TWO VARIETIES of hypocrisy are on display in the case of Paula Corbin Jones vs. William Jefferson Clinton. But only one has been held up to the reproach it deserves.
The double standard that has not gone unnoticed is that of liberals and feminists who rushed to defend Anita Hill when she accused Clarence Thomas of making crude sexual comments – but who contemptuously turned their backs on Jones when she charged Clinton with propositioning her in an Arkansas hotel.
Typical of this two-facedness was Patricia Schroeder. The former Colorado congresswoman not only blasted the Senate Judiciary Committee for treating Hill "like we treated rape victims in the '50s," she recommended Hill for attorney general. Paula Jones, on the other hand, Schroeder dismissed out of hand – even though her case against Clinton is supported by a mountain of evidence. "The charges," Schroeder said, "are not considered very credible."
The hypocrisy of the sisterhood has been condemned in many quarters, not all of them right of center. Margery Eagan of the Boston Herald, an unabashed feminist, observed bitingly in June 1994 that the sleek ladies of the National Organization for Women looked down on Jones as "too Tonya." If Clinton had been "accused by a Radcliffe grad in low heels, a Talbot's suit, a correct record on women's issues, a crisp pageboy cut and a pear-shaped figure – his wife, for example – he'd be in serious trouble," Eagan wrote.
Another outspoken liberal who smelled a double standard early on was Alan Dershowitz.
"It may well be that Jones made up the entire story," he commented. "But it also may well be that Hill made up . . . her account. The point is that many feminists took the position that women who allege sexual harassment should be believed." Was it now their view "that only liberal women who accuse conservative men" should be believed?
In an influential article in The American Lawyer last November, lawyer/journalist Stuart Taylor Jr. concluded after scrutinizing the record that "whatever Clinton did was worse than anything Thomas was even accused of doing." Most striking, he wrote, "is the hypocrisy . . . and class bias of feminists and liberals – who proclaimed during the Hill-Thomas uproar that 'women don't make these things up' and that 'you just don't get it' if you presumed Thomas innocent until proven guilty – only to spurn Jones's allegations . . . as unworthy of belief."
Or, to quote the signs carried outside the Supreme Court two weeks ago by pro-Paula demonstrators, "Where is NOW now?"
Then again, where are the conservatives?
For years, conservatives have been warning that sexual-harassment law has gotten recklessly out of hand. They have decried the growing tendency to turn every unwanted expression of sexual interest – from a rape to a stare – into a criminal case of harassment. They have pointed out the danger in the ever-more-subjective tests by which sexual harassment is being "proved" – tests that require little more than a woman's assertion that she felt uncomfortable. Why are they silent now?
When Donald Silva, a writing instructor at the University of New Hampshire, nearly lost his job over "sexual harassment" that amounted to little more than using lively analogies in his class lectures, conservatives rode to his defense. When scores of male Navy and Marine officers were prosecuted for the rowdy antics at the 1991 Tailhook convention – in which many of the accusing women were lecherous and willing participants – outraged conservatives denounced the Pentagon's witchhunt.
Yet with a hypocrisy that mirrors those of the left-wingers who beatified St. Anita while belittling Paula Jones, right-wingers who staunchly backed Judge Thomas are gleefully cheering Jones' suit against Clinton.
Well, not this right-winger. Jones' case is spurious. Conservatives ought to be saying so.
Just what happened in the Excelsior Hotel on May 8, 1991? As Jones describes it, Clinton arranged to see her alone in his room. He complimented her looks, caressed her thigh, and tried to kiss her. When she rebuffed him, he lowered his pants, displayed his gubernatorial timber, and directed her to "kiss it."
That may prove that Clinton is a vulgar lout with the morals of Ted Kennedy and the manners of "Animal House." It doesn't prove sexual harassment. And it certainly doesn't prove violations of the 14th Amendment or the Civil Rights Act of 1875 – the formal grounds on which Jones is suing.
Or are conservatives now arguing – as the radical feminists do – that whenever a woman is obnoxiously propositioned, the US Constitution has been breached?
Jones doesn't accuse Clinton of raping her, or of persisting in his advances, or of threatening her job, or of retaliating against her. Indeed, she makes clear that he took no for an answer. "Well," he said, "I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to do." In short: He acted like a jerk, but she handled it.
The illiberal notion that every unpleasant encounter between a man and a woman is a matter for the courts is already eating its way into contemporary jurisprudence. Those who would restrict state power and expand the scope of privacy – that is, conservatives – should be alarmed when a lawsuit is filed just because a boor made a pass. Even when the boor is Bill Clinton.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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