I BELIEVE PAULA -- more or less. But her lawsuit against Bill Clinton ought to be bounced out of court.
Not because there's some question, as Clinton's lawyer Robert Bennett arrogantly suggests, about "whether a sitting president may be sued for alleged events that took place before he entered office." I'm not sure where Bennett studied law, but my law school taught that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Even presidents.
Would I dismiss Jones's claim because I agree that it is self-serving and political, while Hill's motives were aboveboard and proper? Of course not. The only people peddling that argument are hypocritical liberals. Like Molly Ivins, a peppery Texas feminist, who writes in her syndicated column: "If anyone out there is having trouble making a distinction between Anita Hill and Paula Jones, let me help. . . . Professor Hill has not profited from her testimony against Justice Thomas in any way." Unless book royalties, speaking fees, awards from the American Bar Association, and national heroine status don't count as profit, that is unvarnished c-r-a-p.
As was this excuse by Clinton's media guru Mandy Grunwald, another liberal with more than one face: "A lot of women are very troubled by what's happened with this charge because we take sexual harassment very seriously, and to see it politicized like this and turned into a tabloid issue like this is very troubling." Odd that liberals weren't similarly "troubled" during the Thomas confirmation circus in 1991.
But there's hypocrisy blowing in from the right on this one, too. The left used sexual harassment to pummel our guy, too many conservatives are saying; now it's payback time. Hence the cheerleading as Jones's suit was filed. Hence right-leaning groups like the Christian Defense Coalition raising funds to pay Jones's legal bills.
Well, count this conservative out. Clinton may have the morals of a Ted Kennedy and the manners of a drunken fraternity boy, but that doesn't justify turning a lewd come-on into a federal case.
What Jones says Clinton did to her at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock on May 8, 1991, was vile. It was vulgar. But it didn't transgress the Constitution of the United States or violate Jones' liberties under the Civil Rights Act -- and those are the grounds on which she is suing him. The 14th Amendment was crafted to ensure equal protection and due process of law for all Americans. Its purpose isn't to protect adult women from crude passes by horny New Democrats.
In the complaint her lawyers filed in US District Court in Arkansas, Jones says Clinton contrived to get her alone in a hotel room, fondled her thigh, pulled his pants down, and said, "Kiss it."
That comports perfectly with everything we've come to know about our adulterer-in-chief's obnoxious and toad-like social style. Were you shocked when you first heard the story? Neither was anyone else. It reinforced what the Los Angeles Times and The American Spectator had already reported . . . what the Arkansas state troopers who served on Gov. Clinton's security detail witnessed . . . what Gennifer Flowers, Sally Perdue, and other women described: When it comes to women, Clinton is a boor.
But boorishness is no reason to impanel a jury. Turning every unpleasant social encounter between a man and a woman into a court battle benefits no one but the lawyers. He made a pass, she said no, he backed down. That should be the end of the matter, not the beginning of a lawsuit.
Jones doesn't allege that Clinton raped her, or that he persisted in his attempts to get sex from her, or that he threatened her, or that he had her fired for rebuffing him. (On the contrary, paragraph 24 of Jones' complaint concedes: "Clinton, while [obscene imagery deleted], said: 'Well, I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to do.' ") Her accusation boils down to: He acted like a pig, but I handled it. So why does she need lawyers? And why drag the Constitution into this?
President Clinton's fetid character traits are widely acknowledged. They are relevant to his fitness for office and thus suitable subjects for public discourse. The Excelsior Hotel story underscores Clinton's willingness to exploit his position for personal gratification, to use other people, and to lie. He doesn't belong in the White House. But for propositioning Paula Jones he doesn't belong in court, either.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)