JWR Purim
March 3, 1998 / 5 Adar, 5758

Monica Lewinsky: A Contemporary Queen Esther?

by Anne Roiphe

MONICA LEWINSKY won't have Queen Monica to perjure herself to admit that she's a Jewish girl. That, at least, has already been admitted into evidence. The remaining big question: Is this good for the Jews, or bad?

In some Jewish circles, Monica is being referred to as Queen Esther, who was the prettiest girl in Persia and won the beauty pageant, becoming the queen of the realm. She whispered into the ear of her king words that undid Haman, the enemy of the Jews. Single-handedly, though the hand might not have been the pertinent body part, she saved the community from tragic disaster. So, to the Jewish right-wing, Monica Lewinsky is a real Purim pussycat.

But if this were really so, Monica as Esther would have had to tell Bill Clinton not to follow through on the Oslo peace accords and to soften his attitude toward Netanyahu-the-Good, who has the best interests of the Jewish people at heart as he tries, with might and main, to follow through on his promise to Daddy to stall the peace and drive the compromisers into the sea.

It is hard to imagine how Monica could have gotten the opportunity to persuade the President of this version of events, given his reported sexual preferences. But maybe she could have mumbled her message or left it with Betty Currie.

The other part of the right-wing Esther analogy works if she brings us Mr. Clinton's head in which case, she's more Judith than Esther. Judith, with her feminine wiles, got an invitation to the tent of an enemy general, where, while he was passed out drunk, she cut off his head. The analogy serves the anti-Oslo Jewish claque only if you assume that President Gore and subsequent regimes will be more rightist, less pacific, more inclined to let the status-quo quo on in the turbulent Middle East.

Biblical references aside, Monica Lewinsky is apt to enter history, if not alongside Freud, Marx and Einstein then at least nearby, as a kind of Bathsheba who babbles to a wired friend. Come to think of it, David may be Mr. Clinton's real role model. David, of course, played the harp, while our President plays the sax. David, it must be said, didn't need a Kenneth Starr.

Monica Lewinsky is no Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman or Golda Meir, but perhaps she is the Elle magazine version of the same. A Jewish female politician for the era of talk shows, in a time when celebrity makes its own rules and, in order to get any respect, you have to have a sexual secret so large it causes an earthquake when revealed. Monica Lewinsky is a prime-time tell-all; at least, she will be as soon as her lawyer cuts a deal. That is bad for the Democrats, but I'm not so sure it's bad for Jewish girls.

The public doesn't seem mad at her. How could they be? She is not an ideologue, a conspirator of dark purposes. She s a chatty girl, excited to be near the flames of power. It's almost adorable the way she glows in the famous Presidential-hug tape. Her pleasure lies not in reforming education or health care. Her good spirits are strictly personal: Wow, look where I am and who just clasped me to his breast. If one thinks of her as a Democrat groupie, it all becomes clear. She is a kind of Democrat-head with good connections.

One can certainly imagine her popping out of the cake at the bar mitzvah party. She bubbles, she exudes, she is plump and juicy and her teeth are very white, and as she hops from car to plane, up the steps into her father's arms, we see her as still an awkward, self-conscious girl, sexual and childish at the same time, a vulnerable seductress, a long-in-the-tooth Lolita, a player sent out on the playing field before her bones have all matured, a Private Benjamin before basic training, a bruised and slightly overripe plum. She may be a harlot like Paula Jones, or a mistress like Gennifer Flowers, but she looks like a naove latke, over her head in applesauce. The public understands.

It could have been bad. We've just more or less fought off the slur of the Jewish princess, and here comes a Jewish girl making such a spectacle of herself that she might bring down an entire Administration. She lacks no creature comfort; she buys her hats at DKNY. But she's not so much a girl of the department store as a girl of the State Department. She expects to gain power not through her own hard work but through her capacity to woo those in power. In that sense, she is just an old-fashioned girl, like the one who married dear old Dad and divorced him in the mid-70s.

Monica is the collective revenge of the daughters pressured into going to law school when what they really wanted was to stretch out on the casting couch. Instead of early marriage to a man of promise, she takes an internship just about as far as it can go. That makes her a 90s girl who wants the ear or some other organ donation from the President instead of a diamond ring. So even by the most prejudiced and cliched of standards, Ms. Lewinsky escapes (just barely) the label of Jewish Princess. In fact, she s not a princess at all. She s a pea that the President was unfortunately able to feel under his mattress, or in close proximity.

Alan Dershowitz would likely think that Monica was good for the Jews. Jews, not the self-hating kind, can be proud of her importance in the drama of the day; and, shedding outdated attitudes of keeping one's head down (shande in front of the goyim), they can boast of the fact tha Monica makes delicious Jewish girls look like the fruit of the month. If the President wants one, won't everyone else follow suit? The Jews of older generations who cringed when the local newspaper ran the Jewish name of a small-time bookie won't understand how younger Jews will now rejoice. At last they have a Wallis Simpson wannabe of their own. The glory days, before the recent Asian wave of immigration, when the Westinghouse scholars were all Jewish have gone the way of Milton Berle, but here we have a Jewish girl with tabloid potential, a rival to Princess Di and Jackie O.

I don't believe in Jewish princesses. I think they exist only in the heads of frightened Jewish boys and envious gentiles. Two contradictory stories have always been told about Jewish women. They are frigid; so say the tellers of Jewish princess jokes. They are really hot; so say the rumors in outerborough neighborhoods, in the small towns across America. Frigid is not what comes to mind about Monica Lewinsky. She s no queen of cool. But in an America hooked on sex, it s far better to be considered cooking than cold. Finally, we have a Jewish girl who really needs a good lawyer like Johnnie Cochran. If she hires him, it would not only be good for the Jews (everyone would think we were smart), but it would be an effective balm for our notorious black-Jewish troubles. Also on the positive side, if Jews can produce a witness in support of Paula Jones, can a flock of Jewish quarterbacks be far behind?

As for Linda Tripp: Betrayer, battle-ax, dried apricot, witch hunter and busybody, she is very bad for the gentiles.


The acclaimed novelist, Anne Roiphe, is a friend of JWR.

©1998, Anne Roiphe