Conservative Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) is sporting a new lapel button these days: "I Believe Paula."
Liberal Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), meanwhile, voices undisguised disgust at what he says is the spectacle of the President being pilloried in the press by an accuser whose chief motive may be money.
The unprecedented lawsuit filed against President Clinton by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who claims that she was sexually harassed by Clinton when he was governor, has reversed the roles played by liberals and conservatives during the Anita Faye Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy during his confirmation hearing as a Supreme Court justice in 1991.
In that struggle, women's groups and liberals rallied to defend Hill, a University of Oklahoma law school professor, in her allegations of sexual harassment against the conservative nominee.
Now, though, liberals seem desperate to erase the parallels between Jones and Hill as quickly as gleeful conservatives can draw them. And it is clear that neither side is comfortable with the ideological role reversal as they trade charges of hypocrisy and accuse one another of having double standards on the issue of sexual harassment. For their part, women's groups have been tepid in their response to Jones' allegations.
Women's groups and liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill accuse conservatives like Dornan of exploiting Jones' allegations to undermine the President and exact political revenge for the wounds inflicted on Thomas in 1991.
Although Thomas was subsequently confirmed, it is widely assumed that Hill's allegations of sexual harassment--initially made in confidence to the Senate Judiciary Committee--were leaked by liberal staff members hoping to derail his appointment.
Conservatives do not deny that there is an element of sweet political revenge in some of their attacks. "Hey, it's pay-back time!" an aide to one GOP House member said. But they maintain that it is the liberal lawmakers and left-of-center women's groups that are, in Dornan's words, "guilty of the real hypocrisy" for taking Jones' credibility less seriously than Hill's.
"Anita Hill's allegations were entry-level compared to what Jones" has accused Clinton of doing, Dornan said. Yet the muted reaction of women's groups shows "they are tortured over something and not telling the truth," he declared.
That truth, according to Dornan, "is that Bill Clinton is the most pro-abortion President in 200 years and they (women's groups) find themselves caught between a pro-abortion rock and the worst type of sexual harassment in the nation."
Women's groups did not deny that the liberal bent of most feminists makes them less inclined to rush to Jones' defense when Democrats like Metzenbaum--who was a strong supporter of Hill's--question her credibility and motives. But they insisted that there are major differences between the two cases.
"Hill's complaints against Thomas were leaked because the Senate Judiciary Committee wouldn't consider them, and that led to the impression that they were trying to sweep things under the rug," noted Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women.
But Jones' allegations are receiving a public airing and her complaint has been filed in a federal district court, where they will be dealt with through the judicial process, Ireland said.
The fact that Jones' sister has publicly suggested that money may be a motive in the suit, which seeks $750,000 in damages, has undermined her credibility, Metzenbaum contended.
"With Hill, there was never any suggestion of money, and so it is really a disgrace to compare the two cases because they are about as different as the North and the South Pole," he said.