WE MAY expect some impressive contenders for 1997 quote of the year. Pol Pot's "my conscience is clear" and Tony Blair's "people's princess" will no doubt be there or thereabouts. But the winner, if only by a short head, must surely be this one from Robert Bennet, President Clinton's lawyer in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit:
"In terms of size, shape, direction, whatever the devious mind wants to concoct, the President is a normal man. There are no blemishes, there are no moles, there are no growths."
The looming court case, and Bill Clinton's place in history, may well turn on whether it is his lawyer or Ms Jones who is speaking the truth about the presidential member. For the key to the case, as every red-blooded American now knows, will rest on her ability to prove that Mr Clinton exposed himself to her in an Arkansas hotel room six years ago and that what she saw was not normal at all.
The most tantalising mystery in American politics, barring possibly the identity of Watergate's "Deep Throat", was revealed last month when the US press obtained copies of the affidavit in which Ms Jones details what she claims to be the President's "distinguishing characteristics". These, she is reported to have said, amount to three. His erect penis is about five inches long, has the circumference of a quarter (a shade less than a 2p coin) and heads off at an angle, presumably rather like a finger bent at the joint.
Whether the judge in the case, Susan Webber Wright, decides to order a medical examination of the organ - requiring a doctor to observe it in its erect state and then report back under oath - remains to be seen. But what does appear increasingly certain, according to all the lawyers involved, is that the trial will indeed go ahead as scheduled on 26 May.
To that end, Mr Bennet, the President's lawyer, is understood to be busy accumulating intelligence on what he believes to be Ms Jones' varied and exuberant sexual history. He will no doubt have passed on some of this intelligence to Ms Jones last week while subjecting her, as required by the pre-trial rules, to a two-day grilling at his Washington office. For, while Judge Webber Wright has imposed a gag-order on all parties to the case, it is no secret that Mr Bennet hopes that Ms Jones might still be persuaded to drop her case for fear of exposing herself to excruciating embarrassment in court.
It is common knowledge, for example, among those who have followed the Jones affair closely, as well as among readers of Penthouse magazine, that she posed nude for a photographer boyfriend when she was 19.
But if Ms Jones decides to bite the bullet and have, as she has insisted all along that she will, her "day in court", Mr Bennet may find himself hoist by his own petard. For if the judge rules against the dreaded medical examination and the jury is left to decide on the oral evidence alone, then her lawyers may well be able to argue, "OK. So our client has enjoyed numerous sexual liaisons - which means she is all the more qualified to recognise an abnormally tumescent penis when she sees one."
Mr Bennet might respond that, irrespective of the quibbles over the President's manly dimensions, Ms Jones' claim that he is not a straight arrow is refuted by no less an authority than Dr Kevin O'Connell, a veteran US Navy urologist who has examined Mr Clinton and counts among his previous patients presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. It has been reported that the symptom described can be caused by an ailment called Peyronie's disease but, as Dr O'Connell would testify, Mr Clinton suffers no such condition.
Testimony such as this is the fruity fare one may confidently expect to be dished up at Paula Corbin Jones vs. William Jefferson Clinton. Given the probability, according to legal observers, that the plaintiff will be very hard pressed to prove her case and that, as a consequence, both sides will battle each other to a standstill, the question that will have to be asked eventually is who has come out worse from the whole sordid business?
Mr Clinton may console himself with the reflection that he has already won his second election and that, besides, the perception that he is a rogue is so deeply embedded in the national imagination that most people's reaction will be, "Tell us something we don't know". He has also been in scrapes before, notably during his first election campaign when he was accused of having an affair with Gennifer Flowers, and has always handled himself with poise and charm.
How the petite, small-voiced Ms Jones will fare under cross-examination from the notoriously merciless Mr Bennet is another matter. She has always maintained that her chief purpose is "to restore her reputation", but one may anticipate that by the time Mr Bennet is finished with her she will not be fixed in the public mind as an emblem of unsullied virtue.
The joke could turn out to be on Ms Jones, who may look back one day and reflect that what began as farce ended up in misery.
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