Posturing having become the dominant form of American political discourse, it's no surprise that the battle lines have been drawn over Paula Jones' sexual-harassment suit. Those of us who watched with horrified glee as Anita Hill spelled out her grievances against the eventual Mr Justice Thomas get the distinct displeasure of experiencing this peculiarly American brand of déjà phew.

The intoning Greek choruses, however, are different. Feminism United, which one might expect to be as firmly behind Ms Jones as they were behind Professor Hill, has lifted barely a finger, and the middle one at that. The usual right-wing crowd have happily pointed fingers of their own at this inconsistency, mostly to divert attention from the beam in their own eye, which apparently announces that this sort of behavior is unacceptable unless it's done by one of their friends. Were there true justice in this world, Eleanor Smeal and Rush Limbaugh would be locked in permanent soixante-neuf, which would have the added advantage of reducing the noise level.

Meanwhile, the President works diligently, in his bifurcated way, to pay lip service to the presumed ideal of a society in which no one ever says or does anything that might be construed as offensive, even as his minions argue that the Jones case is too trivial to waste his Presidential time upon, and should wait until 2001. If Mr Clinton can build a bridge between these two notions and get away with it, he's far more clever than even James Carville can imagine.

Whatever the merits of Paula Jones' case, and it does have the considerable merit of having been told more or less consistently all these years, I think the President does her, and us, a disservice by attempting to diminish its importance. I have severe reservations about the notion that sexual harassment can be legislated out of existence — "You mean, something I said hurt you so badly that you have to call in the Government? Geez, what do you do when you lose a bet on the Super Bowl?" — and if the Supreme Court can possibly clear up the astounding murkiness of the laws as written, the sooner, the better. It's not that I want to enlist under the banner of Men Behaving Badly or anything; I'd just like to see a return, however slight, to the days when people could conceivably settle their differences without having to resort to the judicial system, which has enough troubles trying to keep up with the demand to jail anyone who's ever owned a hemp rope.

The Vent

#37
16 January 1997

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