Comment: It's not the sex. It's the lies, and the tapes

the rules of harassment

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There are I guess better chat-up lines than dropping your trousers and demanding oral sex. What, no dinner? No flowers? No foreplay? How long exactly are you supposed to know someone before you behave like this? Five minutes? Five months? Five years? Well, quite honestly, none of us seem to know.

If this is what the most powerful man in the world actually did, and we will never know for sure, then it's not perhaps a glorious example to set for us lesser beings. Whatever Clinton is alleged to have done, he still looks like a sensitive kinda guy compared with the lionised Kennedy. But this is America we are talking about and there are laws about this sort of thing.

I think there should be laws about this sort of thing. Sexual harassment is a serious issue. It is above all an abuse of power. It makes women's lives miserable. Its victims are nearly always those in vulnerable situations, the predators are nearly always those who can spot such vulnerability a mile off. We are generally more informed about what constitutes sexual harassment than we were even five years ago. A series of high profile cases in the police force has brought into the public arena the kind of daily abuse that some women have had to take.

Yet still we are muddled about what it all means. The case against Clinton is mounting not because of what he did or did not do sexually - adultery is not an impeachable offence - but because of the allegations of perjury and tampering with witnesses. As history should have taught us, it is not the original misdemeanour that brings down a public figure but the ensuing cover-up.

Everyone knew that when they elected Clinton they were not getting Jimmy Carter. Here was a man with a sexual past and a real and vote-winning sexual presence, who had a partner who would stand by him even though she was no Stepford wife. Clinton was that rare combination of a man with sex appeal who was also totally comfortable with powerful women. He likes strong women. He promotes them. He married one.

The idea that such a man has to prey on work experience girls, the allegations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky, may diminish him. Whether it calls into question his ability to lead is highly debatable. Ginsburg, Lewinsky's lawyer, also uses the word misogynist about Clinton, but that would be impossible to prove.

You may well wonder why a man such as Clinton has to harass women into having sex with him. I think Heidi Fleiss had the answer when she was asked why so many attractive men pay prostitutes. She said it was not the sex the were paying for, but the fact that the women went away afterwards. Clinton's problem is that they have not gone away for quite long enough.

The average American does not seem much bothered by Clinton's sexual habits. Yet no one can resist salivating over the details that may be revealed about Clinton's genitals. Never has so much interest in an individual penis been excited since the accusations against Michael Jackson involved talk of all sorts of distinguishing marks. You may not have much time for Freud, but isn't it strange that the whole phallic and symbolic power of the American establishment may in the end be brought down by the reality of a penis that does not live up to its imaginary dimensions? Can a man who controls much of the world not control his own sexual urges?

Many will argue that the two have nothing to do with each other. Unlike the Anita Hill case, in which she accused Clarence Thomas of constant sexual suggestions and obscene language over the course of a year, Clinton's behaviour, whether affairs with bimbos or clumsy passes, are not seen even by many feminists as being real cases of sexual harassment. The issue of mutuality must come into it somewhere. The women involved may have been young and dumb but they consented. The issue is one of coercion.

Could Hillary Clinton sexually harass one of her employees? Of course she could. Unwanted sexual advances are unwanted because you don't want that person back. We are all so confused about the ethics and etiquette of sexual desire, and a case such as this is fed by the confusion. Talk of the moral depletion of America accompanied by articles on the Puritan foundation do nothing to help the rest of us understand how men and women should be relating to each other in the workplace.

The ridiculous accusation that all laws designed to equalise the relationship between the sexes at work somehow mean banning all flirting shows the present level of misunderstanding. The fact is that many, many people meet their partners in the workplace. Are they all just sexually harassing each other into marriage, or what?

The personal morality of the President of the United States of America is being tested, but it is not the sex that will do for him, it is the lies and the tapes. Try claiming this week of all weeks that the personal is not political. Whatever citizens feel, the processes under American law that connect the personal and political have already been set in motion. Maybe Clinton has been too cocky all along in believing he really is too sexy for his Socks, and therefore above the law. It turns out that it wasn't the economy, stupid, it wasn't even international relations, stupid, it was good old sexual politics that has made him look stupid.

Clinton is at the centre of a political culture that publicly demands squeaky clean behaviour from its players but is privately geared up to cover the tracks when they slip up. He has been accused of being "in denial", yet he operates in an atmosphere of denial. The idea that power and sex can somehow be neatly separated is stupid. The power of sex muddles the finest minds, it can bring down the biggest of men.

Possibly Clinton's sex life doesn't matter one iota, but the image of it does. If his persona of virility becomes that of a low-down serial groper who cannot lie to save his own political life then he might find that power is an overrated aphrodisiac. Does whatever he did make him a less effective president? It depends just how much American public opinion is ready to swallow. It's time, one might say, to really suck it and see.

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