Accusers, defenders - hypocrites all

The most contemptible of all Clinton's defenders have been the soi-disant feminists
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The Independent Culture
MANY AMERICANS - and not only those who admire President Clinton - are appalled by what has just happened in Washington and wish that it had not. Why should private consensual conduct between adults (however outre) be used to humiliate a national leader? Has America gone mad?

There is a plausible response to the attack mounted by right-wing Clinton- haters and Kenneth Starr. You can't change human nature; political leaders have lived irregular private lives since time immemorial; everyone lies about sex. Indeed, this argument should be especially persuasive to us here.

One of the first signs of the new morality in American politics were the Senate hearings for Senator John Tower, accused of liking a drink and female companionship. At the time, I could not help thinking that Churchill had led us through one great war on what many doctors would now call a functional alcoholic's daily intake, and Lloyd George through another when, as AJP Taylor put it, he was the first prime minister since the Duke of Grafton to live openly with his mistress. Both men did, after all, win their wars.

Unlike Lloyd George, Gladstone was a pious Christian, and (despite his quaint encounters with London prostitutes) he was a faithful husband. And he famously said that seven of the 11 prime ministers he had known had been adulterers, which was not said to imply that they were unfit for office.

But are Clinton's partisans the people to complain? Too many of them are hoist by their own petards. In the Seventies, liberal Democrats detested President Nixon and invoked any means to bring him down, from media aggression to the Independent Counsel Act. In the Nineties, conservative Republicans detest Clinton and are using media aggression and an independent counsel to try to bring him down.

And some of Clinton's friends are the very people who led the attack on Clarence Thomas when he was nominated to the Supreme Court. If it is abject and degrading for the American republic when the President is interrogated by a grand jury about his "inappropriate" amorous activity (and I would certainly agree that it is), was it not equally abject and degrading to see the Senate solemnly discussing pubic hairs on a can of Coke? Was what Justice Thomas supposedly did to Anita Hill worse than what President Clinton supposedly did to Paula Jones?

The answers to that question from Clinton partisans have vied for a Pulitzer Prize in Speciousness and Casuistry. Philip Weiss of the New York Observer contrasted the two women thus: Miss Hill is "a very private and proper person, maybe repressed. She doesn't seem comfortable with sexuality". Mrs Jones, on the other hand, "is plainly someone who feels comfortable in the sexual arena". So there you have it. Anita Hill was a delicate flower and a bashful maiden, but Paula Jones was different. She asked for it.

Even higher marks went to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, addressing "the question which conservatives ask liberals": why is Miss Hill a heroine of the women's movement and Mrs Jones not? His answer - which "of course, is simple" - lies in the difference not between the women but between the men: "Bill Clinton is not, like Justice Thomas, a conservative ideologue." Here is a novel, ingenious legal avenue. One envisages Mr Cohen as defence counsel for Serb terrorists arraigned before a war crimes tribunal: "Although the defendants may have engaged in gang rape, ethnic cleansing and mass murder, I would put it to the court in extenuation that none is a conservative ideologue."

Most contemptible of all Clinton's defenders have been the soi-disant feminists. Susan Faludi distinguishes between "girls and grown-ups". Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky are "young and naive", mere "girls", who enjoy "having a sulk'n'sob in front of the adults". Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is an adult, who may be hurt, but "isn't sharing it with every daddy figure on television". She knows that feminism is really "about knowing when the public good outweighs your having a temper tantrum over a personal offence". So Misses Jones and Lewinsky should have known their place and kept their mouths shut (as it were).

All in all, the behaviour of those hounding Clinton has been unattractive or illogical - but the behaviour of those defending him has been even more so. Obnoxious as Clinton in many ways is, I would agree with any American who never wanted anyone else to go through what he has been through. But can we hope that Clinton's supporters will, in future, ladle the same sauce for Republican geese as for Democratic ganders?