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A sense of proportionality

Posted By Sarah J. McCarthy On 09/28/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

It’s more than a little ironic that so many liberal Democrats have been heard on talk shows recently pleading for a “sense of proportionality” regarding the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. The champions of sexual harassment law — those who crusaded for million dollar punitive damage fines and jury trials for sexual harassers, those who strenuously argued that powerful males having sex with young subservient females was inherently exploitative — are now telling us that it’s okay for the President of the United States to be sexually serviced by an infatuated young intern. Liberals, lawyers and feminists who previously demanded that a crude joke or two should result in the rejection of a Supreme Court nominee are now arguing that it’s not only acceptable to have power-imbalanced sexual relations in the workplace, but that it’s also OK to lie about it under oath in a sexual harassment trial.

Senator George McGovern, quivering with indignation on Fox TV, is incensed about what he calls “the sex police” running loose in our land, invading the privacy of the president. The Senator makes an excellent point. How did the United States become the kind of country where the president is subjected to the degradation of having his body fluids and sexual apparatus investigated for “distinguishing characteristics”? Such a humiliating spectacle, in which the entire nation, yea the entire world, have become unwilling witnesses, can be beneficial to no one.

Former New York Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, a legal expert who is currently working on rewriting New York’s rape privacy laws, and an author of the Independent Counsel Statute, recently asserted that there’s something very wrong with our laws when a president can be hauled into court and asked personal questions of a sexual nature about a consensual relationship that the government has no right to ask.

But those accusing Ken Starr of being some sort of over-zealous keyhole peeper should remember that the avalanche of dirty laundry piling up around the White House is there solely because of the president’s reckless behavior in office and a seriously flawed sexual harassment law. The only reason Mr. Starr has the right to ask the president any question whatsoever about his sexual relationships, consensual or not, is because questions about his sexual conduct arose directly from the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.

What the champions of the current sexual harassment laws are now witnessing is the predictable outcome of their overly punitive quest to eliminate all questionable sexuality from the workplace. Investigations by the sex police are inevitably what a country gets when it drags hundreds of thousands of dollars in punitive damage fines for sexual harassment through corporate and political America.

When personal injury lawyers are set loose in the land charged with the job of uncovering “patterns of harassment in the workplace,” as they have been since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 — the legislation that first permitted jury trials and huge punitive fines in cases of harassment — they are every bit as zealous in pursuing their targets as is Ken Starr. With huge cash incentives, they’re authorized to sift through mounds of workplace dirty laundry, checking all sexual relationships, including consensual ones, to discover the ones that may qualify as harassment, or simply those that can be used as “perjury traps,” or as legal blackmail. The laundry bag will include not only the sexual histories of the victim and the accused, but that of co-workers, bosses and anyone else who becomes a witness for either side.

In a sexual harassment trial I attended in Pittsburgh, even the bread deliveryman was dragged in and falsely accused of bringing porno magazines, along with hoagie buns, into the workplace. At the very least, the law provides for shakedowns where lawyers demand large amounts of cash to keep all sorts of spillover issues like adultery, alcoholism, domestic violence, video rentals, pornography and drug use out of court and off the front pages.

“Recent Supreme court rulings on sexual harassment not only increase the burdens on employers, but could well turn the American workplace into the most highly regulated in the world,” says The Economist magazine. “So much for the land of the free.”

For years, lawyers and judges have sat as silent witnesses, watching as these shamefests destroyed the privacy rights, free speech, property rights, workplaces and the very lives of American citizens, and have done nothing to stop them. If the destruction of marriages, reputations, jobs, businesses and privacy has not inspired the legal system into reforming the destructive and brutal process that it has devised, perhaps the destruction of a presidency will.

If there is any good to come from the current presidential scandal, it is that the American people now have had an up-close and personal look at a fairly typical sexual harassment case. If McGovern and Holtzman care to find out, they would discover that the president’s case is not unlike the scenarios enacted on a daily basis in workplaces and courtrooms across America, differing only in the amount of publicity. On the grounds of protecting people from humiliation at work, the law now regularly engages in the public humiliation, or the threat of public humiliation, of nearly everyone involved, including the victim of harassment.

Sen. McGovern suggests that instead of public debacles such as the current one involving the president, private ethics committees, such as the ones that Congress has arranged for itself, should be established for the executive branch. A degree of privacy and a “sense of proportionality” is indeed what is needed to restrain the brutal mechanism that American harassment law has become, and that sense of proportion should extend far beyond the presidency and out into the rest of this nation’s workplaces.


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