Hello. I’m here to make a very simple and unoriginal point, but one which I think bears repeating:
If you think sexual harassment is forgivable in some cases, due to factors that transcend the harassment, you are a hypocrite.
This is a message that is typically geared toward Republican voters. There was a lot of justifiable outrage on the left when Alabama power brokers, along with many rank-and-file voters, seemed poised to excuse Roy Moore’s (alleged) sexual abuse and harassment. They had various excuses, but it all amounted to the same thing—it’s better to elect a creep than a Democrat.
Moore still stands a solid chance of winning his Senate seat, and the fact that his career wasn’t deader than dead the minute the allegations hit is a sign of our hyper-partisan political era, where simply being a member of a different mainstream political party can place a person higher on the hierarchy of evil than a crime like sexual abuse. Seriously, digest that—up to half of all voters in Alabama would rather elect a lech who got banned from a shopping mall than someone with a “D” next to his name.
Democrats rightly raged against this insanity, and were also quick to condemn liberal entertainment figures like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey and Louis CK when their own scandals hit. The left held a definite high ground—until the accusations hit our politicians, at which point the exact same hypocrisy reared its ugly head.
Al Franken has now been accused of groping four different women, and has offered only mealy-mouthed half-apologies which don’t address the substance of the accusations. (“I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women.”)
Many Democrats, to their credit, have condemned Franken—just as many Republican Senators were quick to disown Roy Moore. And yet “many” is not “all,” and there have been some glaringly awful “defenses” of Franken that look exactly like what you might find on the other side of the aisle. Almost immediately after the first accusation, some #Resistance figures went immediately to slut-shaming:
Others, like self-proclaimed feminist Kate Harding, were given a platform in major media outlets like the Washington Post with which to embarrass themselves by copying the “politics is more important than not being a sexual abuser” argument of their GOP counterparts. Imagine having the mindset that instead of resigning and restoring some integrity to the seat, Franken should go on a “listening tour” instead—that’s a serious argument Harding makes.
Step for step, blow for blow, these are exact replicas of Republican obfuscation tactics. And if you ever fumed at the cowardice of GOP politicians who resorted to wishy-washy say-nothing rhetoric when asked to condemn their colleagues, watch Nancy Pelosi stumble her way through questions about John Conyers (D-MI)—a man who has recently been inundated with sexual harassment allegations—and tell me it’s any different:
Let’s be super clear about what should happen when sexual harassment claims hit the left. First, here’s what doesn’t matter:
1. That Al Franken has better politics.
2. That Al Franken’s crimes were “not as bad.”
3. That removing a sexual abuser from office might result in Republicans gaining an advantage. (Which, by the way, is not even true in Franken’s case—his replacement would be selected by the Democratic governor of Minnesota, which would actually go a long way to prevent Democrats from losing the seat. If Franken lasts long enough to stand for re-election in 2020, he’ll be incredibly vulnerable, and even if he declines to run again, he’ll have done irreparable damage to the state party.)
Here’s what does matter:
1. Are the allegations true?
And when someone like Franken can’t even find the nerve to issue a denial, even a fool can read the writing on the wall.
So often lately, Republicans have been accused of “whataboutism”—a tactic of deflecting any and all criticism by appealing to the crimes of the left. Sure, Donald Trump may have done something that’s impossible to defend, but what about that time Obama blah blah blah etc. etc. etc. It’s an annoying tic of the right, and largely invalid—past mistakes don’t excuse present mistakes, and often the two “crimes” they’re comparing are not remotely similar, in kind or scale.
But this time? This time, they’re right—if I were one of the deranged Roy Moore supporters who hasn’t jumped ship, or a Trump voter who brushed aside his “grab ‘em by the pussy” incident, I’d laugh with glee anytime a Democrat who still supports men like Al Franken tried to lecture me. In this case, it’s not a false equivalency—if we don’t held Democratic leaders up to basic standards of decency, we have no right to expect the same from the other side. Morality applies across the board, or it applies nowhere.
American political life in 2017 is a complicated beast, but this is simple—either you’re against sexual harassment and sexual abuse, and you find it intolerable in elected officials, or you’re not, and you don’t. There’s no gray area. If you think Al Franken should get a pass because you like his politics, you’re no different than the Republican voters in Alabama who believe the same thing about Roy Moore. And you have forfeited your right to complain—period.