It is great fun to watch liberals squirm as one after another of their favorite politicians, journalists and cultural figures are swept up in the vortex of sexual assault and harassment. In today’s New York Times, columnist Michelle Goldberg frets–out loud!–about what to do “When Our Allies Are Accused of Harassment.” The ally she has in mind is Al Franken:
Last Thursday, after a photograph emerged of Senator Al Franken either groping or pretending to grope a sleeping woman, Leeann Tweeden, with whom he’d been traveling on a 2006 U.S.O. tour, I wrote that he should resign. Almost as soon as it was published I started having second thoughts. I spent all weekend feeling guilty that I’d called for the sacrifice of an otherwise decent man to make a political point.
I love that “groping or pretending to grope.” As Ms. Goldberg explains later, some “Democratic women [have made] Jesuitical arguments that the shadows under Franken’s hands meant he wasn’t really touching Tweeden’s chest.” But Goldberg never mentions Franken’s principal offense, which was shoving his tongue down Ms. Tweeden’s throat after she had made it clear the she didn’t consent. No “Jesuitical arguments” can explain that one away, so Goldberg simply omits it.
Also, Franken is not an “otherwise decent man,” he is a notorious jerk. But a liberal jerk, which is the point of the column.
Goldberg is relatively candid in explaining how liberal women feel about the cascading accusations against their politicians. Like the significance of the fact that the Governor of Minnesota is a Democrat:
Especially since, with a Democratic governor in Minnesota, the party would maintain control of Franken’s seat.
Goldberg’s angst-ridden dialectic goes back and forth. She “adores” Franken, who is not “morally worthless” like President Trump. And Franken makes “valuable political and cultural contributions,” like Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. Goldberg admits that she is “torn by competing impulses”:
I want to see sexual harassment finally taken seriously but fear participating in a sex panic. My instinct is often to defend men I like, but I don’t want to be an enabler or a sucker.
Goldberg looks old enough to have lived through the 1990s. I’d like to hear more of her thoughts on being “an enabler or a sucker,” but she never mentions Bill Clinton.
The funniest part of Goldberg’s column is her theory that the fact that a large majority of men caught up in the current scandals are Democrats reflects well on her party:
It’s not a coincidence that the post-Harvey Weinstein purge of sexual harassers has been largely confined to liberal-leaning fields like Hollywood, media and the Democratic Party. This isn’t because progressive institutions are more sexist than others — I’m confident there’s at least as much sexual abuse in finance as in publishing. Rather, organizations with liberal values have suddenly become extremely responsive to claims of sexism. Feminists, enraged and traumatized by Donald Trump’s election, know they can’t expect accountability from Republicans, but they’ve forced it from people who claim to share their ideals. As a result, it sometimes feels as if liberal institutions are devouring themselves over sex while conservatives, unburdened by the pretense of caring about gender equality, blithely continue their misrule.
I agree it is no coincidence, but would offer a different explanation: liberalism has become, among other things, a protection racket. Predatory people–usually men, but sometimes women–make a conspicuous display of liberalism because they know it will provide cover, in the event their predatory behavior comes to light, in the eyes of weak-minded lefties like Michelle Goldberg.
And now, the grand finale:
It’s possible that feminists, in trying to hold Democrats to standards that they wish were universal, risk unilateral disarmament. Kate Harding made this case in The Washington Post last Friday, arguing against Franken’s resignation. If Democrats “set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms,” she wrote. And when the next Democratic member of Congress goes down, there might not be a Democratic governor to choose his replacement.
Principled feminist or hack Democratic Party loyalist? You be the judge.
I’m partly persuaded by this line of reasoning, though conservatives mock it as the “one free grope” rule.
Actually, in the cases of Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken and others, we are talking about multiple gropes, and worse.
It’s a strange political fiction that anyone can really separate partisanship from principle.
That seems to be especially true of New York Times columnists.
[J]ust as there’s a cost for cutting good but imperfect men loose, there’s a cost to defending them from consequences we’d demand if the politics were reversed. It forces feminists to treat our own standards as unrealistic, to undermine our own arguments.
The problem isn’t that feminists’ standards are “unrealistic.” It is perfectly realistic to condemn sexual harassment and assault, as allegedly was committed by Al Franken, and to severely punish rape, as allegedly was perpetrated by Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein. Until recently, men were hanged for committing rape. The problem with feminists’ standards isn’t that they are unrealistic but that they are fictitious. They are used offensively for political gain and ignored when that is politically convenient.
Ultimately, however these dilemmas play out, we lose: either the moral high ground or men whom we need, admire and maybe even love.
I’m not sure I can resolve the Democrats’ dilemma, but I would offer this word of advice to Ms. Goldberg and her fellow feminists: you lost the moral high ground a long, long time ago.