Beatrix Campbell: Clinton has the power. All Monica has left is the frock

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The Independent Online

Imagine, the world knows your name, the world has conjured you going down on Bill Clinton, and the world wants to know what he's going to tell us about the girl he seduced but didn't do sex - real sex - with.

Clinton's me, me memoir might have been a chance to sort something out with the young woman whose reputation was then, and is for evermore, recruited in the service of the President's reputation. They can never be equivalent, of course, not only because he had power and she didn't but because the question of reputation is, for women, shadowed by shame and scandal. But Clinton has not sorted out his stuff with Monica Lewinsky because he has not been able to say that when he feels ashamed, he does not feel ashamed of her.

He can't be wholly candid about sex and his presidency because he expended a fortune and a career being not so much economical with the truth as presidential. The problem is, of course, that he can't admit that presidencies offer unlimited opportunities for philandering, that sex with interns is a perk of the job, because that would reveal something so ordinary, so systemic about what men do with their masculinity and their power that he would not be forgiven.

So he's done the next best thing, admit a subsidiary truth: I did it because I could. This suggests that Clinton has been forced to confront his own behaviour, that he's taken some steps on a journey to sort himself out.

But he qualified that interesting confession when he claimed his relationship with the intern was an effect of intolerable stress and loneliness. So, he gave something, then took it away.

But none of this can help La Lewinsky. We should not be surprised, therefore, that this mea culpa drives her crazy. Her tragedy is that the more he tells the truth about their liaison, the more he will hurt her.

Nothing can make it better. Monica Lewinsky is doing the only thing she reckons she has the power to do - setting the record straight, reminding herself and the rest of the world that he was soft and sweet, that he gave her gifts, a book of poetry by Walt Whitman. We all understand why a girl would think that was quite wonderful. She insists he wanted her more than he could have her, as if that vindicated her belief in the relationship.

But both these people have been commodified by their passion: she by being in it, he by being on her frock, his body becoming a relic that was either sanctified or transformed into treasure. What were his stains if not a piece of the most powerful man on the planet?

She has had to survive the terrifying kidnap by the FBI, and the disgrace of the coerced revelation of what they did in the Oval Office. Her reputation, therefore, is showered by sex.

His reputation was at stake because the man played with risk. Clinton's affairs were calculated risks. His game was presidential sorcery that depended on power, secrets and lies, and his remarkable faculty for indiscriminate intimacy. The risk was all the more arousing because his enemies were insatiable.

But none of this will bring either relief or justice for Monica Lewinsky. Like Sarah Keays in the Cecil Parkinson sex scandal, she wants it known she was worth loving.

Her problem is this: he has understood that his seduction was abusive, that the whole relationship was abusive. It was characterised by his power and his pleasurable irresponsibility. But this is a case of the villain knowing more than his victim. The closer Clinton gets to the abusiveness of his seduction, the more she is doomed to lose her own story, her own power as a wanted woman.

She can never get the justice she craves. The more he acknowledges that he had Lewinsky because he could, the less she exists in their romance as herself. Her tragedy is that she could have been anybody. She could have been a hole in the wall of the men's room.