In 1997, "Diana's year" illustrated a dominant theme of our age: that the right has won politically, but the left has won culturally. In 1998, "Monica's year" illustrates a related theme: the political problem of our age is the brutality of the right, and the dishonesty of the leftby Geoffrey Wheatcroft / January 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in January 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
As somebody may have already observed, all the great events and personalities of history reappear in one form or another, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Doubtless there were farcical aspects to “Diana’s year,” which I looked back on 12 months ago (Prospect, January 1998): the mass hysteria and peasant hagiography of Diana Week at the beginning of September 1997, and the bizarre excesses of some of the late princess’s admirers. Most absurd of all were the attempts by feminists in particular, and the left in general, to make a heroine out of Lady Diana Spencer and to connect her death with the Labour landslide four months earlier-as in David Edgar’s claim that the floral tributes of September echoed the demand of the British people in May “that the brute, metallic logic of the market be constrained by a sense of moral responsibility.” Still, even when it produces such ludicrous effusions, any violent death must be a tragedy.
No such reservations are necessary about “Monica’s year,” which has been farce of the finest kind. As Evelyn Waugh said of the abdication crisis: “There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain.” Even the protagonists, who might not have agreed with that in August, could look back by November with a satisfaction unimaginable three months earlier.
The end of the year found President Clinton riding high in the opinion polls, having routed his foes in the November mid-term elections which had been advertised as his nemesis. Hillary Clinton was basking in still warmer public approval, glorified ? la Diana on the cover of Vogue, and seriously spoken of as a future Justice of the Supreme Court, or possibly, president. And even “that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” whose life and career had once seemed ruined, made her own nourishing connection with the Diana myth by taking on Andrew Morton as her biographer.
So remarkable were these recoveries of fortune that it is now difficult to recapture the fevered atmosphere of last August and September. In Diana Week, level-headed people had spoken as though the monarchy itself was threatened; in the weeks after Clinton’s television confession that he had had a “not appropriate” relationship with that woman-seven months after he had publicly denied having sexual relations with her-it was widely held that he would soon depart.