America loves to hate sex and politics

There’s nothing juicier than a scandal of sex and politics. So when Paula Jones gets her day in court against President Clinton, I’m sure we’ll have another trial of the century on our hands.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that Jones has a right to bring her trial against Clinton while he’s in office. Jones alleges that in 1991, Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, brought her to his hotel room in Little Rock and dropped his drawers.
Suddenly, the woman initially painted as trailer trash has the Republican Party standing behind her, and a legitimate case against Clinton.
How do you think the legal analysts will deal with the day that Clinton has to undergo genital examination for the court? Jones’ lawyers say it may be necessary to prove Jones’ allegations that the president pointed out distinguishing characteristics of his body.
I know, eeew! Already, I foresee Clinton made into another JonBenet-type media frenzy. It’s embarrassing not only for Clinton but the American public as well. We may forever remember our president’s genital case as the landmark challenge to the executive officer’s legal immunity. Still, it may also be the best case to bring a president down to the level of the everyday American.
Not only can Jones sue, but she can sue while Clinton is in office.
The president’s lawyers have tried hard to delay this case, at least until the end of his term, because they know it would not only be humiliating but politically destructive. Clinton has said little about the case, and his lawyer Robert Bennett calls Jones’ allegation “malicious, baseless and politically inspired.”
But I really don’t see why Clinton’s lawyers should be worried. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion that there is no constitutional immunity granted to the president in civil cases. However, the federal district court judge may choose to delay the case.
In other words, presidents don’t automatically get to delay any trial brought against them while in office. But, if the federal judge in the Jones case finds that it would require Clinton to spend weeks in court and infringe upon his official duties, the judge could delay it.
Really, there is little chance that this case will come to trial before the end of Clinton’s term. Legal analysts predict Clinton’s lawyers can tie up the courts long enough by filing other motions to delay the case and Jones’ attorneys have already released conditions for settlement.
Regardless of the judicial standing of the case, it is a good test about how much we should protect our executive officer.
As tacky as this Jones case seems to be, it really deserves to be in trial now, not later. If Clinton used his status as governor to summon low wage-earning state employee Jones to his hotel room, he deserves to be sued for sexual harassment just like any other politician.
And unlike other tabloid rumors of sexual flings surrounding Clinton in 1992, the Jones case raises questions about a misuse of power.
Like it or not, sex can be political. Sex cost Gary Hart the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when reporters wrote about his extramarital affairs. It caused political uproar about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. And despite other brushed-off cases like Gennifer Flowers, Clinton’s alleged sexual encounter with Jones is coming back to haunt him politically.
Unlike France and the United Kingdom, extramarital affairs can ruin a political career in the United States because many Americans think they are a strong reflection of one’s character.
For years Americans have reacted to sex scandals in politics like a judgmental church lady. Any politician caught red-handed has felt the sting of the slap on the hand: Shame on you! You’re not getting my vote, you sinner!
Maybe it’s time we confront how important sexual or personal aspects are in a politician’s life. In voting for a political candidate, do we weigh equally his or her voting record, education, experience and position on issues as much as the candidate’s sexual exploits?
That question may be answered only on an individual level — and by our justice system.
True, the Supreme Court’s ruling could open an entirely new can of worms in the political realm to see how many lawsuits a party can launch at the president. I can foresee political party strategists rubbing their hands right now, planning how many stink bomb lawsuits they can throw on a president once they take their oaths.
Admittedly, this is an embarrassing scenario to envision, and another potential route to more dirty politics. But the discretion of a federal judge to decide whether a president can dedicate time to a particular trial might allay some of these speculations. And just because a lawsuit is filed does not mean that it goes to trial or has merit.
As for those who argue it would distract the president from his duties as a leader, I think we can have faith in federal judges to decide if the time dedication would be too costly. In the Whitewater case, the court that ruled Clinton and Hillary Clinton did not have privilege in testifying. I think that trial took a few days of the first couple’s time, and we didn’t go to nuclear war. If the court can decide that Clinton can testify as a witness while in office, then he should also defend himself in the Paula Jones case.
If Clinton is cleared of allegations in court, it will be Jones who looks stupid and the Republicans who pushed her into it that look childish. But if the president is found responsible, and he lied to the American public about his involvement with her, then Americans have to weigh the issue for themselves.
As we all know, there are really two judgments in a high profile case: the judicial judgment and the public judgment. Both could be equally liberating or condemning.
The Paula Jones case represents the soap opera of sex and politics we Americans seem to love and hate. It’s a high-profile judgment about sex and power, lies and adultery. In terms of public issues and media frenzies, it’s really ugly. And even though it involves our president, it’s the American way.

This is Sara’s last column for the quarter as she will be reporting for the Pioneer Press this summer.
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