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A Senator Judges Himself

Sexual harassment is often ``an inherently unprovable thing one way or another,'' Sen. John Danforth says during an interview.

As Clarence Thomas's staunchest defender from the beginning, the Republican senator from Missouri refuses to engage in discussions about the guilt or innocence of his longtime friend.

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Yet Senator Danforth says he felt impelled to write ``Resurrection: The Confirmation of Clarence Thomas'' to share the lessons he learned from the experience.

``I wanted to portray as clearly and as graphically as I could what the consequences are of an effort to destroy a human being - to dig up the dirt on a person and to humiliate a person,'' the tall, easy-going senator says.

The Clarence Thomas case is not unique, Danforth argues. ``It's the worst case I've ever seen, but it's not the only time that a person has been under this kind of personal attack.''

The best antidote, Danforth argues, is ``the sense of public revulsion'' resulting from a reexamination of the events.

Throughout the book, Danforth judges himself as harshly as his Democratic colleagues, faulting himself for joining in the frenzied attack mentality. ``When there's a total breakdown of rules and due process,'' he says, ``what you're left with amounts to an alley fight. Everyone is picking up rocks and throwing them.''

Danforth admits that he engaged in rock-throwing along with the rest of them. ``I was attempting to do to Anita Hill what other people were attempting to do to Clarence Thomas,'' he says. ``Namely, put things into the public record that had not been tested.''

One of the prime motivations for writing the book was ``to see if this could bring about a change'' in the confirmation process, Danforth says. He has seen little progress in the three intervening years but holds out hope for the future.

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Danforth's decision to retire from the Senate at the end of this year had nothing to do with the Thomas-Hill case, he says.

And, unlike many of his retiring colleagues, Danforth has refused to ``dump on'' the Senate and bad-mouth Congress as he leaves.

``The decision [to retire] was made over six years ago,'' he says, ``and it was basically that I wanted to come home. I didn't want politics to consume all of my life.''

Since Danforth entered the Senate 18 years ago, the politics of Congress have changed dramatically. ``It's much more partisan now,'' he says, as one of the few staunchly moderate voices in the outgoing Congress.

Referring to previous Democratic-controlled Congresses, his explanation for the move to partisanship is two-fold. ``Part of it is that in the House, Republicans are treated like dogs,'' Danforth says. ``And when people are treated as dogs, they start biting back. That's happened in the House, and then as House Republicans got elected to the Senate, they brought the same combativeness with them.''

In addition, Danforth has watched an ongoing process of political polarization. ``The Democrats have tended to become more hard-edged liberals and the Republicans, more hard-edged conservatives,'' he says.

Is that an accurate reflection of the American people's views? ``No,'' Danforth answers. ``I think the American people are somewhere in the middle. Not to say that the entire political spectrum isn't covered by the American people; it certainly is. But the center of gravity is somewhere in the middle, and that center has not held in Congress.''

In January, Danforth will join a law firm in St. Louis and set up an interfaith organization addressing the needs of inner-city youth called Interact St. Louis. ``My hope is to tap into religious congregations as a new source of commitment and energy to help some of the good things that are already going on,'' Danforth says of the project. ``And in so doing, to build bridges between congregations and between faith groups.''

Danforth, an Episcopal priest, is the Senate's only ordained minister. And he is looking forward to getting back to church work. ``I think there are a lot of good people out there who are members of religious congregations who feel that there is a claim upon them to do something beyond their own spiritual life,'' he says. ``The question is: What can they do? What are the opportunities? What I want to do is fill that in.''

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