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A National Soap Opera Finally Comes to a Close

Paula Jones case: So she told the truth. So the president lied. So what?

November 15, 1998|JAMES P. PINKERTON | James P. Pinkerton is a lecturer at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. E-mail: pinkerto@ix.netcom.com

It's as if the whole case of Jones vs. Clinton has been just a dream; sort of like the 1985-86 season of "Dallas," when a whole year of Texas-sized prime time soap operatics turned out to be nothing more than Pam's dream.

And so Paula Jones' legal case against the president, filed in April 1994, seems to have come to nothing. Over the course of the past 55 months, there were many occasions in which the case could have been settled. But Jones proved to be a stubborn plaintiff, and her lawyers and advisors seemed torn between the conflicting goals of extracting as much money as possible and sticking it to Bill Clinton politically.

As for Clinton's defenders--Bob Bennett on the legal side and James Carville on the gut-punching side--they seemed more anxious to plow Jones under than to make the case against their client go away. And so, as the case stretched out, young Monica Lewinsky made her fabled trip east from Lewis & Clark college to the White House, where she delivered her first fateful pizza to Clinton in the Oval Office in November 1995.

When Lewinsky was finally lassoed into the Jones case, this past January, the resulting tumble of tapes and testimony spilled into the Drudge Report, then Newsweek and then into a worldwide woodpile, unleashing one of the great firestorms in American political history. At the time, Sam Donaldson of ABC's "This Week" predicted that Clinton's presidency would be over "in days," and many other pundits, including this one, couldn't imagine Clinton surviving for the remainder of his presidency,

But Clinton set his jaw, lied on television, and the country rallied to him. By the time that Clinton had to admit his lie, it was August. By then, the Republicans were in the process of so overplaying their hand--and Americans were getting so tired of the story--that a backlash set in and the Democrats scored an astonishing midterm election victory that rocked analysts and rolled Newt Gingrich out of his job. After that, the GOP had little interest any more in the Jones case.

And so this was a good time for Clinton to settle. He's seemingly as strong as he's ever been. Buoyed by a rising-tide economy, he can concentrate on the traditional work of second-term presidents: dealing with foreign military crises, going on overseas trips to parley at the summit of world power. And Clinton no doubt figures he can count on the reindicted Webster Hubbell to "roll over" once again.

As for Jones, she is technically $850,000 richer, although it's hard to see how she'll ever collect much of that money by the time her lawyers get through liening her. And with the country tired of presidential sex stories, it's far from certain that she'll reap much on the book/lecture circuit, even if she were interested.

It's probably best for Jones if she retreats now, back into obscurity. She will be remembered as a truth teller--more so than Anita Hill--but also as an opportunist who let her cause be politicized. But most of all, Americans will be glad they can finally awaken from this long, scandalous dream. People know about Clinton, and they don't seem to mind. But Jones does have that new nose. And nobody can take that away.

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