“Can I still call myself conservative?”

Simplistic labels can be problematic when applied with the complexities of both human nature and politics are involved.

What sort of person calls themselves a conservative?

How conflicted are they? Ask those who supported Colin Craig and his Conservative Party in New Zealand, or Roy Moore in the recent election in Alabama in the USA.

In a column at NY Times Bret Stephens asks: Can I still call myself conservative?

The answer depends on your definition.
Here’s one I’ve always liked: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” said the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. To which he added: “The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
Conservatives used to believe in their truth. Want to “solve” poverty? All the welfare dollars in the world won’t help if two-parent families aren’t intact. Want to foster democracy abroad? It’s going to be rough going if too many voters reject the foundational concept of minority rights.

And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

What is ‘a conservative’? It depends on how it is applied – in general or as a political leaning, or as a member of a political party.
Oxford defines it:

1 Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

‘they were very conservative in their outlook’

So theoretically someone who held on the traditional socialists  values and was averse to change could be described as conservative.

1.1 (of dress or taste) sober and conventional.

‘a conservative suit’

Again that could apply to anyone across the political spectrum. James Shaw dresses quite conservatively (as do just about all male MPs and most female MPs in the New Zealand Parliament).

2 (in a political context) favouring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.

That combines two distinctly different attributes. Someone who favours free enterprise and private ownership may not have socially conservative ideas. Roger Douglas and David Lange’s government from the 1980s were quite radical in the way they introduced free enterprise and private ownership policies, and were supposedly a left wing government.

‘Conservative’ can be applied as a description of someone’s specific opposition to change, but as a political label I think it’s far too fuzzy to be very useful.

And at times it is quite contradictory – Craig’s and Moore’s behaviour was at odds with their conservative label. Leader of the Conservative Party British Theresa May acted unconservatively in calling for an ill-fated snap election, and the UK exit from the European Union is not conservative, it will mean a large amount of change for the UK.

Specific behaviour can be described as conservative. Views on a specific policy can be conservative – I have more conservative views on law and order (in particular sentencing) and the use of binding referenda than Craig’s Conservative Party.

But anyone who labels themselves a ‘Conservative’ will soon find their ideals compromised. Much like a ‘Socialist’ would, especially in a country like New Zealand where most political views tend to be quite moderate – a pragmatic blend of conservatism, socialism and a few other isms.

I see myself as conservative in some ways, for example I willingly and happily got married – but as it was my second marriage after the first became practically untenable some conservative people may frown.

Maybe I could agree with one label – antilabelism.

 

Shock loss rant reveals Moore is less

It was regarded as a shock loss when republican candidate Roy Moore failed to win the Alabama seat for the US senate.

I find it a bit shocking that a candidate like Moore would have been selected and come close to being elected to the Senate.

Moore hasn’t conceded defeat yet, but has let loose with a rant that sounds scary for someone who came close to becoming a Senator.

Stuff: Roy Moore turns recount into religious crusade: ‘Immorality sweeps over the land’

A day after losing the US Senate race in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones, Roy Moore has issued a new statement refusing to concede the election.

In the video issued by the campaign on Wednesday evening (Thursday NZ Time), Moore said his campaign is still waiting for the official vote count from Alabama officials. The Republican candidate framed the election as not just a political contest but also a dire ideological battle for “the heart and soul of our country.”

It was a four-minute fire-and-brimstone video about abortion, same-sex marriage, school prayer, sodomy, and “the right of a man to claim to be a woman and vice versa.”

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilisation and our religion and to set free a suffering humanity. Today, we no longer recognise the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty. Abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“We have stopped prayer in our schools. We have killed over 60 million of our unborn children. We have redefined marriage and destroyed the basis of family, which is the building block of our country. Our borders are not secure. We have a huge drug problem. Our economy is faltering under an enormous national debt.

Trump’s tax bill will significantly increase debt – and it may be passed by the Senate before the new Alabama Senator is sworn in.

“We have even begun to recognise the right of a man to claim to be a woman, and vice versa. We have allowed judges and justices to rule over our Constitution, and we have become slaves to their tyranny. Immorality sweeps over our land.”

“Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations, which have become more relevant than the issues which affect our country. This election was tainted by over $50 million dollars from outside groups who want to retain power and their corrupt ideology.”

“In this race we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race, and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.”

So despite most of the Republican Party sighing with relief when Moore lost he still holds hopes of getting into the Senate.

For one of the most advanced countries in the world there is still some very old fashioned views popular in some states.

Political votes don’t exonerate criminal behaviour

Donald Trump’s PR claims that being voted president exonerates him of any responsibility for allegations of sexual impropriety.

Politico: Sanders says 2016 victory ‘answered’ allegations against Trump

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is doubling down on her argument that Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory “answered” groping allegations made during the campaign.

“The people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process,” Sanders told reporters Monday, hours after three of Trump’s accusers went on television to revive their claims.

“The American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process,” Sanders added.

They will obviously want to move on, but this is a nonsense claim from Sanders. People voted for Trump and didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton for a wide range of reasons.

And for a start, more people voted against Trump than for him, he trailed Clinton by nearly three million votes overall. He became president because more people voted for him than Clinton in a handful of key states.

If you wanted to be cynical you could say that his claims Clinton was a criminal and should be locked up won over a number of allegations against him – not just a case of the least worst won, but the perceived least criminal.

But that doesn’t make the allegations go away. Neither does it stop him from blatantly lying again.

Trump has a growing problem. He is trying to win his case in the court of public opinion, but legal processes don’t work that way.

And he seems to be losing on public opinion anyway – the gap between approval and disapproval of him as President is at a record high.

RCP President Trump Job Approval:

  • Approve 37.3%  (46.1% voted for him for president)
  • Disapprove 57.7%
  • Spread -20.4%

Trump is currently supporting Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, another person under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations.

Reuters: Voters head to polls in Alabama race with high stakes for Trump

Voters in Alabama headed to the polls on Tuesday in a hard-fought U.S. Senate race with high stakes for President Donald Trump, who has endorsed fellow Republican Roy Moore in spite of allegations against him of sexual misconduct toward teenagers.

The race will test Trump’s political clout after nearly a year in office, with his approval ratings at historically low levels. A win by Moore would strengthen Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, some of whose leaders have not backed Moore.

A Jones victory would mean trouble for Trump and his populist political base. It also would narrow the Republicans’ already slim majority in the U.S. Senate, possibly making it harder for Trump to advance his policy agenda.

“Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!” Trump said in a Twitter post in which he criticized Jones as a potential “puppet” of the Democratic congressional leadership.

Typical irony from Trump, who is campaigning for his own puppet.

Moore told the rally on Monday: “I want to make America great again with President Trump. I want America great, but I want America good, and she can’t be good until we go back to God.”

Good grief.

A Fox News Poll conducted on Thursday and released on Monday put Jones ahead of Moore, with Jones potentially taking 50 percent of the vote and Moore 40 percent. Fox said 8 percent of voters were undecided and 2 percent supported another candidate.

An average of recent polls by the RealClearPolitics website showed Moore ahead by a slight margin of 2.2 percentage points.

No Democrat has held a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama in more than 20 years. In 2016, Trump won the state by 28 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That result should be known later today.

A win to Moore won’t necessarily be a good thing for the Republicans or Trump.

And like Trump, a win for Moore won’t exonerate him from legal claims of sexual misconduct against him.

#MeToo strikes in Washington

Apart from a certain president it seems that sexual harassment, assault and inappropriate behaviour has struck Washington, showing signs that it is now politically toxic.

CNN: The #metoo movement comes to Washington

Consider what has happened in the last week alone (in reverse chronological order):

Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R) is resigning from Congress, as the House Ethics Committee announced tonight that it will investigate whether he engaged in “conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.”

In a statement announcing his resignation, Franks acknowledged that he learned this week that the committee was looking into complaints from two female former staffers.”Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others,” Franks said in the statement.

* Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) announced on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon that he plans to resign by the end of the year after a series of allegations that he groped and forcible kissed multiple women.

* Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D) resigned his seat on Tuesday following a series of allegations of sexual harassment from former staffers.

* Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) was revealed by The New York Times last Friday to have used $84,000 in taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim against him. The House Ethics Committee has established a subcommittee to investigate Farenthold’s alleged actions as well.

And that list doesn’t even take into account the allegations that continue to swirl around Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore as the December 12 special election to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions draws ever closer.

And that president has chosen to openly back Moore – Trump urges Alabama voters to back Roy Moore:

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday voiced support for Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican Senate candidate dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct, during a rally that foreshadowed themes for next year’s midterm elections.

”Get out and vote for Roy Moore,” Trump said ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The race in the heavily Republican state heated up last month with accusations that Moore sexually assaulted or behaved inappropriately with several women when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Moore, a conservative Christian and former state judge, denies the allegations, and Trump formally endorsed him on Monday.

Trying to avoid losing an election is still a priority for trump, going against the growing wave of disapproval of sexual misconduct.

Stream of revelations of abuse of power and women

The floodgates may not have opened fully on revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct of prominent men in the US, but a trickle seems to have become a stream.

On the current RealClear Politics front page there are numerous stories about men abusing power and abusing women.

The trickle started with Harvey Weinstein: After Weinstein, a Cultural Revolution (National Review):

It’s been nearly two months, and a geologic age, since the New York Times ran its initial report on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation.

It’s difficult to think of any piece of journalism that has ever wrought such an instant change in American life.

First, more allegations against Weinstein flooded in, and then against other Hollywood, media, and political figures, many of them rapidly defenestrated upon credible allegations of sexual misconduct.

A heightened awareness around sexual harassment is roiling multiple industries in what is a low-grade cultural revolution.

But the stage was set last year: Congress Should Investigate Trump’s Alleged Sexual Misconduct (RCP):

Powerful men with long histories of alleged sexual harassment or assault are finally being held accountable — except one. That would be President Trump.

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump said on the “Access Hollywood” tape, referring to a woman he had just spotted. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the [vagina]. You can do anything.”

Thirteen women have gone on the record to say that is how Trump operated, according to a tally by The Washington Post. Eight of them — who say that Trump kissed them, groped them or both, without invitation or permission — have corroboration, meaning they told other people about the incidents before going public. Similar stories told by the other five accusers are not corroborated.

Trump won election despite the allegations, but his victory did not erase his history. Now, virtually overnight, the paradigm for thinking about and dealing with sexual harassment has changed. A kind of Judgment Day has arrived for men who thought they had gotten away with their misdeeds.

And there’s ample history: Al Gore’s dark past is an inconvenient truth (The OCR):

It seems like every time you open the morning paper, more powerful men are being accused of groping, raping and generally treating their female colleagues in inappropriate and degrading ways.

You don’t have to look any farther than the pages of the New York Times or the airwaves of MSNBC to hear liberal voices openly opining that they blew it in the 1990s by not calling on former President Bill Clinton to step down after he admitted to an ongoing sexual relationship with a much younger intern.

However, one prominent name has managed to stay off of our radar, and I don’t know why. I am, of course, speaking of former Vice President Al Gore.

Back in October of 2006, a Portland, Ore. masseuse accused the former vice president of “unwanted sexual contact” while performing a massage on him in a hotel room.

Students: There Are No Safe Spaces (NewRepublic):

If we have learned anything from the ongoing, seemingly endless tide of sexual harassment allegations against famous, powerful men, it is that there is no space that is truly safe.

It is not a coincidence that this flood has come now, not just with Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump in the White House, but after years of public denunciations of the very idea of safe spaces. Liberal and conservative commentators alike have written reams of nearly identical columns lamenting the desire, on the part of today’s young people, for a place they might be safe from sexism, racism, and harassment.

A journalist: Charlie Rose, before and after the fall (News Observer):

North Carolina was proud of Charlie Rose. A native, a graduate of Duke University and the Duke law school, and someone who for a substantial two decades conducted perhaps the most thoughtful interview show on television through his own company.

Now, of course, Rose’s career has ended in flames after sexual harassment allegations from several women. It’s hard to imagine the 75-year-old New York-based media and social star will be able to restore his public image.

A Senator:  Al Franken vows to regain Minnesota’s trust after harassment allegations (Star Tribune):

Another politician: Capitol Police investigating whether nude photo of House Republican was a crime (The Hill):

The Capitol Police are investigating whether the unauthorized release of a nude photo of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) online was a crime.

A nude photo of Barton appeared on social media anonymously earlier in the week. Barton on Wednesday acknowledged that the photo was of him but said he did not release the photo and the person who did not only violated his privacy but may have committed “a potential crime against me.”

Barton emphasized that the women he was involved with in the past, one of whom may have shared the photo, were above the age of consent and willing participants.

“While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” Barton said in a statement.

That may be just embarrassing rather than criminal.

And a candidate:  U.S. Senate candidate Moore’s spokesman resigns as allegations roil campaign (Reuters):

The communications director for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore has resigned amid the Alabama Republican’s efforts to combat allegations of sexual misconduct that have roiled his campaign.
News of the departure of John Rogers came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump defended Moore from accusations by multiple women that Moore pursued them as teenagers when he was in his 30s, including one who has said he initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14.

Moore has denied any wrongdoing and has accused the women of conspiring with Democrats, media outlets and establishment Republicans in an effort to tarnish his reputation. Reuters has not independently confirmed any of the accusations.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday, however, that he might yet campaign for Moore, who he said “totally denies” the misconduct allegations, and that Democratic nominee Doug Jones was a liberal who should not be elected.

The president’s stance stood in contrast to the reactions from most Republicans in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have called on Moore to step aside.

Blaming the media and their opponents may be wearing a bit thin, especially when allegations of abuses are spread across the spectrum.

When the rot is defended from the top, and the top may be rotten as well, there is some way to go but the stream may become a floodgate that can’t be held back, even by Trump.

Back to Rich Lowry at National Review:

Now, it is the predators — no matter how entrenched and successful — who are in a precarious position. They can fall from grace within hours of credible accounts of wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter how abjectly they apologize or promise to get therapy and engage in self-reflection. They are powerless before their accusers.

This dynamic can go too far. It is important that accusations always are evaluated for credibility, and the accused get their hearing.

But the model, a disgraceful abuse of power too long tolerated, is ending. Good riddance.

The abuse of power bubble may at last be bursting.

While there are a growing number of accusations those in the firing line are only a small minority of politicians, journalists and movie moguls. The majority, possibly the vast majority, are innocent of abusing their power or abusing women.

But there must be a few others who are waiting, wondering if they will become the next headline.

Trump pot mocks Franken kettle

President Donald Trump has mocked Senator Al Franken after revelations of sexual harassment.

Trump wading into this has raised a few eyebrows given revelations and accusations involving him and harassment. And Franken has at least admitted bad behaviour, Trump attacked rather than acknowledged wrongdoing.

the exposure of Trump’s misconduct during last year’s presidential election campaign was a significant step towards the flood of revelations and accusations over the last month, started with the crash and burning of Harvey Weinstein.

NY Times: In Mocking Franken Over Claims of Sexual Misconduct, Trump Joins a Debate He Started

Last fall, Donald J. Trump inadvertently touched off a national conversation about sexual harassment when a recording of him boasting about groping women was made public at the same time a succession of women came forward to assert that groping was something he did more than talk about.

A year later, after a wave of harassment claims against powerful men in entertainment, politics, the arts and the news media, the discussion has come full circle with President Trump criticizing the latest politician exposed for sexual misconduct even as he continues to deny any of the accusations against him.

In this case, Mr. Trump focused his Twitter-fueled mockery on a Democratic senator while largely avoiding a similar condemnation of a Republican Senate candidate facing far more allegations. The turn in the political dialogue threatened to transform a moment of cleansing debate about sexual harassment into another weapon in the war between the political parties, led by the president himself.

Indeed, Republicans on Friday were more than happy to talk about Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who apologized this week after a radio newscaster said he forcibly kissed her and posed for a photograph a decade ago appearing to fondle her breasts while she was sleeping.

Democrats, for their part, sought to keep the focus on Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama who has been accused of unwanted sexual conduct by multiple women going back even further, including one who was 14 at the time.

It has embarrassed both Democrats and Republicans, with both being guilty of partisan attacks while turning a blind eye to their own transgressors.

But the notion that Mr. Trump himself would weigh in given his own history of crude talk about women and the multiple allegations against him surprised many in Washington who thought he could not surprise them anymore. A typical politician with Mr. Trump’s history would stay far away from discussing someone else’s behavior lest it dredge his own back into the spotlight.

But as Mr. Trump has shown repeatedly during his 10-month presidency, he is rarely deterred by conventional political wisdom even as he leaves it to his staff to fend off the cries of hypocrisy.

White House aides labored on Friday to distinguish Mr. Trump’s case from those of others, arguing that the president’s conduct was not at issue because he won the election last year after voters had a chance to evaluate both the claims against him and his denials.

That’s typical of the excuse making for their own, something that has more than tacitly approved of and enabled ongoing sexual harassment going back at least fifty five years to the abuses of President Kennedy.

“This was covered pretty extensively during the campaign,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this president.”

She added that Mr. Trump still maintained that the more than a dozen women who have said that he kissed or groped them against their will were all lying. And she acknowledged no double standard in the president chastising others for sexual misconduct.

“Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t,” she said. “I think that’s a very clear distinction.”

Yes, it is a clear distinction. Franken has admitted what he did was wrong, happening in an area that allowed it.

Of course Hillary Clinton has waded in to this.

But Democrats saw the distinction differently. Hillary Clinton said Mr. Franken’s apology and call for an ethics committee investigation “is the kind of accountability I’m talking about — I don’t hear that from Roy Moore or Donald Trump.”

Speaking with Rita Cosby on WABC Radio, Mrs. Clinton added, “Look at the contrast between Al Franken, accepting responsibility, apologizing, and Roy Moore and Donald Trump, who have done neither.”

There’s a high degree of irony there given that tacl of apology and accountability of her husband, Bill.

For her own part, the sexual harassment conversation has been uncomfortable for Mrs. Clinton as well. Conservatives defending Mr. Moore point to various allegations made against Bill Clinton when he was president, including sexual assault, and even some liberals said they should rethink their defense of the 42nd president.

On Franken versus Ttrump she has a valid point.

But the condemning of opponents alongside defending of their own politicians by both Democrats and Republicans is evidence of a morally corrupt political system in the United States.

Trump’s denials, now alongside his mocking of Franken, looks distinctly like a socially corrupt president. The worst rot, whether it be Kennedy, Clinton (Bill) or Trump, is clearly at the top.

Accusations and trials in public by media are far from ideal, and will be manifestly unfair to some.

But this rot has been allowed to continue for a long time, and actions outside the old way of doing things (blind eyes and under-carpet sweeping) needed something drastic and unconventional to break the cycle of harassment and abuse.

And apart from the nonsense of “the president’s conduct was not at issue because he won the election last year after voters had a chance to evaluate both the claims against him and his denials”:

RCP average Trump approval:

  • Disapprove 56.9%
  • Approve 38.4%

The US voters did choose a president with a highly suspect past, but that was over an opponent with her own suspect past plus the known poor sexual behaviour of her husband. That’s not a strong position from which one can claim the moral high ground.

There is evidence at least of Trump having an appalling attitude to women in the past. The pot should start by addressing that adequately.

Senator next target, sexual harassment reckoning floodgates

The Harvey Weinstein revelations and accusations seem to have opened the floodgates of accusations of sexual harassment in the US. Kevin Spacey has also been publicly disgraced, Republican candidate for the Senate Roy Moore is under fire and now  a Democratic senator, Al Franken, the latest to be accused publicly.

Sexual impropriety by politicians is nothing new in the US, with prominent examples John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and the current president Donald Trump, but it now seems that accusations are being taken seriously and are getting traction.

The GOP has just been rocked by a string of accusations against a Senate candidate – Trump has distanced himself as more accusers emerge – Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall:

Gena Richardson says she was a high school senior working in the men’s department of Sears at the Gadsden Mall when a man approached her and introduced himself as Roy Moore.

His overtures caused one store manager to tell new hires to “watch out for this guy,” another young woman to complain to her supervisor and Richardson to eventually hide from him when he came in Sears, the women say.

Richardson says Moore — now a candidate for U.S. Senate — asked her where she went to school, and then for her phone number, which she says she declined to give, telling him that her father, a Southern Baptist preacher, would never approve.

Richardson says Moore asked her out again on the call. A few days later, after he asked her out at Sears, she relented and agreed, feeling both nervous and flattered. They met that night at a movie theater in the mall after she got off work, a date that ended with Moore driving her to her car in a dark parking lot behind Sears and giving her what she called an unwanted, “forceful” kiss that left her scared.

Moore’s campaign did not directly address the new allegations. In a statement, a campaign spokesman cast the growing number of allegations against Moore as politically motivated.

There is a possibility some accusations may involve political motivations but the number of people being exposed suggest the tip of a much bigger iceberg, an insidious iceberg.

And a sitting Senator has also just been accused: Senator Al Franken Kissed and Groped Me Without My Consent, And There’s Nothing Funny About It:

On the day of the show Franken and I were alone backstage going over our lines one last time. He said to me, “We need to rehearse the kiss.” I laughed and ignored him. Then he said it again. I said something like, ‘Relax Al, this isn’t SNL…we don’t need to rehearse the kiss.’

He continued to insist, and I was beginning to get uncomfortable.

He repeated that actors really need to rehearse everything and that we must practice the kiss. I said ‘OK’ so he would stop badgering me. We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.

I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.

I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.

I felt disgusted and violated.

Unwanted advances are not uncommon at all levels of society, but it seems like the male political and media elite in the US are finally being exposed.

Prior to now acceptance and tacit approval of the actions of Kennedy, Clinton and Trump have been swept under political carpets, with power being seen as more important for both Democrats and Republicans than confronting and dealing properly with sexual harassment.

Jeff Greenfield writes: How Roy Moore’s Misdeeds Are Forcing an Awakening on the Left

Years of excusing Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct suddenly seems morally indefensible.

Watching the political contortions of Republicans to defend a candidate accused of sexually molesting teenage girls, Democrats and liberal pundits are reckoning publicly with their own history of fervid rationalizations on behalf of a recent president. But this should be just the beginning of a painful re-examination.

This new consciousness was glimpsed first in a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, a commentator of a stoutly progressive persuasion. “As gross and cynical and hypocritical as the right’s ‘what about Bill Clinton’ stuff is,” he wrote, “it’s also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.”

It was glimpsed in passing in a New York Times editorial, Ground Zero of conventional liberalism. “Remember former President Bill Clinton, whose popularity endures despite a long string of allegations of sexual misconduct and, in one case, rape—all of which he has denied,” it said.

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, where coastal elitism is a badge of honor, acknowledged the elephant in the room this way: “That so many women have summoned the courage to make public their allegations against Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly—or that many have come to reconsider some of the claims made against Bill Clinton—represents a cultural passage.”

These allegations have long been a part of the right-wing media’s talking points. Sean Hannity invoked them on an almost daily basis during the 2016 campaign, and they were used by Donald Trump as a protective shield, to ward off the charges of serial sexual harassment and the boastful confessions of same on the “Access Hollywood” tape. During the 2016 campaign, Trump brought these three women to a presidential debate, as living, breathing arguments for “whataboutism.”

But from the political center leftward, those allegations never reached critical mass. Maybe it was the very way the Right not only seized on the stories, but made them part of a much broader, far less credible series of accusations. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell spent years peddling “the Clinton Chronicles,” a series of videos that charged the Clintons with complicity in any number of murders. A congressional committee chair used a rifle and a watermelon to try to show that White House aide Vince Foster had been murdered, rather than taking his own life; As late as last year, the fever swamps were rife with stories of a pedophilic sex trafficking ring operating out of the basement of a popular Washington pizza parlor. Any one of these flights of lunacy acted as the 13th stroke of the clock, casting doubt not only on itself, but on every other allegation.

So what changed? Three people: Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

At the height of the Lewinsky impeachment melodrama, Clinton’s defenders always argued that the president’s behavior was a private matter. To this day, you can find references to Clinton’s “dalliances” and “peccadilloes.”

People have long excused sexual impropriety and harassment as normal ‘red-blooded male’ behaviour, which has allowed what I think is a small minority of males to continue as sexual predators virtually unchecked. That seems to have suddenly change.

In the end, though, neither Clinton nor Kennedy can escape the “reckoning” of which Hayes and Flanagan refer. In the case of Kennedy, his treatment of women was not simply callous, but jeopardized his presidency. In the case of Clinton, his public policies cannot erase the serious doubts about whether a sexual predator occupied the White House for eight years. And even measured by partisan concerns, Clinton’s behavior materially, perhaps fatally, wounded the campaigns of Gore and Hillary Clinton.

For many of us, it is easy to look at Weinstein, Trump and Moore as case studies in pathological behavior. Looking closer to home is a lot more painful; it is also compulsory.

Unless and until partisans across the board stop justifying unconscionable behavior out of political self-interest, the more likely it is that the pervasive cynicism about the process, and everyone involved in it, will fester and grow.

Emboldened victims (mostly but not all female) may stem the festering. The dirty most male non-secret may finally be addressed.

There are risks of course – trial by media, false or exaggerated accusations, political agendas may all play a part in some cases of unfairness and injustice.

But they are likely to be small degrees of shall we call it collateral damage. For a long long time unfairness and injustice has been allowed to continue virtually unabated, creating a large number of victims. This has had a profound and damaging effect on our society.

While the direct victims are obviously the worst affected there has been a lot of damage done to families and partners and others too. Innocent males have been indirectly affected by association and suspicion – it is understandable that victims become suspicious of and can have difficulty with relationships with far more than the actual perpetrators.

Addressing this insidious problem properly – with some inevitable unfair damage – is overdue, and may have a massive effect on our society in the future. We will all benefit.