Sexual harassment Wyoming-style was on display at the Thomas hearings when that state's junior senator, Alan K. Simpson (R), politically assaulted Anita Hill. At the Judiciary Committee hearings Saturday, he took to the lowest of low roads for the sleaze of hit-and-run innuendo.
"I really am getting stuff over the transom about Professor Hill," he began. "I've got letters hanging out of my pocket. I've got faxes. I've got statements from Tulsa saying: Watch out for this woman."
The context for the senator's friendly little smear was a tirade about "this sexual harassment crap." With the dialogue elevated to those heights, Simpson let his comments about Hill hang there, like an airborne virus about to infect the population below. Simpson didn't offer a definition of "this woman," but it was given to everyone to understand that the folks back in Oklahoma knew something about the wicked Hill that dupes inside the Beltway didn't. Nor did Simpson reach for any of those letters "hanging out" of his pocket.
An apology is owed to Hill by Simpson, who has a history -- back home and in Washington -- of oratorical wildness, otherwise known as running off at the mouth. His smearing of Hill was unmanly. She was absent, unable to challenge the senator face to face or demand that he back up his bullying.
Would Simpson have been as bold had Anita Hill still sat at the witness table? Or if she were a fellow senator? Or a man? Not likely. Political harassment, like sexual harassment, demands powerless victims, ones who probably won't fight back. It was exactly that -- Hill's coming forth to challenge the might of Clarence Thomas and his White House patrons -- that roused the ire of Simpson. In the patriarchal culture that is the U.S. Senate -- 98 percent male -- Simpson had the safest of all contexts in which to bully.
So did Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). The Pennsylvanian labeled Hill "a flat-out perjurer." Hatch portrayed her as a deviant who lifted from "The Exorcist" to attack Thomas.
Beating up on Hill was of such pleasure that pummelings to other absentees became the Republican committee members' way of finding the truth. Hatch denounced those "slick liberal lawyers" who opposed Thomas, as against, presumably, all those unslick conservative lawyers who favored him. He railed against People for the American Way and other sinister forces who had dared exercise their constitutional rights to petition the government.
Simpson, Hatch and Specter were out of control. But it was committee chair Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) who let the bullies have their way. He should have gaveled them to silence when their questioning ended and speechifying began. Biden is a motor-mouth babbler who lacked self-control, which means that a license to irrelevancies, no matter how hurtful, must extend to every member.
Even if Anita Hill were lying through every tooth in her head, the smearing she suffered was undeserved. She offered a powerful and plausible case that Thomas's sexual harassment had in fact happened, and she impressed many with her testimony that she was hurt by it. Should the time come to argue that she was politically harassed by Simpson, Hatch and Specter, she'd have ample proof. The whole country could corroborate.