In the wake of both John Conyers and Al Franken being forced to resign from Congress over their “inappropriate sexual behavior”, there does indeed seem to be a backlash against the #metoo anti-harassment movement, although not from the Right. Dahlia Lithwick in Slate says, “Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve. ”
It’s often pointed out that Franken’s main accuser, Leann Tweeden is a conservative Fox (Sports) alumna and allegedly an associate of Trump family members. Celebrity Tom Arnold accused her of being coached by a “Roger Stone pal” at her radio station. And some Democrats have gone much further in bemoaning their party’s policy toward one of their own. In the Washington Post, feminist author Kate Harding said “I don’t believe (that Franken) resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.” But she elaborates: “When you combine these things — an awareness that the Democratic Party is no more or less than best of two, and an understanding that men in power frequently exploit women — it becomes difficult to believe that Franken is the only sitting Democrat with a history of harassment, abuse or assault… Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing.”
So Democrats should go back to saying “it’s okay when it’s our guy?” That would indeed solve the double standard problem. If both parties are going to roast the enemy for the same thing that they forgive on their side, there’s one standard that is being applied equally.
The problem is that the Democratic liberal base won’t go for it anymore. More specifically, the women in the Democratic hierarchy won’t go for it anymore. It was Democratic women Senators who led the demand that Franken resign. Recall that whatever one thinks of Donald Trump, this whole #metoo thing erupted after the first allegations came out concerning Harvey Weinstein. Snap quiz, who was a bigger fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, Harvey Weinstein or Charles Koch? It’s Franken who’s expected to fall on his sword for the good of the Party, not the feminist contingent of the Party that’s expected to put up with him for the sake of not letting Republicans “get” one.
What all this proves to me is that liberals need to find a happy medium between retroactively crucifying Al Franken – who was never accused of adultery, let alone rape – for sleazy behavior that occurred before he ever ran for office, versus “it’s not perjury if it was over a blowjob, and even if it was, it’s just a Republican witch hunt.” Maybe we should acknowledge that if “believe the women” is not as bad an extreme as “always believe the accused”, it is still an extreme. Maybe rather than uncritically dismissing or believing the accuser, we should take the accuser seriously, seriously enough to give the claims proper investigation.
Because even in the olden days, it was sometimes more likely that allegations of sexual misbehavior from a politician would be taken seriously, and a politician’s career could be destroyed over allegations that were both less substantial and more substantial than the charges against Franken. In 1988, Democrat Gary Hart was preparing a run for the presidency until the press started covering his relationship with a young woman named Donna Rice, a relationship that both Rice and Hart have maintained to this day was not sexual. Then after the 1992 campaign, Republican Senator Bob Packwood was shadowed by continuing allegations of sexual assault, allegations which intensified after the Senate Ethics Committee requested his diary and found out that he had altered the diary passages. Eventually Packwood resigned in 1995. Incidentally, the Wikipedia article on this points out that the head of the Committee at the time was Senator Mitch McConnell, who had said afterward in regard to President Clinton’s impeachment: “As most of you will recall, the Senate faced a similar choice just a few short years ago. It was one of our own who had clearly crossed the line. It was one of our own who had engaged in sexual misconduct and obstruction of justice… During the Packwood debate, we made the tough choice. And, I have to say, that decision was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my career in public service. To recommend expelling from the United States Senate a colleague, a member of my own party, and most importantly, a friend with whom I had served in the Senate for over a decade. We sent a clear message to the nation that no man is above the law.”
What caused the standard to change all of a sudden?
What happened was that a certain politician in the duopoly decided that winning was more important than shame. Packwood and Hart could be shamed out of the system. Bill Clinton could not. And while I’m sure Hillary Clinton didn’t plan on things turning out this way, the fact that she was First Enabler in 1998 meant that in 2016 she was the only person in either major party who was not in position to take on Donald Trump over his history of sexism. It’s not as though she didn’t get some good licks in, especially with invoking Alicia Machado in a debate, but the fact that Trump got as many white female voters as he did indicated that Clinton had a critical problem with her core audience.
Democratic ambivalence on this issue is precisely because Republicans have embraced Bill Clinton’s approach more thoroughly than they have. Not only that, this allowed Trump to disarm the whole premise of enforcing moral standards. He has also shown right-wingers the path to counter left-wing virtue signaling: Don’t let them shame you. Don’t let them crybully you. Don’t apologize for what you are. The problem occurs when what you are is not just objectively evil but belligerently stupid.
The other day, (Dec. 6) Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic wrote a piece called “Embracing Depravity,” which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a pretty good analysis of where the Republican groupthink is now. It explains why the “conservative” movement, in all its contradictions, has one consistent factor: what Friedersdorf calls ressentiment.
“Culture-war conflict now dominates their political identity.
“And to watch them embrace the label ‘deplorable’ even as they elevate a man like (Roy) Moore is to suspect (Julian) Sanchez was right in seeing ressentiment as ‘a resignation to impotence on the cultural front where the real conflict lies. It effectively says: We cede to the bogeyman cultural elites the power of stereotypical definition, so becoming the stereotype more fully and grotesquely is our only means of empowerment.”
This is why it doesn’t do good to whine that it’s not fair that Democrats are being held to a standard that Republicans don’t respect. When you’re a Democrat, you find excuses for why you can’t win elections. It’s what you do. But more importantly, liberals, you are never going to be more punk rock than the Republicans. You are never going to be more transgressive. You are always going to be under the self-imposed double standard, if only because you have any standards at all. Because unlike Republicans, who have discarded all standards except winning, you are still under the delusion that you have morals. That your political calculus is based on a higher standard. That you’re here to fight for something.
So here’s a radical Communist idea, liberals: Why not FIGHT for something?
If the game of moral superiority is, if not a wash, ultimately meaningless in winning elections, if it ultimately comes down to voter turnout, and if Republican tax “reform” is doing more to cement their Snidely Whiplash image than anything leftists could imagine, then Democrats ought to spend this next year concentrating on the very “flyover” counties that won Trump the election in 2016, the very places that will be hardest hit by Republican policy, and convince those voters that their party is able to help them out. But that would require having both a message and a plan.
…Naahh, that’s too hard, isn’t it?