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The silence of all the big-name women's organizations -- the ones that claim to speak on behalf of women's rights -- has been deafening during the long months since the first allegations of sexual misconduct by President Clinton.

Contrast this silent support for the president to the cacophony at the time of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings. The fevered pitch of support for Anita Hill and her still unsubstantiated allegations reached a shriek at the time. The message then of the National Organization for Women, chief among the women's organizations, was that sexual harassment or even allegations of inappropriate misconduct shouldn't be tolerated.

So what has been different about the allegations against the president that has created such a vacuum of protest by the women's organizations? Let's examine the similarities and differences.

What is similar about the allegations leveled at Thomas and Clinton is that they have come from women who have had to pit their word against men who hold powerful positions. There is a fine line between finding responsible hearers of such accusations and the possibility that the accusers are being vindictive and are even making up charges to achieve their purposes.

In the case of Anita Hill, her veracity was never questioned by the leaders of the women's-rights groups. She said Thomas acted inappropriately, and that was good enough for them.

Now the differences. The most obvious contrast between Thomas and Clinton is that the Supreme Court justice is a conservative who had and still enjoys strong support from Republicans, while the president is the not only the leader of the Free World, but also the head of the liberal Democratic Party to which most women's-rights organizations owe their allegiance and to which they have unreservedly thrown their support.

So when allegations against Clinton popped up, they were made by women with no standing in the women's-rights movement or in liberal circles or in the Democratic Party. More than that, the push to investigate these charges was backed the Republicans. This was a four-strikes-and-you're-out situation, and the women's rightists felt comfortable in saying nothing.

But the latest accusers have different credentials. Monica Lewinsky was a White House employee. Kathleen Willey was a White House volunteer. Both were able, while at the White House, to talk freely to the president, something that is reserved for only a handful of this nation's citizens.

And so the women's groups have had to rethink their position on the accusations that the president is not only a womanizer, but lies about it with impunity. As the liberal editorial voice of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch framed it (see the editorial elsewhere on this page), Willey's story "is particularly believable and disturbing." Which is to say without actually saying it that everyone else was particularly unbelievable because they were from the wrong political camp and the wrong politically correct persuasion.