The question that won't go away

President Clinton's failure to address Juanita Broaddrick's charge of rape is indefensible.

Published March 16, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

In James Baldwin's account of the Atlanta murders, "The Evidence of Things Not Seen," he recalls a dreadful earlier moment from 1965. The swamps and creeks of Mississippi were being dragged for the bodies of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman (done to death by the political ancestors of Bob Barr), and the search parties kept turning up corpses. Examination proved that these were not the cadavers that the authorities were seeking. It took a while for the subject to change, or at least for it to change enough for someone to exclaim: Wait a minute! What are all these other bodies doing in the swamp?

It's one thing to say, with reasonable confidence, that the Oval Office is currently occupied by a war criminal, a rapist and a pathological liar. It's another to ponder the full implications. If half of the many allegations about Clinton's business deals and date rapes are even half-true, then he has been going through political life for years, aware or quasi-aware that any or every telephone call might be the one he has been dreading. That's more stress than most of us could take: Only a certain kind of personality could be expected to endure it. You can look this up under the simpering liberal media description of "Comeback Kid," or you can check it under an entry of an entirely different kind, where the key phrase is "Threat to self and others."

In the last taped conversation between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, the two women are heard wondering how Clinton will explain away a two-hour telephone call to "Juanita." Investigation shows that this Juanita is not Juanita Broaddrick. But then who is it? What else is in the swamp? And is this man a stone-cold rapist or isn't he?

It seems to me morally feeble, as well as intellectually slack, to split the difference between Clinton and Broaddrick, or to characterize her allegation as unprovable. The feeblest summary of this compromise is contained in the lazy phrase "he said, she said." In the case of the "he," we already know that he is a hysterical, habitual liar. We also know that almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue. And we know that ex-girlfriends have been subjected to extraordinary campaigns of defamation, amounting in some cases to intimidation, merely for speaking about "consensual" sex. What allegation could be more horrific than that of rape?

And yet, "he" hasn't said anything yet. If I was accused of rape, and the woman making the charge was a lady of obvious integrity, I would want to do better than have a lawyer make a routine disclaimer. (Especially a lawyer, in this case the pathetic figure of David Kendall, who had not even met me at the time of the supposed crime.) Asked by NBC to say where Clinton had been on the morning in question -- a fact easily established in the life of a state attorney general -- the White House declined cooperation. I would have wanted to do better than that, too.

So much for the "he said." What of the "she"? If the allegation is false, then Broaddrick is not just getting her facts wrong. She is deliberately fabricating one of the most damning charges that any one person can make against another. She must be a wicked or deluded or vicious person. There seems no escaping this corollary conclusion. There also seems no reason at all for reaching it. Where is the famous Clintonian rapid-response team? Has it no pride? Can it not find or produce any shadow of a doubt to cast on Broaddrick's character? I think that if it could, we would know by now.

A provisional but not unpardonable induction, then, is that she is speaking the truth. Questioned fairly closely by Lisa Myers, she and her contemporary corroborative witnesses were easily able to answer the questions about silence and delay. The victim felt guilty for letting an unchaperoned man into her room, even if he was the attorney general. In a banana republic like Arkansas, allegations against powerful men were believed to have potentially unpleasant consequences. The victim was also having an extramarital affair with a man she hoped to marry. She did not want to be exposed, and she did not expect to be believed.

Finally -- and very importantly -- she didn't "go public." She was made public. The feminist movement has taught us to recognize this pattern of response as a familiar and intelligible one. (How sad it was, by the way, to see Patricia Ireland changing her mind at this late stage. Doesn't she know that she has lost something that she can't ever hope to retrieve, and has lost it to Clinton?) Even the first lady seems to be hesitant these days: The question before us being not "Will she run?" but "Will she walk?" Surely the two can't be connected? Can they?

Perhaps I won't be taken as an authority on the moral credibility of the feminist leadership. But something ought to be said about the honor of the male sex in this business. It has been disgusting, all through the last year, to hear Clinton defended as homme moyen sensuel. "Everybody does it ... all men lie about sex ... a gentleman is expected to lie." One reason a gentleman may be obliged to lie is to protect the reputation of the woman. Clinton has lied in order to trash them. I don't have any male friends who hump the help and then (with the assistance of paid slanderers) call them liars, gold diggers, sluts and blackmailers. I don't have any male friends who have been plausibly accused of rape, either, though I do know several women who have been sexually assaulted and decided not to go public. I also know of three other women who I suspect could, if they chose, lay a
charge of assault against Clinton.

This puts him, in male terms, way outside the limit of what can be tolerated. I see him on the television all the time, biting that fat lip of his, and now I have an additional reason for the powerful nausea I have always felt. I imagine his teeth in Juanita Broaddrick's lips, after he's told her to lie still or he'll bite her again. But hey, it's time to move on. So forget it. Forget it if you can.

By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, the Nation and Salon News.

MORE FROM Christopher Hitchens

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton