Friday, July 06, 2007


Sam Smith

ONE OF THE FASCINATING THINGS ABOUT THE CLINTON YEARS was the consistent failure of women's groups to show the slightest interest in those who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. Basically, they were dismissed as trailer trash.

One of them was Paula Jones whose lawsuit against Clinton was the proximate cause of the testimony in which Clinton lied. Jones was regarded as barely better than a stripper by the liberal elite and Clinton's lying has mythologized as only being about his sex with Monica Lewinsky when in fact it was about another woman getting a fair trial in a sex harassment suit.

Here, from Wikipedia, is a summary of what has been conveniently forgotten:

||||| Before the case reached trial, Judge Susan Webber Wright granted President Clinton's motion for summary judgment, ruling that Jones could not show that she had suffered any damages, even if her claim of sexual harassment were otherwise proven. Jones appealed the dismissal to a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, where, at oral argument, two of the three judges on the panel appeared sympathetic to her arguments. On November 13, 1998, Clinton settled with Jones for $850,000, the entire amount of her claim, but without an apology, in exchange for her agreement to drop the appeal. All but $151,000 went to pay, what were by then, considerable legal expenses. Before the end of the entire litigation, her marriage broke apart.

In April 1999, Judge Wright found President Clinton in civil contempt of court for misleading testimony in the Jones case. She ordered Clinton to pay Jones $91,000 for the expenses incurred as the result of Clinton's evasive and misleading answers. Wright then referred Clinton's conduct to the Arkansas Bar for disciplinary action, and on January 19, 2001, the day before President Clinton left the White House, Clinton entered into an agreement with the Arkansas Bar and Independent Counsel Robert Ray under which Clinton consented to a five-year suspension of his law license.

With the [inducement] of further evidence in the case President Clinton was held in contempt of court by judge Susan Webber Wright. His license to practice law was suspended in Arkansas and later by the United States Supreme Court. He was also fined $90,000. His fine was paid for by a legal fund raised for his legal expenses. |||||

Now, with the Scooter Libby case, the Clinton mendacity has found its way back in the news. But once again the comparison is being dismissed because of what is viewed by liberals as the insignificance of lying about sex. The sexual harassment suit is rarely mentioned.

An exception was Slate's Tim Noah who wrote, "No fair-minded person can deny that the previous president committed perjury about Monica Lewinsky while serving in the Oval Office. The country knew it, and it let him get away with it ... Is it really fair to treat White House aides more harshly than ordinary citizens when presidents get off scot-free?"

A debatable argument to be sure, but what is stunning is the response from Salon's Alex Koppelman:

|||| Though it's become conventional wisdom that Clinton committed perjury when he lied under oath about Lewinsky during the Paula Jones lawsuit, that question is in fact far from having a definitive answer.

It's important to draw a distinction here: Lying under oath is not the same thing as perjury. The federal statute regarding perjury -- as well as many state statutes, but Clinton was testifying in a federal lawsuit, so that's the law that applies here -- requires that the lie be about something material to the case at hand. And the question of whether Clinton's lies were material to the case is by no means settled. Indeed, the judge in the case, Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright, ruled that the Lewinsky issue was "not essential to the core issues" of the Jones lawsuit and excluded all evidence about Lewinsky from the suit.

There is still an argument to be made that Clinton's lies were material to that case, and the conservative legal scholar Judge Richard Posner, who is on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, has made it. But there are plenty of "fair-minded" people who disagree; another eminent legal scholar, Ronald Dworkin, wrote a lengthy takedown of Posner's arguments for the New York Review of Books, itself a well-respected publication. "Posner's own argument for the materiality of Clinton's deposition lies is very weak," Dworkin wrote. "... [T]he pertinent question is not whether Clinton's false statements 'might' have been material, as Wright said, but whether they were material beyond a reasonable doubt. ... So Posner's claim that Clinton was 'clearly' guilty of perjury in the Lewinsky deposition is unjustified." ||||

In other words, in the Clintonista mind, it not only is a question of what the meaning of the word "is" is, but what the word "perjury" is. While such arguments may have a place in the courtroom they have no place among the fair and moral. Honest, decent people don't have to flee to such obscure distinctions.

But forget about morality. Let's just consider the politics. The sort of liberal denial of the importance of simple honesty is one of the things that has caused the Democrats so many problems. They have been forced into endless esoteric, baroque and attorney-like defenses of the Clintons' behavior and now propose to lay the burden on us once again. As we have pointed out, it isn't going to go away. The GOP is just holding its fire until after the Democratic convention.

The liberal faith these days is that it's always someone else's fault. So they blame Al Gore's failure in 2000 on the Republicans and Ralph Nader. But there are some important clues in that election that wise Democrats should consider before going with another Clinton.

The exit polls revealed that far more important than GOP malfeasance or the Greens daring to exercise their constitutional right to run for office was the silent effect of the Clinton scandals on voters, including liberals and other Democrats.
According to these polls:

- 60% of voters disapproved of Clinton as a person

- 59% - including some who approved of him - disliked him

- 68% said he would go down in the history books for his scandals rather than for his leadership

- 44% thought the Clinton scandals were important or somewhat important. In contrast, only 28% thought Bush's drunk driving arrest was important or somewhat important.

And most strikingly, 15% of those who voted for Clinton in 1996 turned to Bush in 2000. That certainly wasn't Ralph Nader's fault.

The Democratic elite is overflowing with lawyers these days and it has helped turned the party from the voice of the people to the scratchy, picky whine of the legal profession. It may be enough to get Hillary Clinton the nomination but in the end a lot of people who go to the polls don't like lies whether they count as perjury or not.