Washington -- OVER AND over, this last horrible week, one of the few non-pornographic lines to be repeated was, "The system doesn't work." Most often, the line came from the myriad women who seem to circle Judge Clarence Thomas like the courtiers and enemies of an ancient king.
But when I heard it mantrically invoked for the 328th time, almost always with regard to government protecting women against sexual harassment, always with a small pause and a sigh of sorrow that such should be the case, right here in America in the latter half of the 20th century, I found my cynical self asking: "It doesn't?"
The system didn't work for Anita Hill, the popular reasoning in the congressional hearings went, or even for the many other women who reached back in their own histories to testify to similar experiences. But there was something similar in all of them that suddenly arrested my attention.
Unless I missed some turn of the drama, not one of those women ever made a complaint to the myriad government bodies, commissions or institutions that have been set up in the last five years, at considerable pain and cost, to hear and rule on such complaints (something few nations of the world have done).
Systems won't work unless people involve themselves in those systems and unless they call forth their potential for sanctions. What we have been seeing is the equivalent of someone being mugged, refusing to give evidence to the police, and then complaining that the court system is lousy.
Not to be outdone by the week, a little personal history: I can understand with all my heart and soul the suffering of many women over true sexual harassment. I was a premature feminist in college in the '50s, where I had dippy but noble ideas that women should be respected and should be equal, whether at home or at work.
But I also believed that in freeing ourselves from what I have always considered the ultimate "political relationship," that between men and women, women then had to take on the moral responsibility that accrues to being free. To say that one cannot (or will not) risk one's ambitions even a tiny bit in order to use the real machinery of this society simply does not fulfill my feminist expectations.
The system may not work, but it surely can't work if nobody gives it a chance.
As we exposed our trashy back alleys before a world that (again) could barely believe America's cynical political uses of "morality," there was one place where the system was assuredly "not working."
For the first time since this type of orchestrated political character assassination started three years ago with the congressional/press trials of Gary Hart, Robert Bork, John Tower, Jim Wright, Charles Robb (and others), the political conspiring that lies behind this has been bared. What is going on is no longer any mystery.
Front page in the Washington Post on Oct. 12: "In recent years, the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees has evolved into a Washington melodrama in which private interest groups, journalists and lobbyists have become central players. Assuming role once played almost exclusively by the Senate, these actors have become de facto adjuncts to the Senate Judiciary Committee, scrutinizing the public and private lives in an effort to defeat nominees they oppose."
Lead editorial in the Washington Times on Oct. 13: "The character assassination of Mr. Thomas was, in effect, an attempt by Senate staff to assert a veto over the Senate's power of advise and consent. The attempt betokens an insidious shift in the locus of power in our system of government (so that) the control of public policy in this country is shifting from elected officials who answer directly to the people, toward unelected bureaucrats and managers, who don't."
Underneath all the slime of this last week and the arrant disregard for any legal presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" is this hothouse of problems Congress must now deal with. Once we have reintroduced normal, civilized restraints upon displaced agendas into our system, that system will work just fine.
Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.