Goodbye, Boys Club

Sandy Grady

November 25, 1992|By Sandy Grady

IF THERE were a law against hypocrisy, phoniness and false piety, Bob Packwood would be facing time in a federal rest camp.

Or at least wearing a crimson "F," for "fraud," on his forehead.

Until the truth broke, the 60-year-old Republican senator from Oregon was extolled as the white knight of chivalry.

He was a gilt-edged hero to the women's movement, which gave Mr. Packwood its votes, money and hearts. For 24 years Senator Bob was admired for his impassioned rhetoric on women's rights.

Sexual harassment? Why, even before Anita Hill's consciousness-raising testimony, Senator Bob forbade roughneck sexuality in his own office.

Turns out his ban applied to everyone but Senator Bob.

In one way, he's lucky.

The Washington Post waited until after Mr. Packwood's re-election to break the story that 10 women claim Senator Bob kissed, fondled and pressured them sexually. If Senator Bob's lecherous pawing had been exposed earlier, he would have been dumped by women admirers and beaten by Les AuCoin.

You can't say Senator Bob didn't follow the Washington textbook for S.Y.A. -- politely translated as Save Your Skin -- tactics.

First he denied everything. Then he attacked his accusers as round-heeled bimbos. Then -- safely in the Senate for six more years -- he went into hiding after apologizing.

"If I have conducted myself in any way that has caused any individual discomfort or embarrassment, I am sincerely sorry," said Mr. Packwood. His lawyer put it more bluntly: "Denial is not credible."

But in a deeper way, the timing is disastrous for Senator Bob and members of the World's Most Exclusive Boys Club.

For years they ran a Capitol Hill plantation on which the overseers, almost 100 percent middle-aged white males, had a free run with their libidos and egos. High jinks were winked at -- boys will be boys -- if an Honorable wrestled with his secretary, spent an afternoon at the Hot Sheet Motel or staggered onto the floor in a Wild Turkey haze.

Cracks were rare in the all-male code of the Testosterone Ranch.

After his alcoholic aquatics with a nightclub stripper, Wilbur Mills was stripped of power. So was Wayne Hays after an affair with his non-typing secretary. One tragedy, the other comedy.

But it took flaming sin -- hetero- and homosexual molesting of youth by Gerry Studds and Dan Crane -- for the Boys Club to publicly reprimand the sinners.

The Boys Club's response was to chastise the miscreants and leave their fate to the people. Thus, Massachusetts voters forgave Rep. Barney Frank for smarminess with a male prostitute. Illinois folks kicked out Rep. Gus Savage, who grappled with a Peace Corps volunteer in a limo back seat. Ohioans dumped Don Lukens for an affair with a teen-age girl.

Then you felt the plantation shift when the Senate bitterly rejected John Tower for defense chief because of boozing and womanizing. Privately, senators gasped, "My God, if that's the rules, this place will be emptied."

But I suspect televised pictures of that phalanx of senatorial males putting Anita Hill through a clownish inquisition shattered the Boys Club forever.

Not only did the Hill drama inspire "The Year of the Woman" -- four new women elected to the Senate -- but it also made sexual harassment (no more pinching in the elevators, boys) a new battlefield.

Uh-oh, trouble on the plantation. Brock Adams of Washington gave up a Senate rerun after several women accused him of putting sexual hammerlocks on them. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii is charged by his barber and possibly other women with molesting them. Sen. Dan Durenberger, who's had a trail of trouble, faces charges of rape and paternity in Minnesota.

You wonder when these guys had time to make a quorum call.

Bob Packwood's heavy-breathing antics, though, will make the Senate squirm in discomfort.

Does the Senate Ethics Committee grill witnesses ("and, uh, where did he grab you, Miss X?") to determine whether Mr. Packwood's conduct was unbecoming to Senate dignity? The Honorables would prefer a root canal without anesthetics to that raunchy ordeal.

That's why Mr. Packwood and the Senate are unlucky. The Hill furor plus women's 1992 political victories may force a showdown.

"If they don't look at this, it's a farce to have such a committee," said Harriet Woods, head of the National Women's Political Caucus.

Outraged women want their former Galahad outta here now.

"It would save everybody time if he resigned," said Betty Roberts, former Oregon Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Packwood insists he'll hang tough. An aide says fatuously that "a senator who got 627,000 votes shouldn't resign over unproven allegations."

Try selling that dodge to the four new women senators who'll be hammering on the Ethics Committee's door with high heels. The hunch here is that Mr. Packwood's sexual capers will get a public hearing. Goodbye, Boys Club.

At least put Senator Bob in the dock for being a poseur, charlatan and fake. Guilty on all counts.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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