So Packwood Doesn't Want His Privacy Invaded?


November 05, 1993|By ELLEN GOODMAN

Boston. -- It was not a pretty sight. A gaunt Bob Packwood fighting on the Senate floor for his political life. A newly righteous Bob Packwood arguing against the ethics committee's attempt to subpoena all his diaries.

''Is there humor in them? Sure,'' he said to the collection of senators who were present, accounted for, and utterly miserable. ''Is there nasty comment about some of you when I got mad at something? Sure. Are there warm comments? You bet. They're personal beyond all measure.''

This is a man whose tongue and hands are said to have invaded the private space of some two dozen or more women. Yet he spoke as a victim of those who would invade his private papers.

It was there again, this man's ability to compartmentalize his life, to ignore the internal contradictions. Watching in fascination, I was reminded of Constance Buchanan, the associate dean at the Harvard Divinity School, who described the era we grew up in as one that protected men's jobs over women's bodies.

If Bob Packwood was still able to disconnect and defend his public life from his private actions, maybe he learned that from the culture. If he promoted women by day and lunged at them by night, if he made welcome advances for women and unwelcome advances on women, may be this was a split personality that society allowed.

One of the ''Packwood 26,'' Gena Hutton, a county chair for the senator's 1980 campaign, remembers that after she fought off ++ the senator, her first thought was to protect him from public exposure. Her second thought, she says, was, ''Oh my God, how am I going to tell him no without hurting his feelings, so he will feel intact and go on.'' She describes herself now, ruefully, as an ''enabler.'' She wasn't the only one. How many people have shielded such men from being seen -- from seeing themselves -- clearly.

Now the shield is gradually being stripped away. By the Clarence Thomas hearings, by the Tailhook investigation, by the ''Packwood 26.'' Private and public behavior are no longer kept in such neat compartments. Yet this week, we were left with this shell of a senator defending, without irony, his privacy.

Just how private were these papers? The word ''diary'' conjures up the image of a 13-year-old scribbling the intimate chaos of her emotional life onto pages secured by lock and key from a prying mother's eye.

But Senator Packwood's diary was dictated to a secretary. Perhaps he regarded this woman as a human machine who transcribed words without hearing them, a handy pair of ears and hands. But somehow I doubt he gave her confessions to type.

Bob Packwood is no latter-day Anais Nin. Perhaps his diaries were destined for a library as he says. Or perhaps they were destined for a literary agent. Either way, they were headed for publication not for internment. I suspect that there is less self-revelation than self-justification in this historic record.

The senator volunteered these diaries when they seemed to support him and withdrew them when they offered more troubles -- threatening his colleagues along the way. I too am uncomfortable with a Senate committee on a search mission for new offenses, uncomfortable with other names and lives erupting out of 8,000 unedited pages. But the Senate was legally right and fair in voting to compel Packwood to turn over these less-than-private papers.

It is time to refocus on the original question: Did this man's behavior constitute a breach of ethics?

Many regard Mr. Packwood as a sacrificial lamb for a flock of politicians that has run rampant over the same sexual landscape. He may or may not be the most flagrant example of sexual misconduct. For that matter, the Tailhook Convention of 1991 may not have been worse than the Tailhook Convention of 1990 or 1989. But Mr. Packwood was there when the whistle blew on such behavior and we called a halt. Someone is first.

The Oregon senator is the one publicly accused by some two dozen aides, lobbyists, campaign workers. He is the one who said, ''I was just plain wrong'' to make unwanted advances. He's the one who blamed it on alcohol, who stiffed the press until the election was over, and who is said to have intimidated his accusers. If the Senate were a business, this businessman would be history.

If someone says that this is a search-and-destroy mission, Julie Williamson, a member of the ''Packwood 26,'' begs to disagree, ''I don't want to destroy Bob Packwood. He can have a life. I'm not a U.S. senator and I have a life.''

Before the ethics committee moves on to weigh the importance of his job against these women's bodies, before the senators take up the private behavior that intruded on women's private lives, I'd love to read just one more line from the Packwood diaries. Dear Diary: Today, I resigned from the United States Senate.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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