Since the Harvey Weinstein moment we’ve been having a lot of other moments, while I’ve been hanging back and watching. Now we’re having an Al Franken moment, and the burning question on the Web is whether Franken should resign from the Senate.
First, whether anyone should be disqualified from serving in public office for moral (as opposed to criminal) shortcomings should be left to the voters. I would argue that if that odious Roy Moore is elected to the Senate next month, he should be seated. See Josh Marshall for an argument about not setting precedents based on political expediency.
Regarding Franken — this may be jaded, but it’s how I see it — the United States Congress is mostly a collection of older alpha males. It’s highly unlikely any of those alpha males are innocent as far as “inappropriate behavior” is concerned. Some of their offenses may be minor, some of their offenses may be in the distant past, and I’m sure some of their offenses are pretty damn hideous and ongoing, and they are still getting away with it. This is how the world is. Singling just one out of the herd for punishment is pretty close to the textbook definition of scapegoating, even if he is guilty as charged.
It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.
In other words, if we 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. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.
Yeah, that’s kind of how it is. We’re being goaded into unilateral disarmament.
Whatever went on between Franken and Leeann Tweeden, he has apologized and she accepted his apology. His former female staffers have defended him. We may yet learn more about what happened that mitigates the accusations somewhat, or not. He’ll probably never hear the end of it.
I’d like to add that boorish objectification of women’s bodies must be the oldest shtick in comedy.
Kate Harding continues,
Then, when (okay, if, but like I said: I’m a realist) another Democratic politician’s sexual misconduct is revealed, we can ask the same of him. Don’t just apologize and drop out of sight. Do penance. Live the values you campaigned on. Be a selfless champion for women’s rights.
Sounds about right. I’d like to see us move beyond “gotcha” politics and instead make a serious commitment to changing our values. That includes our comedy routines.
I’m not arguing that liberal men are any less likely to be sexual harassers than conservative men. It has become more than clear that the abuse and objectification of women happens in every industry, every major institution, every religion, at every socioeconomic level and among people of every political orientation.
But we should all be asking ourselves some very hard questions, not only about the people now in positions of power but about how we’ve each thought about these issues in the past and what we want to change in the future. Democrats are doing that — perhaps imperfectly and arriving at different answers of varying quality, but at least they’re grappling with it. Republicans, by and large, are doing anything but.
You can read the remainder of Waldman’s column for examples.
Writing with almost creepy prescience at Crooked.com this week, Brian Beutler warned against the coming Breitbart-style weaponization of the “Believe Women” movement. “Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion,” Beutler writes. “But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the ‘believe women’ campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.”
That’s why Weinstein fallout could go up in smoke in a second. Because enough people believe that women are all liars, that one liar will fuck it up for all of us.
This Roy Moore Old Testament-Original Sin-Women Are Liars mindset is the worldview that needs to change in order for women to truly have access to the same opportunities that men have. But its opposite–the notion that women must be believed without any evidence whatsoever–will lead the worst among us to exploit the proof loophole and wreak as much damage as they can before their lies are discovered and skewered. At that point, the loophole irreversibly closes. And if that happens, we’re stuck in Roy Moore’s world, where men are the arbiters of morality and if women aren’t lying, they must have been asking for it.
This concerns me also (and do read Brian Buetler’s post, too). My sense of things is that we’ve reached Peak Watershed here, and it might be a good thing if we moved past #MeToo and the gotcha du jour and into a discussion of how to change our culture. At this point I’m less concerned about punishing people than I am about making changes. That’s why I’d rather have a contrite Franken in the Senate that some guy who hasn’t been caught yet.
See also: “The Unforgiving Minute” by Laurie Penny.