The silence is deafening

A Republican congresswoman asks why her Democratic sisters are letting President Clinton off the hook.


Jonathan Broder
March 4, 1998 1:02AM (UTC)

After weeks of strategic silence, Republicans are finally speaking out publicly against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At a gathering of Southern Republican leaders in Biloxi, Miss., over the weekend, speaker after speaker flayed the president for his behavior in connection with the alleged affair, attacking everything from his suspected lying to hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on the staff of independent Whitewater counsel Kenneth Starr. Former Vice President Dan Quayle set the tone with a barbed joke about a new crime bill: Three interns and you're out.

But long before the party decided to break its silence, Anne Northup, a freshman Republican congresswoman from Kentucky, was speaking her mind. For Northup, a former Louisville schoolteacher and mother of six, including two adopted black children, the Lewinsky case is less a political imbroglio than a classic workplace scandal, pitting the powerless against the powerful.

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But Northup hasn't ignored the political dimensions either. Her target, however, has not been the president so much as Democratic women's groups, whom she accuses of hypocrisy over the Lewinsky affair after all the protests they raised over the sexual misconduct charges raised against Sen. Bob Packwood and Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Not coincidentally, she notes, both of these targets were Republicans.

Northup recently spoke with Salon about sex in the workplace, the silence of her Democratic sisters and the possible impeachment of the president.

In view of the uproar over the allegations against Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas, how do you explain the double standard of Democratic women regarding the allegations against President Clinton?

I always suspected that the organizations that purport to speak politically for women use the issues when they're convenient and politically expedient. And this time, they've proven it. Now, I know how difficult it is for them. I can remember when Richard Nixon was going through his troubles, and I can remember feeling as a Republican that I didn't want to believe that he had done the things he was being criticized for. But I must say that today, the silence from Democratic women is absolutely deafening.

Speaking as a woman, not as a Republican, what are your thoughts about the Monica Lewinsky affair?

First and foremost, this is a workplace issue. I've been in a workplace like this before, where the guy who had all the power was constantly after young, provocatively dressed women. And what it does to a workplace is profound. What it says is that having that swagger and that wink is what makes a real man. It puts pressure on other men to behave the same way. In the end, the guy with all the power loses moral authority over the entire organization, and everyone feels there are no rules.

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How does that environment affect women employees?

They all get the feeling that their careers depend on being coy and seductive rather than working hard and bringing their talents to the workplace. And it always ends up affecting the powerless person. If halfway through the relationship, Monica Lewinsky had said, "You know, Bill, I'm having a crisis of conscience. Let's not have oral sex anymore but just be good friends," do you think she still would have gotten access to the White House? I don't think so. Her access depended on her accommodating his needs.
But most important are all the other women whose jobs become affected: the secretary that has to cover, that has to lie to the wife. Everybody else has to become an enabler, and it affects their jobs too.

There are some questions that women's organizations should be demanding answers to without waiting for it to be all over. What was it about Monica Lewinsky that got her a permanent job at the White House? Was it her exceptional work? Was it her talent? What about the other women and men who were interns? What chance did they have to get permanent jobs at the White House? Why was Monica Lewinsky transferred out of the White House? Again, this reflects the typical scheme of things when a very powerful person has an affair with a powerless woman: When trouble happens, it's not the man at the top who gets transferred, it's the woman. What sort of pressure was President Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, put under when she was called in on that Sunday after Clinton was deposed by Paula Jones' attorneys? Did she have a lawyer present? Those are the questions the women's organizations should be asking.

The question I would like to ask the women's organizations is this: At what point do they become convinced that they couldn't support the president? I understand that because they support his policies, they have to trade that off against his private behavior. So if you ask them if he would lose their support if he had an affair, the answer is going to be no. What about an affair with a 21-year-old intern? They'd probably say no. Well, what about if he lied under oath? They might say no. What if he asked her to lie under oath? Again, they might say no. What if he promised her a job out of town if she lied under oath? What if other women's careers were affected by the affair? Would he lose your support then? I want them to tell us at what point they would not be able to support him any longer.

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PHOTOGRAPH: AP/WIDE WORLD

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How do you respond to people who say the Monica Lewinsky affair does not raise workplace issues, since there is no suggestion that she was sexually harassed?

It is absolutely about how women are treated in the workplace. What are the expectations, not only on women but on all the other people in the work force? You take any CEO in the country and a 21-year-old intern straight out of college -- if he starts having a special relationship with that girl, she is not the only one who is affected. They teach in seminars that even if the intern is willing, the CEO, as a responsible employer and husband, has to resist her overtures. If she walks into his office with no clothes on, he has to resist in order to ensure that he maintains moral authority over all employees and that all the other women are not undermined. What does it say to the other interns if Monica Lewinsky got a special job because she behaved in a sexually provocative way? It tells them that they didn't do what they had to do to get a job -- which is to act sexy, coy and even more.

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So for you, is this only an issue of power in the workplace, or is it a moral issue as well?

It's a very difficult question to answer. I have six children, ages 16 to 26, and I've always assumed that no one would take advantage of them. I have interns in my office. Not only do I feel that I don't lead them into immoral behavior; I also feel a responsibility to have them leave Washington with more faith in this system rather than less. So yeah, I have a personal moral problem with this Lewinsky business.

As we all know, President Clinton has denied covering up an affair with Lewinsky. Obviously, you don't give him the benefit of the doubt on this.

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No, I don't. He could clear it up tomorrow if he wanted. He's the one who has said he wants us to have more rather than less information, sooner rather than later. The whole thing has appalled me, from watching the White House blast-fax the entire country to hiring private investigators to look into the private lives of Starr's prosecutors. This gives a whole new dimension of defense to every defense lawyer out there. What if every defense lawyer goes out and starts investigating the private lives of the prosecutors? It could certainly have a chilling effect on the person prosecuting your case.

I believe you're referring to Starr prosecutors Bruce Udolf and Michael Emmick, one of whom was penalized $50,000 for violating an innocent man's civil rights and the other chastized by a judge for using vindictive prosecutorial techniques. But these details were a matter of public record, were they not?

That's right. But the fact is they've hired private investigators to investigate the people working for Starr. And just because something is in the newspapers and a matter of public record does not mean an investigator wasn't hired to find it. I've also heard the president's investigators are now examining the private lives of members of Congress who are on the Judiciary Committee (which would handle any motion to impeach the president). If that's true, it's chilling.

Do you think he has committed an impeachable offense?

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I don't think what he has done so far is impeachable. There is no hard evidence yet. But at some point, we're all going to have to ask ourselves the same question that Sen. Howard Baker did in the Watergate affair. He asked: At what point should we begin impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon?

As a member of Congress, you may be called upon to vote for or against the impeachment of the president. How do you feel about facing that day?

I don't find it any harder a vote than any of the other votes I've cast. But right now, I have not drawn any lines. If the evidence shows that he had an affair, that he lied in his Paula Jones deposition, that he contrived with Lewinsky not to tell the prosecutor about their affair and to take a job in New York, I probably would not vote for impeachment. I still have to ask myself what else will it take to bring me to that point.

Then let me ask you: What will it take to get you to vote for the impeachment of the president?

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Let's say that public support for the president begins to decline, and so he goes to war to divert attention from his troubles. Let's say that public support for the president falls off, the economy takes a downturn and Clinton removes [Alan] Greenspan [as chairman of the Federal Reserve] -- in other words, if public policy were changed as a result of the effects of the Monica Lewinsky hearings. If there were taped evidence showing that is what Clinton's conversations were about, that would also probably do it for me. In addition, if I found out that the CIA or the FBI were called in to investigate all the people who are considered enemies, that would convince me to vote for impeachment. But right now, I don't think we've seen anything that would support impeachment. I won't deny that I'm unhappy. I wouldn't vote for him. But that's a different thing.


Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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