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Women's Advocates Offer Clinton Support

Politics: They seek an end to impeachment proceedings, say GOP election sweep would imperil feminist programs.

September 25, 1998|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Women's rights advocates called on Congress Thursday to halt its impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

Decrying the "hypocritical voyeurism" of the GOP-led Congress, they urged like-minded voters to get to the polls in November to avoid a Republican sweep that would endanger feminist programs.

"If disgust with the current crisis depresses women's votes in November, we will see an anti-women's rights majority in Congress roll back the gains for women of the past 30 years," said a joint statement released Thursday by 15 feminist and civil rights organizations. "We call on women to raise their voices to protest this assault on fairness and the democratic process and to let the Congress know how strongly we oppose impeachment."

While the women activists condemned Clinton for his adulterous relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, they argued that his behavior did not rise to the level of high crimes or misdemeanors necessary to remove him from office.

"Women are angry and do not condone his conduct. Women want President Clinton to remain in office," the statement said. "We believe, and the women of the nation concur, that Mr. Clinton's actions are not impeachable."

Since the scandal broke in January, critics have attacked feminist groups for applying a double standard. Some of the same organizations that have been silent about Clinton's behavior were among the first to complain about allegations of sexual misconduct raised against conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.).

But Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, said such complaints are misguided because women activists recognize a difference between unwanted sexual harassment, like that alleged against Thomas, and consensual sex, as in the Clinton-Lewinsky case. "The situation [involving Thomas] doesn't even compare to impeaching a president and overturning an election," Smeal said.

Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, said she and other women have criticized Clinton's behavior during the yearlong scandal. But as Republican leaders in Congress make plans to schedule a vote on impeachment hearings, she said, women activists believed that it was time to rally their supporters and to speak up in defense of Clinton.

"This president was our best option in '92," she said. "This president was the best option in '96. But we never thought he was the answer to our dreams."

Nevertheless, she continued, "on balance women have had an ally in the White House. If this reactionary campaign succeeds, the unfinished agenda of women on equality, in Social Security, pay equity, child care, anti-poverty remedies, minimum wage, Medicare, real campaign finance reform . . . will continue to languish in Congress."

Pointing to public opinion polls that show women giving overwhelming approval for Clinton's job performance, Ireland said in an interview that women are rallying around the president because he is under attack from the same people who oppose most of the issues her organization supports.

"We see the opponents of Clinton who have long been the opponents to women's issues," she said.

Betty Friedan, a founder of the modern feminist movement, decried what she called a "sexual McCarthyism" running rampant in Washington. "I have thought for some time that sex is going to take the place of the Cold War," she said. "It does not serve women to try to hound this president out of office. . . . It does not serve women to focus so much attention even on sexual content while the real obscenities are poverty and violence."

The group also expressed concern that, if Clinton were removed from office, Republicans would not stop there. The GOP would next move to depose his successor, Vice President Al Gore, they said.

"Women should be asking the question, 'Who's on third?' " the statement said. "Who is next in the line of succession? Next in line is speaker of the House Newt Gingrich."

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