The Victim in the Centerfold

One thing for sure, when you see Penthouse magazine's December photo spread of Paula Jones you have no trouble believing that Paula made come-hither eyes at Bill Clinton in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel in Lonoke, Arkansas, where the big business in town is, quite appropriately, minnows for America's bait shops. Now that her photos are scattered among the pages of erect members, just like the one that only a few short years ago sent her heading for a lawyer in paroxysms of indignation and terror about damage to her reputation, the Jones girl is going to have a hard time passing herself off as an imperiled ingenue.

Though James Carville was mostly right about the Jones case being what you get when you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park, the real question is what else could the architects of sexual harassment law have expected when they dragged hundreds of thousands of dollar bills through corporate and political America.

Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione recently dragged the park with enough cash for a college education and got 12 erotic photos of Jones: Paula draped on a railing wearing nothing but her Hannibel Lecter jeans – jeans sliced into horizontal one-inch strips reminiscent of the Arkansas train deaths; Paula panting between banister posts like an Afghan waiting to be picked up at the pound; Paula, saucy and peachy, relaxing on a leopard settee hoping some lawyers will call; and bare-naked lady Paula lying elegantly among a nest of velvet pillows embellished with big cats. He even got Paula in her Maidenform bra dreaming that she could be Bill Clinton's regular girlfriend.

Career victim-celebrity that she's become, Jones was recently on Larry King whimpering that she's been abandoned. No one calls anymore, she said, not the lawyers, the talk show hosts or the right-wingers. Paula has been seduced and abandoned by Bill Clinton, the feminists, the Supreme Court, the New York Times, her ex-husband and the Christian Right. Though she's said that she "doesn't even know the difference between a liberal and a conservative," she says she was manipulated by Clinton's enemies in their unrelenting effort to ruin him. "The Republicans, are they the good u2018uns or the bad u2018uns?," she asked New Yorker columnist Jeffrey Toobin in the middle of the brouhaha.

None of her far-right allies let Paula know their agenda, complains Joe Conason, far-left author of the Penthouse article. "Do you think they would actually tell me?," she wails. "No, they didn't." Well, duh, Joe, it doesn't exactly take a stem cell researcher to figure out that Paula's new friends, Bob Guccione, Larry King, and you, are gonna quit calling pretty soon too.

Though she says she wanted to settle sooner, Jones has no regrets about shaking down the president of the United States for $850,000 for exposing himself in the privacy of a hotel room, or for filing a lawsuit against him for "sexual assault" because he allegedly touched her thigh. The sexual encounter with Clinton was "forced," she told Larry King. If we are to believe Paula, Bill Clinton's heated rush to skip the preliminaries may have come as a huge surprise – but force? In contrast, Paula says exposing herself to millions in the pages of Penthouse was just an adult woman exercising her free choice.

But who is Paula Jones, after all, to resist the lure of easy money proffered by the full force of the federal government telling her that she is a big time victim deserving of a pot of gold – that power and wealth make men fair game for legalized blackmail, that a touch to the thigh is "sexual assault," a sexual request "sexual harassment," and a momentary light hold on the arm "unlawful restraint"?

Jones reveals in Penthouse that she was pressured into rejecting a $700,000 settlement offer from Clinton in August 1997. She blames Jerry Falwell and other Clinton enemies for torpedoing settlement possibilities and running up huge legal bills. Though she eventually was paid $850,000 by Clinton, more than 80 percent of those proceeds went to lawyers, including the one she hired to sort out how much each of her other attorneys would receive.

In Jeffrey Toobin's bestseller about the Clinton scandals, "A Vast Conspiracy," Toobin, a legal analyst for ABC News and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, argues that despite the president's own culpability in the matter, there was, indeed, a conspiracy behind the Jones and Lewinsky cases, but it wasn't the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that Hillary Clinton had in mind. Rather, he writes, the vast conspiracy is "a conspiracy within the legal system to take over the political system of the United States."

Court cases have become "a central part of any organized political activity – even for those groups who could have used the ballot instead of the subpoena," says Toobin. "As activists quickly discovered, lawsuits had many advantages over traditional politics. They required just a few people, and they moved quickly. Lawsuits allowed civil rights workers, feminists, environmentalists, and other activists of the political Left a perfect shortcut. They didn't have to do the expensive and labor-intensive work of persuading the masses to support their views; instead, they enjoyed prestige and intellectual challenge in this new field, which they dubbed u2018public interest law.'"

Legal creations such as the independent counsel law allowed liberals to win most of their political battles in courtrooms rather than legislatures. The political Right soon discovered that it, too, could use the courts to advance its agenda. This, combined with the merged goals of two of the great social movements of the 20th century, the feminist Left and the Christian Right, says Toobin, "pushed the country precisely in the same direction, toward the idea that the private lives of public people mattered as much as their stands on issues." The merging of the feminist insistence that "the personal is political" (meaning that private conduct, particularly when it comes to sex, is fair game) with the social conservatives' obsession with the sexual character of their political enemies insured that sexual media witch hunts would become an inevitable fact of public life.

The chief villains in most sexual harassment cases are the forces that constructed the laws, sloppy legislators and judges who have no direct accountability for the inevitable results of the rules they make, and the lawyers who profiteer from them. Jones was enticed by her then-husband and others into becoming a weapon against the president of the United States, just as Anita Hill was used as a weapon by feminists and civil rights activists in the their attempt to torpedo the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The real deal for women who allow themselves to be enticed into sexual harassment suits is that their reputations are trashed while legal eagles fly away with the cash.

Women like Jones have been lured into becoming the workplace equivalent of Third world terrorists strolling around the office with suitcase bombs. As a result of a sexual harassment law that was, on the face of it, meant to protect the wives and daughters of America from undesirable sexual overtures and dirty talk, America has become a place where dirty talk and sex scandals consume the airwaves, force-feeding the ears of 11-year-olds with all the erotic details. The line between public life and private has been obliterated, gender relations have been infused with fear and mistrust, women have been marginalized, children scandalized, and small time sexual sinners who might otherwise make good public servants avoid running for office.

Legalized sexual shakedowns and fear of sexual blackmail have become the order of the day.

In an article in the December 2000 issue of Esquire, President Clinton says he deserves an apology from the GOP conservatives who impeached him – but it was Clinton himself who wheeled-and-dealed into law the very same legal minefields that nearly destroyed his presidency, rules intended for the rest of us that he thought he could escape or avoid.

Though Toobin concludes in "A Vast Conspiracy" that all the evidence points to Jones and Clinton having had a consensual sexual encounter in the Excelsior Hotel, Clinton was outmaneuvered by his own cleverness. He had re-signed the independent counsel law that allowed Ken Starr to invade his privacy, bargained into law the provision that defined a touch as a sexual assault, and signed onto the law that permits an investigation of past paramours, consensual and nonconsensual, in sexual harassment cases.

Unfortunately, Clinton's impeachment was only the latest volley in the gotcha game of personal destruction that has been going on in America for years.

Rather than expect apologies, Clinton and his cohorts in the trial lawyers lobby should issue a recall for sexual harassment laws that are as shoddily constructed as Firestone tires.

November 11, 2000

Sarah McCarthy, co-author of Mom & Pop vs the Dreambusters: the Small Business Revolt Against Big Government, is a contributing editor at Liberty magazine and a World Net Daily columnist.

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