Monday, November 20, 2017
Human beings are innately tribal animals and that is not always a bad thing. Immediately identifying with other people in your tribe is a way to bond people together and create strong communities. Thousands of years ago it was important to our survival as a species. But tribalism can make someone too loyal to members of your own group. What's happening with the Republican party in Alabama is a perfect example, with party members dismissing the sexual assault of a minor charges against Senatorial candidate Roy Moore as just part of the deceptive liberal media. Some have even said that they will support him even if the charges are true, because they still couldn't vote for a Democrat. Tribalism at it's worst!
But if there is one thing that is truly bipartisan, it's powerful men engaging in (or being accused of) sexual harassment. From Democratic big money donor Harvey Weinstein to Republican Senator David Vitter, men in leadership positions often can't seem to control their libidos. Recently, Democratic Senator Al Franken has come under fire; back in 2008, when he was just known as a comedian and author, he went on a USO tour with a woman named Leeann Tweeden. She claims that he wrote a sketch that ended with him kissing her, and he then proceeded to kiss her aggressively in rehearsal. A picture of him pretending to grope her while she was asleep has also emerged. To Franklin's credit, he has apologized for his behavior and encouraged an ethics committee investigation into it. In a desperate attempt to deflect attention away from Moore, the Republican party has seized on Franklin's behavior as deplorable, which is kinda like robbing a bank and then distracting people by pointing at someone shoplifting a candy bar!
The Franklin charges, such as they are, are relatively easy for Democrats to deflect. Even Tweeden herself has said that she doesn't think that he should resign. But other charges against Democrats aren't so easy to dismiss; recently Senate member Kirsten Gillibrand bluntly stated that she thinks Bill Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a shocking statement given that Clinton is still a popular party figure. While I don't agree with her on the Lewinsky scandal, I admire Gillibrand's courage in taking on a former president. Let's remember that the Lewinsky scandal was about Bill Clinton having a consensual affair with an intern and then lying about it under oath; while I think it was a stupid thing to do, I think congressional censure would have been enough punishment. But the Lewinsky scandal was just one of several charges made against Clinton. There was also Paula Jones, who claims that Clinton once exposed himself to her and demanded oral sex, and Juanita Broaddrick, who claims that Clinton once tried to force himself on her, biting her lip hard enough to draw blood. Given Clinton's acknowledged womanizing, are these charges unbelievable? Certainly not, and the fact that Jones was given a settlement of over eight hundred thousand dollars (but no public apology) would seem to imply that there was some merit to her charges.
So should Clinton have stepped down because of these charges? I must admit that I certainly didn't think so at the time. In the 1990's, the right wing media was awash in outrageous claims against the Clintons: some said that they had had former White House Aide Vince Foster murdered (the birther movement of the 90's!), or that they had dealt drugs from the Governor's Mansion when Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. In this climate of mud throwing, the charges of Jones and Broaddrick seemed like just more baseless right wing attacks. But were they? In my rush to defend a member of my tribe, was I, and other progressives like me, dismissing charges that very well may have been true? It's hard to say; I certainly remember the excitement I felt when Clinton was elected after twelve years of Republican rule, and the fact that under him, the 90's were a time of peace and prosperity in this country didn't hurt my opinion of him either. But does any of that matter, given the nature of the charges against him? Is my disgust at the sexual assault charges against Moore and President Trump as much political as it is personal? I honestly can't say, although I do now think that perhaps Clinton never should have been the Democratic candidate way back in 1992, and that for all his rhetorical gifts and leadership skills, his already established record of womanizing should have disqualified him. But, given his victory in that election, maybe I'm wrong. There's really no way to know just when our personal bias towards people ends and our political beliefs begin. It's seems sexual harassment charges have made hypocrites of all of us.
Monday, November 13, 2017
The state of Alabama recently voted for former judge Roy Moore to be the Republican candidate for the Senate. This was in spite of (or perhaps, because of) controversial stands and statements that Moore has made in the past. He first came to national attention in 2003 when, as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he refused to remove a ten commandments monument from the court house despite there being a federal order to do so. He then went on to stake positions on the right that even most Republicans would find repulsive: from saying that homosexuals should be jailed to believing that Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office. He was also a prominent birther, attacked evolution and defended the Confederacy. Sadly, none of these views hurt his standing in the party, and even worse, probably will help him in his Senate race.
It seemed like Moore was coasting to a victory until November 9th., when a Washington Post story broke claiming that when Moore was thirty two years old, he dated and had sex with a fourteen year old girl named Leigh Corfman. The age of consent in Alabama at the time was sixteen, making this a crime. Several other women have come forward to say that Moore dated them when they were under eighteen; he also allegedly bought them alcohol. Moore has denied all the charges, claiming that they were "a desperate political attack by the National Democratic Party and The Washington Post". This despite corroboration on the story from Corfman's mother, the assertion by one of his former colleagues that "It was common knowledge that Roy dated high school girls", and the fact that Corfman herself is a Republican Trump voter, the notion that these charges are the result of a progressive media hit becomes less and less likely. Some right wing media members have even tried to compare these allegations to the various Bill Clinton sexual scandals, as if a childish cry of "everybody else does it too!" somehow exonerates Moore's behavior.
The response to these allegations have been sadly predictable: while Senator John McCain and former Governor Mitt Romney have stated that he should step down, and some other Republicans have withdrawn their support, party members in Alabama have mostly stood by him. And, in what may be the single loopiest defense in political history, Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler compared Moore to Joseph in the bible, saying "take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” Not only is he defending a modern law breaker with something that supposedly happened thousands of years ago, but he seems to have forgotten the meaning of the words Virgin Mary!
And then there's the Trump administration; today White House officials have released a statement saying that Moore must be given a chance to defend himself before dropping out of the race. This certainly is no surprise given that the president himself has been accused of sexual assault by no less than twelve women, all of whom he has dismissed as liars, despite the appearance of an Access Hollywood videotape in which he clearly can be heard bragging about making the exact same kind of assault on women that his accusers have claimed that he did. An accused sexual assaulter defending an accused sexual predator is where this country has gotten to, and it's really no surprise.
The worst part of this is that there is still a very good chance that Moore will win his special election next month and join the Senate. Unfortunately, the country is now so divided that even criminal allegations of pedophilia are not enough to stop Republicans in the state from voting for their side. Really, why should they be expected to? The same party that preaches family values and moral rectitude nominated a man for president who's been married three times and has had his sexual exploits paraded in tabloids for years. All that really matters is winning. Just ask one of Moore's defenders, Bibb County Republican chair Jerry Pow, who said he vote for Moore "even if the candidate committed a sex crime". That, in a nut shell, is everything wrong with this deeply divided country today.