Talks website.

Lewinski had me when she asked for a show of hands by anyone “who didn’t make a mistake or do something they regretted at 22?”

Right. How about 32? 42? 52? Et cetera?

Clarence Page writes for the Chicago Tribune.