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`Vamp’ returns to Clinton melodrama

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If the Supreme Court did anything sure to impact in a negative way the life of every American, it did so on the last day of its 1997-98 term. It breathed an ever so infinitesimal molecule of new energy into the lawsuit by the vamp queen of American politics and ridicule: Paula Corbin Jones.

Just when you thought you'd seen the last of that gum-champing, polyester-covered, overly made-up vamp, here she is coming at us again.The court's ruling was judicially remote from the fact pattern in Jones' concocted legal case against the president. But that will not stop her or her Scaife Foundation-subsidized legal team from attempting to use a ruling by the justices on the issue of sexual harassment to try to breathe new life into her failed case.

Ah, yes. We were all so relieved that we were no longer being besieged by the likes of Jones and her equally unappealing "mah jongg lady" of a mouthpiece, Susan Carpenter McMillan (formerly a flack for anti-abortion causes in Southern California). The pair vanished from media omnipresence overnight. All those grasping attempts at short-lived fame that Jones and McMillan cultivated with great cunning, leading them to cover after cover of the National Enquirer, left the television screens of a grateful American population.

Meanwhile, we, the defenseless American public, were thrilled to be able, once more, to look at the front pages of newspapers, turn on our tubes and return to the land of actual news. No more media frenzy over Paula.

Well, unfortunately, our relief has been interrupted.

The justices ruled in a case from Illinois that employers can be held liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by supervisors on lower level employees, even if the employees bringing suit suffered no actual damage at the hands of the harasser. In theory, there is a smidgen of relevance to Paula Jones' claim. But in fact the two are quite different.

Let me enumerate how:

- Kimberly Ellerth, the plaintiff in the Burlington Industries case was, harassed "constantly" over the 14-month tenure of her employment. She repeatedly warned her boss, Ted Slowik, that he was out of line and he repeatedly told her to "loosen up." Even taken at her own dubious word, Paula Jones was harassed one time and never again.

- Slowik threatened Ellerth with real consequences in terms of her job tenure at Burlington Industries. Even according to Jones, Clinton never did any such thing.

- Burlington Industries never denied that the claimed offenses took place. President Clinton says, essentially, Paula Jones made the whole thing up.

So in the short term, as Jones' suit wends its way through the appeals process, we will once again be forced to turn off the tube or toss out the newspaper when coverage is once again dominated by fights between her supporters and detractors.

But there is a modicum of good news here. The justices also ruled that employers can more easily defend against sexual harassment lawsuits by showing they have strict rules against on-the-job discrimination and working procedures employees can follow to report such abuses.

Paula Jones never reported her allegations to the state of Arkansas. She kept silent until Clinton was president so the public relations value of her lawsuit would skyrocket in value to conservative groups which sustain her. And because she waited so long to file her suit, she could not bring her claim under the civil rights laws at issue in the Supreme Court ruling.

So take heart, America: Yes, she'll be omnipresent in the media once more. But it will not last long. And she'll lose, as she ever-so deservingly should, in the end.