Keeping it out of his pants

Paula Jones is part of the conspiracy  but the president bought right into it.

Published January 13, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Of course the Paula Jones case is another example of the extreme right trying to bring down the President of the United States. Of course, the one-time Arkansas state employee is a pawn, and a willing one, who curiously waited for almost three years after the alleged encounter to publicize her complaint.

No one -- except Ms. Jones and then Gov. Clinton -- knows what, if anything, happened in that upstairs suite in the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock on May 8, 1991. Apart from her own claims, and the purely hearsay testimony of two of Jones' friends, there is no "evidence" -- Stuart Taylor Jr. of The American Lawyer to the contrary -- that anything untoward took place. Taylor, shocked by the allegations, has called the actions those of a "sexual predator." But even if, as alleged, Clinton did drop his pants during their ten-odd minutes alone together, he apparently quickly pulled them back up when rebuffed and meekly retreated to a corner of the room. This is sexual harassment?

Still, the case has made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is being asked today to allow Jones' suit to proceed while Clinton is in office. The White House no doubt sees this as just one more emanation of the "Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce," a 300-page theory put together by the White House and the Democratic National Committee explaining how the many ethical woes of President Clinton are the result of misinformation supplied by a "media food chain" fed by conservatives at The Washington Times, The American Spectator and, of course, on the Internet, and consumed by gullible "mainstream media" like The Wall Street Journal.

Swap "liberal" for "conservative" and you would have ravings right out of the Spiro Agnew school of political science. As with any ravings, there are numerous factual howlers among them: The Wall Street Journal's news pages in fact have gone very light on Clinton's sundry scandals -- except for its fund-raising exposis. The Journal's editorial page, under Robert Bartlett (who has always had it in for Clinton), has needed no prompting from various and sundry right wing outfits, or the Internet, to attack the President full bore. In addition, it is not British "tabloids," as the White House would have it, who have helped perpetuate the Paula Jones and Vince-Foster-was-murdered stories, but that normally staid broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph.

Most laughable, but oh so typical, is the absence of any sense that the White House may have made Paula Jones and the other imbroglios worse. In fact, with the Jones case -- according to both Taylor in The American Lawyer and Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff in last week's Newsweek -- a non-financial settlement was well within reach in 1994. It called only for Clinton to issue a vague statement saying he may have met Jones and that Jones had done nothing improper. Case closed. Except that some clown in the White House told CNN that Jones wasn't filing suit because she knew she had no case. Feeling furious and betrayed, Jones and her lawyers decided to pursue the case with a vengeance.

That combination of breathtaking stupidity and arrogance was par for the course in Clinton's first term-- turning the molehills of Whitewater and Travelgate into mountainous gifts to the very forces the White House claims are trying to undermine it. If the way the White House is handling the DNC fundraising affair -- not to mention White House spokesman Mike McCurry's routine dismissiveness of press concerns -- is any indication, Clinton's new, supposedly "adult" team have learned nothing.

But maybe it isn't entirely the fault of the palace guard. Clinton, according to Dick Morris' memoirs -- though we should take everything the former adviser says with a shakerful of salt -- has a habit of blaming others. It was his first-term staff, the "children who got me elected," who made him look sleazy, Clinton was supposed to have said in one of his towering rages. As if he was above it all. But at some point, the responsibility becomes his alone. It was Clinton, panicked by his re-election prospects, who ordered fundraisers to go get money by any means necessary, just as he did when running for re-election in Arkansas.

While there has been, from the start of his presidency, a politically-motivated desire to bring Clinton down, the president -- who once promised "the most ethical administration in history" -- has exhibited an astonishing moral color-blindness when it comes to appearances. We also know, and Clinton himself would reluctantly concede, that he has in the past had trouble "keeping it in his pants." Filled with hubris, however, neither Clinton nor the "children" surrounding him ever thought a lack of restraint would have consequences.

It is still a reasonable bet that the Paula Jones affair will never come to trial -- and another of the president's nine lives will be used up in the process. If Clinton is ultimately ruined by Paula Jones, or any of the other "scandals" hovering over his presidency, it will have been by his own hand.

Quote of the day

Meeting Ms. Jones

She wants her good name and reputation back from Bill Clinton. He took it; she wants it. And by God, we're going to get it.

-- Joseph Cammarata, an attorney for Paula Jones, at news conference Monday on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. (From "Jones' Lawyer Suggests A Possible Settlement: The Supreme Court Hears Clinton's Arguments For Delaying The Lawsuit," on CNN/All Politics)

By Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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