Strike One, Strike Two… and NOW?

Jeffrey D. Schultz

March 1, 1998

Anyone who missed this past Sunday’s 60 Minutes in which Kathleen Willey recounts her encounter with President Bill Clinton needs to find someone like me who has taped it for posterity and watched it several times. Willey’s account is a startling look at a “reckless” man driven by his sexual desires, a theme not uncommon to men of power.

Willey tells of going to the President in a moment of crisis—she was in a desperate financial situation and her husband was in deep legal trouble and on the verge of suicide. Bill Clinton took advantage of this moment of vulnerability to attempt a sexual conquest. After her initial rejection—she pushed him away—he continued his advance.

Bob Bennett, Clinton’s lawyer, responded to the charges saying that Willey was lying. His performance was thoroughly unconvincing. Why? Well for starters, he cannot answer the fundamental question of why Willey would lie about the President. After all, Willey had been a political supporter, donor and volunteer; and she had been forced to testify about the incident.

What has been most interesting in this evolving tale is the response of the leading women’s organization in the country—the leading advocates of holding men of power responsible for sexual harassment. Where is the National Organization for Women?

When Paula Jones came forward with her story, NOW and its leaders dismissed her and her claims—mostly because they did not like the company she kept. Jones, who had sought the support of women’s groups, turned to conservatives when she was rebuked by feminists. While NOW did not call Jones “trailer trash” as Presidential Adviser James Carville had, its rebuke of Jones set the first of several double standards that NOW has continued to hold in regard to President Clinton. It seems from the Jones incident that unless one is a professional woman akin to Anita Hill, one’s complaints do not have merit. Strike One.

When the young Monica Lewinsky was thrust into the limelight, NOW’s President Patricia Ireland stated on one of the Sunday morning political shows that since any encounter between the President and Ms. Lewinsky was consensual, it was beyond reproach. Putting aside the issue of marital infidelity, one has to be concerned about NOW’s consensual double standard. Prior to Monicagate, NOW’s position had been that a subordinate/superior relationship was never consensual because of the element of power—especially a relationship that pits someone against a Texas Senator and nominee for Secretary of Defense like John Tower.

I suppose that the reason its okay in Monica’s case is that it has been alleged that she has a history of sleeping her way to the top. Ms. Ireland’s announcement of this double standard was met with the Northern Virginia chapter of NOW withdrawing from the parent organization. It seems from the Lewinsky incident that its okay to use power to get sex as long as the weaker party has a “history” of exchanging sex for other benefits. Strike Two.

Kathleen Willey—a contemporary of both Ireland and Clinton—a long-time Democratic Party supporter has come forward because she cannot stand the lies anymore. Her account is the most devastating to the President because it avoids the first two scenarios of Jones and Lewinsky and goes to the heart of sexual harassment. When Bob Packwood chased a secretary or an aide around a Senate desk, NOW charged in and demanded his immediate resignation. The organization mobilized the faithful to take to the streets, the corridors of power and the airwaves denouncing Packwood.

Ireland stated after seeing Willey’s 60 Minutes interview that if what Willey has said is true than the President has committed sexual assault. Will Ireland mobilize the faithful again and seek the resignation of the President of the United States the same way they sought the resignation of a U.S. Senator? If not, what is the double standard that NOW can announce to justify its position? Surely, it cannot be that the charges have to be proven in a court of law. Packwood found no security in that standard. Perhaps, Ireland will announce that such charges are mitigated if the accused has performed good deeds—i.e., supported “women’s issues”—in the past. But that did not save Packwood either.

In the end, the only way that NOW can avoid the fatal third strike is to pursue the President with the zeal that it has so often shown for conservatives and Republicans. If it fails to do that, then NOW simply becomes a marginal organization that should be rebuked by women and men alike. Strike Three?

Jeffrey Schultz is an Adjunct Fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University.