Sen. Bob Packwood is under fire at home and in the U.S. Senate, accused of harassing women in his office. They were his employees or lobbyists, women whose livelihood depended on not offending him. The charges, if true, indicate a bullying abuse of power.
Senator Packwood has, in effect, admitted his guilt -- saying that he did not realize his advances were "discomforting" or "embarrassing," and that he was probably acting under the influence of too much alcohol. Those excuses are classic and lame. As his hometown newspaper, the Portland Oregonian, has put it, the charges, some by anonymous women but some by women willing to come forward, "go beyond 'womanizing.' " And he was indeed misbehaving over a long period of years because of alcohol, then, as the Oregonian has also said, he has another problem that raises questions about his suitability for office.
Maryland's Sen. Barbara Mikulski says the ethics committee should look into the charges against Mr. Packwood. We agree. When Congress comes into session next year, there will be at least two vacancies on the committee. One of them should go to a woman. Sen.-elect Patty Murray of Washington would be a good choice. She is replacing Sen. Brock Adams, who did not seek re-election when several women accused him of sexual misconduct.
Senator Packwood might not be coming back to the Senate, either, if Washington journalists had exposed his behavior in a timely fashion. If the Washington Post, which was alerted to the Packwood story last September, had not waited till Nov. 22 to print it, there is a very good chance Oregon voters would have voted him out on Nov. 3. He won by only 52-48 percent as it was.
The Senate may breed a disproportionate amount of sexual abuse because it is even more male (98 percent in the past) than most institutions and corporations, and, especially, because victims must take their complaints to an in-Senate board rather than going directly to federal court and filing suit under civil rights laws. Whatever the outcome of a Senate Ethics Committee's investigation of the Packwood case, or even if he resigns, thus avoiding a committee investigation, the next Senate should definitely bring itself under the same laws against harassment that apply elsewhere.