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.