As every alert American has noticed, feminist leaders have jumped to the defense of President Clinton ever since he was first accused of sexually abusing a young woman who thought she was invited to see the then-governor for a talk, perhaps about a job. In doing so, they have made a remarkable reversal of the standards for sexual propriety which they had furiously demanded for the last three decades. Once their cry had been “Believe the woman,” no matter what the evidence.

Once they had declared, and worked to have written into law, that any sexual relation between a superior and an inferior was by definition abusive because the victim could not safely decline. The imbalance of power, so they plausibly argued, made consensual sex impossible—and they did not spare even the pro-abortion Sen. Robert Packwood for pressing himself, and not just his intentions, upon women in his office. (His being a Republican, and therefore on many issues a political enemy, presumably lost him their support.)

But those were the days of “consciousness-raising,” a phrase with the pleasing implication that those who did not agree with them had low, probably subterranean, consciousnesses. These “are the new days of consciousness-lowering,” as Noemie Emery wrote in the Weekly Standard, when feminist leaders tell women

to unlearn everything they knew. They are being told now that the accused male merits the presumption of innocence; that without absolute proof, the man’s word is valid; that if it’s an old story, it no longer has meaning; and that a rape charge shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the career of a prominent man.

Even before the latest revelation, the spokeswomen of American feminism had, to a woman, sided with the President and against the women who accused him—women whose testimony they would have accepted without question had it been directed at one of their enemies, as they accepted without question Anita Hill’s story of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas.

Interviewed in the New York Observer, a group of prominent feminist writers cheered on the President’s affair with Miss Lewinsky, one famously announcing that she would herself enliven President Clinton’s day as a reward for his having kept abortion legal. Others made similar offers and expressed some envy for the young intern’s closeness to power.

The group included Erica Jong, who, with her novel Fear of Flying, proved that you could make a best-seller out of a few banal ideas as long as you were the first woman to put so much sex in a book and your banal ideas were the sort—”sex is fun and liberating too”—that the public seemed to want to have articulated in a (supposedly) serious book. She thought the President’s intimate hours with an intern, gross imbalance of power though it was, were just wonderful.

Conservatives have jumped on this point, but in the wider world of the dominant media, which is usually so eager to expose hypocrisy, not a word was said of it. A writer in the New York Observer came close in a story titled “N.Y. Feminists Stand by Their Bill,” but after admitting that the feminist leaders’ critics had a “valid point”—a phrase journalists use before dismissing an argument as trivial or irrelevant—he declared that the point “is by now so obvious and so worn with repetition as to waste the words of those who make it.”

The religious world has its own examples of this remarkable reversal of principle. At last summer’s Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops, the sexual liberationism of the Western liberals was trounced by the determined opposition of African and Asian bishops — some of whom have received a goodly amount of money from those Western liberals, and will presumably do so no longer.

Barbara Harris, the suffragan bishop of Massachusetts, who is herself black and a great advocate of sexual “diversity,” announced that the African bishops had been bought off with “chicken dinners.” (She really did.) Harris had made her pre-episcopal career on righteous indignation, and had anyone else used such a racial, if not racist, stereotype, she would have howled with outrage—and howled and howled and howled—and howled and howled and howled.

Other liberal bishops have offended even more grossly against the hitherto required deference to racial sensitivity and multiculturalism. The bishop of Arizona, who is white, declared that the African bishops “want to condemn homosexuality quite soundly while turning a blind eye to the instances of polygamy, tribalism, genocide and even female mutilation in their own culture,” and the bishop of Rhode Island announced that the Africans had taken money (meaning bribes) from American bishops. (She apparently assumed that, had they not been bribed, they would have voted with her and the other Western liberals.) Other liberal bishops have spoken in similar ways, without one word of criticism from any other American liberal.

But as with President Clinton, so with the bishops: The revelation that their claims to complete moral enlightenment are bogus will have no effect on their power or on their confidence. They are still in office, still in control, and still, on all other matters, particularly innovations in the sexual order, insisting on building the new kingdom of sexual diversity which, they think, only reactionaries and homophobes would resist.

So, as it turns out, the last remaining feminists seem to be moral conservatives, who think the imbalance of power argument true but would have called a man who desired sex of his secretary a creep and a worm long before any feminist thought up the charge.

Conservatives would also say, while the feminist establishment would not, that even two people of equal status should stay out of bed with one another unless they are married. This rule, had the sexual liberals not removed it, would have helped protect the secretary by giving her a transcendent reason to reject her boss’s advances. The traditional moral canon is, if you will, a feminist statement.

There is an advantage to having a fixed moral code: Our standards would not change if the sexual predator were our political ally. The man with a fixed moral code cannot look as self-serving, unstable, and unprincipled as feminist leaders look—or, to be precise, have revealed themselves to be. (Such a man may be a hypocrite, certainly, but that only means that he can be called to account in a way the relativist cannot be.)

Our feminist leaders and liberal bishops do have a fixed desire, if not a fixed principle. They insist on the absolute necessity of affirming almost any sexual activity anyone prefers. (Sex with children is, for the moment, still unacceptable, but there are some on the fringes of liberalism who propose even that.) Episcopal bishops may place a few more restrictions than the feminists by requiring that such activity be “life-enhancing” and “mutual” and perhaps even “monogamous” (an ambiguous word, these days, meaning only “for a period of time”).

This explains the feminist who would gladly service President Clinton to reward him for his support for abortion, because abortion must be legal in the sexually unfettered world she desires. It explains the American bishops’ assault on the African bishops, because the sexually libertine insist not only on having their way, but on having their way approved by others.

Perhaps a psychologist should investigate, because it all looks ver’ much like an addiction. Only an addiction—for both ideology and disordered sexuality enslave the will—can explain why the feminists and the bishops transgress the liberal pieties.