Clinton's briefs are an area better left unexplored by public

May 16, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

I guess Paula Jones knew whether it was boxers or briefs.

While the MTV audience watched Laetitia Thompson of Potomac ask the president of the United States what kind of underwear he was wearing, I guess Paula Jones was sitting at home like some "Jeopardy!" genius, saying from her couch to no one in particular, "Briefs."

Oh, that Bill Clinton, I told my disbelieving conservative friends. He's so approachable. Isn't his candor disarming?

A little too candid, if we are to believe Paula Jones. And about as subtle as my sister when the kids dump their book bags and jackets in the front hall.

What we have here, presidential politics and moral imperatives notwithstanding, is another used woman. Several used women, as a matter of fact.

Either Paula Jones was used, or nearly so, by an Arkansas governor with the moves of a frat boy at a keg party, or she is being used now by the Conservative Political Action Conference -- a bunch of guys who can't find a more dignified way to promote their agenda than by saying the president dropped trou.

And then there is Hillary, the president's wife. The world already thinks she is some kind of brainy ice maiden who has driven her husband out of the marriage bed and into the general female population. What about her? "Pain in my marriage," he confessed to "60 Minutes." You bet.

And what about Chelsea? Hey, the man has a teen-age daughter, for heaven's sake. Can't we find a more decorous way to disagree with her father's politics than to say that he has identifying characteristics on his genitals and some strange woman can describe them?

If Clinton brought this kind of pain and dishonesty to his wife and his child, then he deserves a helping of what Michael Fay got. But what of the men who bring these indiscretions to such glaring light? In the name of what, gentlemen, are you humiliating this woman and damaging this child?

The argument that issues of character reflect on Clinton's ability to lead the country ought to be fought on higher ground than this. There was plenty of evidence already that the job was a little too much for him. Do we have to wreck Chelsea's adolescence and destroy Hillary's dignity in the bargain? If this first lady is such fair game, go after her on her ability to keep tax records, not on her ability to keep her husband home at night.

And what about me? I'm feeling pretty used myself. I've been waiting my whole adult life for a member of my generation to get a chance to make a better world. I was looking for a hero, and what do I get? Another guy on the make. The only thing missing is a silk shirt open to the navel and a ram's horn necklace. My worst nightmare as president.

If I believe Paula Jones, it will cost me whatever loyalty I felt to Clinton -- the '90s sensitive-guy president who voiced a commitment to the kinds of issues important to me and women like me.

Extra-marital affairs are one thing. Voters seemed to have granted the Clintons whatever arrangement their marriage has become when they did not punish him at the ballot box for Gennifer Flowers.

But the graphic description in Jones' suit -- that Clinton sent a state trooper after her, dropped his pants and asked for a sex fTC act -- is quite another matter altogether. If it is true, it is an act too barbaric to be forgiven.

With the Clarence Thomas hearings, women won the right to be believed when they were sexually harassed -- and men learned that they disbelieve those women at their own peril. But that lesson has been turned on its head here. Those pushing Paula Jones to the podium have figured out that the surest, swiftest way to undermine an opponent's moral and political standing is to allege some secret, filthy exchange between him and a woman. It's easier than photographing him in a motel bed with a woman and, true or not, the allegations will ring in the ears of the voters.

It gives the phrase "dirty politics" new meaning.

I had a hard time dealing with the MTV revelations. Did Clinton have to answer and remove all mystery? I keep thinking he should have finessed the question, the way he has so many. As free-spirited as I like to think I am, I was very uncomfortable with this picture in my head of the political archetype of my generation and the leader of the free world standing there in his briefs.

And I sure don't want a picture in my head of him dropping them.

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