A scandal not at the point of critical mass


WASHINGTON -- Try as they might, President Clinton's critics cannot make much of a woman's recently surfaced allegation that 21 years ago he raped her in a hotel room and in the process bruised her lips.

There are too many problems with the story, including the fact that unlike other reports of his sexually predatory habits this involves violence, a characteristic Mr. Clinton seems not to have.

Our adulterous president wants to make love, not war.

The stale charge by Juanita Broaddrick, a woman concealed as "Jane Doe No. 5" in an appendix to independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress, is potentially sensational. Rape is definitely not consensual sex. A future president of the United States is not supposed to behave like boxer Mike Tyson.

House Republican Whip Tom DeLay alluded to Ms. Broaddrick's murky presence to energize House impeachment support and even predicted that if a majority of senators knew about her, they would convict the president. But Mr. DeLay isn't the Senate. And he certainly isn't the country.

Since Ms. Broaddrick went public with her accusation in an interview on the Wall Street Journal's anti-Clinton editorial page Feb. 19, the public has calmly managed to contain itself. Most media commentary ignored the whole thing.

Public indifference

This indifference bewilders the moral purists. Are we so bored by our exhaustive studies of the president's raging testosterone that we really mean it when we say enough is enough? Is there no point of critical mass at which a final explosion will be triggered to destroy this guy's support?

Hopefully, common sense and the facts will prevail.

The rape charge comes as an afterthought, an anticlimax. Conservatives had spread the rumor for months to influence the impeachment process, sometimes implying physical abuse far beyond a bruised lip.

By now, everything that can be done to punish a president for sexual misbehavior has already been tried on Mr. Clinton, except a criminal indictment for obstruction of justice. That may yet come after he leaves office.

No case here

But there is no criminal case to raise here, even though rape is a felony. The statute of limitations has expired. This is ancient history. The law does not pursue accused rapists into eternity, even though House Republicans may want to.

And more than a legal dodge is involved. The charge is just that -- a charge. Ms. Broaddrick herself denied a rape had occurred when she was initially subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case. She changed her story when pursued by Mr. Starr's investigators. But an FBI statement in an appendix to the Starr House report calls her account "inconclusive."

Mr. Starr and the House impeachment prosecutors had hoped Ms. Broaddrick would bolster another accusation of obstruction of justice to add to their impeachment articles. But she insisted that Mr. Clinton had never threatened retaliation or tried to influence her story in any way. So she became irrelevant to the impeachment process, and her name did not surface publicly during the trial.

Does she now become relevant to the political process of keeping alive the accumulated picture of Mr. Clinton as an immoral influence to hurt Democrats in the 2000 election?

Only if you can accept without evidence that Mr. Clinton, a man who has spent his life working to make people adore him, is really capable of physically attacking anyone. Not even Paula Jones claimed that.

Marianne Means is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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