We Americans are not prepared for the ramifications of the tawdry Paula Jones episode.
The Supreme Court, in ruling that nobody is above the law, has decreed that Jones, an employee of the state of Arkansas while Bill Clinton was governor, may proceed in court with her allegations that he sexually harassed her in a Little Rock hotel room on May 8, 1991. That autumn he announced for president.Thus, Clinton is set to be deposed by her lawyers and, if there is no out-of-court settlement, will be forced to stand trial as a defendant in Little Rock in May, a first in American history.
It's too bad that Jones did not go forward with her charges, if true, before Americans voted for Clinton for president in 1992, when the charge might have been settled as true or false without a sexual harassment trial of a sitting president.
Instead, she waited until a conservative magazine with an anti-Clinton agenda published a story - well after Clinton became president - alleging humiliating details. It quoted a state trooper named Danny Ferguson saying that a woman named Paula was taken to Clinton's holding room after he made a speech at the hotel because the governor had spotted her and was interested in her.
The magazine quoted the trooper as saying that Jones was only briefly in the room and came out saying that she could be the governor's girlfriend. At that point, Jones, by then married and a mother and living in California, said she was afraid that her friends would get the wrong idea and that her reputation would be tarnished.
So she went public with an accusation that Clinton exposed himself to her and asked for oral sex. She said she declined and left the room. Nobody else was in the room at the time, so it is, once again, a he-said, she-said contretemps. Clinton claims the incident never happened and that he never met her.
Much has been made of the belief that the media largely ignored the Jones lawsuit for months after she went public because she did not seem to be classy. If she had been a debutante daughter of a rich family, many think, she would have been believed by more people. The strange notion there, apparently, is that some in the media believe upper-class people more than working-class people.
At this point it almost doesn't matter what happens, whether Clinton is vindicated or Jones wins. Everyone has been damaged. Even the lawyers are tarnished. Two Jones' lawyers stepped aside in frustration without being paid, having demanded a medical examination of the president's private parts for "distinguishing characteristics" cited by Jones, a claim no longer being made. And Clinton's lawyer at one point drew feminist ire by threatening to use Jones' past sexual history against her.
Millions of people think Jones is telling the truth, although Clinton's popularity is still hovering around 60 percent, unusually high for any president at this point in his presidency. Despite insurance for some of the legal costs, Clinton will leave office with a huge debt.
And many also think Jones has dragged her own name through the mud by pressing forward with the case despite advice by her former lawyers that she settle.
A possible settlement to Jones in the $700,000 range and an oblique White House apology to Jones for her troubles (although Clinton steadfastly has denied any wrongdoing) was turned aside as insufficient.
The real point is that from now on, any future president almost assuredly will be sued by somebody in his or her past for some wrong or indiscretion, whether fanciful or not.
The real point is that all the world now has a smirk on its face when the names Paula Jones and Bill Clinton are mentioned.
The real point is that an IRS audit of Jones and her husband, brings into question the integrity of the government. Is political retribution a factor?
If any good can come out of this whole sleazy saga, maybe it's that would-be politicians may think twice before doing something immoral, illegal or stupid.