It is officially 2007, right? Because with the recent blitz of Monica Lewinsky jokes in the media, I'm having a flashback to 1998. The wisecracks were rekindled by news that the famous former intern recently graduated from the prestigious London School of Economics. The difference this time around is that the punch lines rely on the astonishing news that the woman does in fact have more than a couple of brain cells to rub together, despite her presidential escapade of 12 years ago. Take the headline that appeared in the Washington Post last week: "From Thong to Thesis: Monica Lewinsky Flashes Her Intellect." The same article developed its own half-baked thesis: Lewinsky is "dumb-but-smart."
Writer Libby Copeland curiously draws a distinction between "dumb-but-smart" and "smart-but-dumb." To illustrate the latter, she points to none other than Lewinsky's partner-in-shame, President Clinton. Clinton is spared Copeland's assault and deemed "a smart guy who does stupid things," never mind the fact that it was he who was married, nearly three decades her senior and also the president of the United States. Lewinsky, on the other hand, ranks among the "dumb-but-smart," who seem "dull or ditzy but possess unpredictable pockets of intelligence." Thankfully, in today's Post, Richard Cohen answers Copeland's attack on Lewinsky with what seems like the obvious response: Lewinsky "took a bad situation and made something good of it. That hardly makes her 'dumb-but-smart,' but rather once young -- and now older and incomparably wiser," he wrote. "She is a branded woman, not an adulterer but something even worse -- a girl toy, a trivial thing, a punch line. Yet she did what so many women at that age would do. She seduced (or so she thought) an older man. She fantasized that he would leave his wife for her. Here was her crime: She was a girl besotted. It happens even to Republicans."
Unfortunately, Cohen's common-sense defense meanders into a chokingly chivalrous plea: "But," he continues, "[Lewinsky] is now a woman with a master's degree from a prestigious school and is going to be 34 come July. Her clock ticks, her life ebbs. Where is the man for her?" As the Huffington Post's Rachel Sklar points out, Cohen's fretting over Lewinsky's aging ovaries seems inconsistent with his critique of the media's sexist handling of the scandal. Sklar writes, "Where, pray tell, is the 34-year-old man whose sad prospects of singledom are bemoaned in a national newspaper?"
As outrageously retro as Cohen's concern may be, it's not unreasonable for him to wonder whether there's a guy out there willing "to say to the world ... that he loves this woman who will always be an asterisk in American history," if only because Lewinsky's past would be a comparative nonissue were she a guy. Still, the double standard seems more important when it comes to Lewinsky's professional reputation than her romantic prospects. If the mainstream media can leave the blow-job jokes behind long enough to report on President Clinton's continuing good deeds, it might consider extending Lewinsky's master's degree the same courtesy.