By Lloyd Grove
Yesterday was no day at the beach for the enemies of President Clinton.
Unless, of course, we're talking about Omaha Beach.
The stunning ruling of U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, dismissing plaintiff Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton, landed with all the force of an exploding artillery shell, leaving Clinton's antagonists shocked and dazed.
From archenemy Cliff Jackson the Arkansas lawyer who orchestrated Jones's first news conference at a 1994 conclave of conservative activists to rank-and-file Clinton haters venting their spleens on the World Wide Web, the reaction was one of confusion abroad in the land.
Jackson, for one, sounded a tad subdued.
"Do I have any regrets from having her [Jones] at the press conference?" he mused in a telephone interview. "I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. Although I've been portrayed as a Clinton archenemy and nemesis, I, like the rest of the American people, have mixed feelings about this man. ... I'm not surprised at the ruling. He has a way of dodging the consequences of his actions."
Jackson, who was instrumental in bringing to light the charges of draft evasion during the 1992 campaign, added: "The summary judgment simply fuels the fires of certain conspiratorialists who will read something into the abrupt settlement. ... My view is that to the extent that this is interpreted by the males of America as a message to them, particularly men in positions of power, it tells them that without consequence and with impunity, they can grope or expose themselves or otherwise harass women in the workplace as long as it is only one time, she says no and he accepts her answer."
"Judge Susan Webber Wright ought to be impeached along with Bill Clinton," said professional Clinton-basher Floyd Brown, minutes before going on the air in Seattle with his syndicated call-in radio show. "Frankly, Clinton asked Paula Jones to 'kiss it' and now the legal system has told her to 'kiss off.' "
Brown added: "I am absolutely outraged, and so are my listeners. Our phones are ringing off the hook. The people think that this is part of a coverup."
Republican media consultant Craig Shirley, a foxhole buddy of Brown's in the anti-Clinton movement, sounded bewitched and bothered.
"The Great Prevaricator spits the hook again," Shirley said. But he couldn't resist a little acrobatic spin to accentuate the positive. "The whole thing's been thrown out, but this is actually worse for Clinton," he ventured. "Had he gone to trial, a lot of people think he had a chance to prevail. But now it looks like he made a deal, that the fix was in, and Paula Jones becomes a martyr around his neck for the rest of his life. I'm serious!"
Shirley went on sunnily: "Republican direct-mail fund-raising is gonna go wild." But he added sourly: "What this means is that Clinton can start dating again."
Republican activist James "Justice Jim" Johnson, a longtime Clinton enemy and former justice on Arkansas' state supreme court, seemed nervous and depressed.
"I've made it a policy not to react," Johnson said without affect. "They have already declared that we are all a part of a right-wing conspiracy if we don't take some blame for the president's misdeeds. For that reason, please let this cup pass from me. All right?" And then he abruptly rang off.
Lucianne Goldberg, the literary agent-scandal impresario who brokered Clinton accuser Linda Tripp's 15 minutes of fame, said she wasn't surprised by the ruling.
"I am not a lawyer, but I always thought it was shaky legally, because I didn't think [Jones] was damaged. ... The people who were angry about Clinton already will just get angrier." As for Goldberg: "I can't get any angrier than I already am."
On the Internet, a typical Clinton detractor wrote: "The Lying Bastard is going to slide all the way to the end."
Another correspondent attacked Wright: "Is there anything women will not do for this sleazeball? Unbelievable."
Yet another claimed to have had a telephone conversation yesterday with Jones.
She "only had about one minute to talk to me today," wrote "Doug from Upland." "She is absolutely devastated at today's ruling. There was pain in her voice as she asked, 'How could they do this?' "
Seemingly more in sorrow than in anger, Jackson said: "There's a great ambivalence in America about Bill Clinton. I sense that in myself. He has the capacity to do such good. On the other hand, there are these imperfections of character and tragic flaws."
Staff writer Annie Groer and researcher Robert Thomason contributed to this report.
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