Sucker Punches

May 13, 1994|By CAL THOMAS

Washington -- The Clinton people could not have devised a more brilliant plan for advancing their domestic legislative and // political agenda than that provided by the accusations of Paula Corbin Jones.

Mrs. Jones, who is making history by charging a president of the United States with sexual harassment and lewdness, has managed to shift attention, discussion and debate from the president's positions on such long-term and vital subjects as health care, taxes, spending, regulation and big government to questions about the physical characteristics of his private parts.

Conservatives have taken the bait. Many have left the arena of ideas and policy to indulge themselves at the dirty-book store. Eighteen months after the 1992 election, they are still grousing about being robbed and stating the obvious -- that Mr. Clinton fooled enough people with his ''New Democrat'' lingo to get him elected. They should realize that dwelling on the past, and looking for the kind of easy-outs that Paula Jones seems to offer, threatens to add other losses in the future. Other elections are coming, this year and in 1996.

Conservatives are wasting valuable time, amusing themselves by noting the obvious hypocrisy of feminists who believed Anita Hill's testimony against Clarence Thomas, but who disbelieve Paula Jones because of the political and religious company she keeps.

Do they really believe this lawsuit is a better way to bring down President Clinton than by targeting his unwise policies?

If that is their strategy, they will fail, and when they do Mr. Clinton will get a sympathetic bounce in the polls. Conservatives should debate policy, not foolishly pursue a fruitless journey through the valley of prurient interests.

There's something off-putting about excessive glee. Conservatives are enjoying themselves too much. At least with Anita Hill, supporters positioned themselves so as to appear that they were concerned about an important issue: sexual harassment. That Ms. Hill was merely a tool to trash a decent man and keepideological control of the Supreme Court from shifting further to the right was buried in her supporters' supposed high-mindedness.

With Paula Jones, conservatives are engaging in self-stimulation over details of Mr. Clinton's alleged behavior in a Little Rock hotel room. Liberals feigned disgust over Mr. Thomas' alleged behavior with Ms. Hill. Conservatives wallow with delight in every detail of Mrs. Jones' lawsuit.

In the battle for public opinion, this can be an important distinction. Conservatives are too public with their premature celebration of President Clinton's demise and their telegraphed strategy of trying to destroy him with sucker punches. Instead, they should be going toe-to-toe with him on his agenda, which is being implemented while conservatives fiddle.

Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour has the right idea. He told me, ''We're staying out of the Paula Jones matter and letting it run its course.''

Conservatives should refocus on the fall elections. In 1978, they won enough seats in Congress to thwart President Carter's legislative agenda for his last two years in office and pave the way for Ronald Reagan. They should strive to do the same this year. Whatever becomes of Mrs. Jones' lawsuit, she isn't going to be serving in Congress, voting for or against Clinton-administration measures and Supreme Court nominees.

Conservatives would do better to return to the arena and start mixing it up with superior ideas about issues that will affect us for decades to come. Give them points for having stayed with this issue until it cracked through the big media's glass censorship ceiling.

But now the Jones case has a life of its own, and conservatives will do themselves no more good and can possibly damage their cause by too avidly prolonging their association with this kind of indecent political exposure.

The Jones case is better left to the talk shows, the tabloids and the courts.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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