SANDY DAVIDSON: The different faces of debauchery among our leaders


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Sandy Davidson is a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and a Curators’ Teaching Professor at MU and is an attorney for the Missourian.

Brett Kavanaugh was a member of Ken Starr’s team that pushed for Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He wanted tough, detailed questioning of the beleaguered president.

In August, the National Archives released a letter from Kavanaugh to Starr that began, “After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any ‘break’ in the questioning regarding the details of the Lewinsky relationship ... .”

On Aug. 17, 1998, during Clinton’s sworn grand jury testimony, deputy independent counsel asked, “Were you physically intimate with Monica Lewinsky?”

Putting glasses on the end of his nose, Clinton read a short statement saying he didn’t have “sexual relations” with Lewinsky as he understood that term. But he admitted, “I engaged in conduct that was wrong.”

Counsel asked Clinton a series of questions, such as whether Lewinsky would be lying if she said Clinton touched her breasts or genitalia, “used a cigar as a sexual aid with her in the Oval Office area,” or had “phone sex” with her. It’s cringeworthy.

Clinton’s face revealed his embarrassment and mental gymnastics.

“I’m not going to answer your trick questions,” he said.

He was walking a tightrope, with another rope around his neck to hang him if he fell.

Kathleen Willey had claimed that Clinton sexually assaulted her in the Oval Office area in November 1993, and counsel asked Clinton explicit questions about his alleged groping of Willey.

It was Clinton’s alleged perjury when asked about Lewinsky during depositions in the Paula Jones suit that led to his impeachment. Jones sued Clinton in Arkansas for alleged sexual harassment of her in May 1991 while he was governor and she was a state employee.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Clinton v. Jones in May 1997 that a sitting president can indeed be sued while in office for unrelated acts committed before taking office.

In January 1999, Clinton paid Jones $850,000 to settle the suit.

Additionally, Juanita Broaddrick claimed Clinton raped her in 1978 when he was Arkansas’ attorney general.

Jennifer Flowers, allegedly Clinton’s consensual lover for 12 years, flaunted their relationship. Clinton denied the time length but during the grand jury proceedings acknowledged an affair with her.

Hillary Clinton, in a Tammy Wynette “Stand By Your Man” moment, referred to these women as “bimbo eruptions.” Her husband survived his impeachment trial in the Senate, 55-45.

Almost two decades later, Donald Trump rode down an escalator in the Trump Tower lobby to announce his presidential candidacy. He carried a lot of baggage on that ride.

As owner of the Miss Universe pageant, he apparently acted as if he owned the pageant participants, too. Allegations abound that he would walk into the participants’ dressing rooms unannounced to survey them in various stages of undress.

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels is also a player on this field of unseemly behavior. So is former Playboy playmate and “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, who’s suing Trump for defamation for denying he groped her.

But perhaps most damning was Trump in his own words on the Billy Bush tape: “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ... . I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p----. You can do anything.”

For some voters, the 2016 election was a dismal affair. No matter which side won, a sexually aggressive man would be in the White House, either as “First Spouse” or as president.

Fast forward to the Kavanaugh hearings. A catchy tautology from George Bush might be apt: “When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid.”

Apparently, some sexual debauchery is acceptable to a lot of Americans voting on the question of who should be president. But does the same apply when the question is who should have a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land?

If it were Brett Kavanaugh caught on the Billy Bush tape, wouldn’t he be roasted alive, facing fiery blasts by many Republicans as well as Democrats who would cook his chance to sit on the Supreme Court?

With the FBI probe suggested by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake completed and as senators review it, the country waits.

How much influence did the two incensed young women who confronted Jeff Flake in the elevator last Friday have on how this Kavanaugh probe progressed? Flake had announced early that morning that he would support Kavanaugh, and then came the elevator confrontation.

The women’s words were haunting. One woman said:

“I was sexually assaulted, and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them. ...

“That’s what you’re telling all of these women. That’s what you’re telling me right now. Look at me when I’m talking to you. You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, ... and that you’re going to let people who do these things into power. That’s what you’re telling me when you vote for him. Don’t look away from me. Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you’ll let people like that go into the highest court of the land ... .”

If the FBI probe turned up evidence corroborating Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault, then the young women in the elevator may turn out to be unexpected history-makers in the Kavanaugh confirmation drama.

For many women, the moment of Friday’s hearing that was most telling, however, came from Kavanaugh’s exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and a former prosecuting attorney.

Klobuchar: “So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?”

Kavanaugh: “You’re asking about blackout. I don’t know, have you?”

Klobuchar: “Could you answer the question, judge? So, ... that’s not happened? Is that your answer?”

Kavanaugh: “Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.”

Klobuchar: “I have no drinking problem, judge.”

Kavanaugh: “Nor do I.”

Granted, Kavanaugh had been through a meat grinder of a day, but his disrespectful treatment of Klobuchar arguably put in question his claim to a judicial temperament.

Later that day, Kavanaugh apologized to Klobuchar. But unringing a bell is impossible.

The next morning on “CBS This Morning,” Klobuchar said of Kavanaugh, “I was thinking that if I was in his courtroom and acted like that, he would have thrown me out.”

Sandy Davidson, Ph.D., J.D., teaches communications law at the Missouri School of Journalism. She is a Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor and the attorney for the Columbia Missourian.

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