Sunday, January 17 1999, 6:13 PM
These past months have witnessed sexual McCarthyism take center place in American politics.
In November, as Kenneth Starr gave testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee, an increasingly antagonistic public saw a partisan sex investigation trying to scale towards the protective heights of constitutionalism. The august countenance of Henry Hyde frowned over the hearing room with the sobriety of a committee chairman trying to make the audience forget that his dick had been in other places than Missus Hyde.
Now their farce has moved on to the Senate floor. The House impeachment managers have pursued their claims on justice and constitutional rule by enumerating the number of times the President kissed Monica Lewinsky's nipples and the instances where his hand slipped into her crotch.
The hypocrisy that has been so manifest grows each day of the impeachment trial. Monica Lewinsky had oral sex with Bill Clinton and neither wanted to tell a grand jury about their enjoyments. Their sex was a private act, not a political one. Yet their sex acts have become the most politicized orgasms in American history.
A pack of baying Republicans claim that this impeachment concerns presidential perjury and cover-ups, not the sex itself.
No one believes it.
An antagonism to sex and its cultures have been instrumental in generating the politics of the New Right, of which Hyde, Starr et al. are well-formed creatures. For these politics, Clinton epitomizes the alleged sins of the nineteen-sixties — sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll — polluting the civic temple of government. To punish Clinton would be to deliver retroactive judgment on the sixties, on liberalism to the negligible degree that Clinton embodies its remnants, and on social immoralism as a whole. The civic temple would be cleansed.
Another sort of cleansing is needed though. When the Senate opened its half of the impeachment proceedings, the president pro tem administered the oath of office to the Supreme Court's chief justice. That is, a senator who ran for president in 1948 (!) on a States Rights Party platform that sought to perpetuate American apartheid swore in a justice who, as a Supreme Court clerk, wrote to defend the constitutionality of racial segregation. The Republican majority leader has close political and personal relations with a white supremacist organization, as does a leading congressman from Georgia who serves as an impeachment manager.
Who let the Ku Klux Klan mob the Senate?
The scandal lies not in private sex, but in public racism and social hypocrisy masquerading as high-minded Burkean constitutionalism. Bob Barr, who joined Henry Hyde as a leading opponent of reproductive freedom but who procured an abortion for his own wife, has complained plaintively about absent public outrage over a sex scandal. The most likeable of the House managers, folksy and appealing South Carolina congressman Lindsay Graham, actually managed to recall memories of down-home segregation and recast Clinton's refusal to broadcast his sex life as the equivalent of George Wallace standing in the University of Alabama doorway. Graham's affability almost concealed a profoundly distorted comparison while he attempted to claim the now-honorable mantle of the Civil Rights movement.
Outrage rises most from the use of sexuality and human rights double standards as vehicles for political assault, now directed against Clinton as they have long been directed against blacks, women and gays. It is no accident that the African-American political leadership has been in the forefront of Clinton's defense, well accustomed as they are to the historical exercise of these double standards against blacks. The nostrums being aired on the Senate floor over liberty and the rule of law are part of a national rhetorical tradition of praising equality while denying it.
The 1999 impeachment hearing is little more than an institutional reiteration of a much older American institution: a good ole boys lynch mob.
Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.