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A foolish consistency

Over the past few weeks the nation has engaged in a rather heated conversation about sexual harassment. Republicans have been their usual hypocritical selves. Many liberals, meanwhile, have bent over backward to avoid the charge of hypocrisy have embraced what I submit is a foolish consistency. The urge to consistency requires two things. First, we must believe any woman who steps forward with a claim that she has been harassed, and second, any man who has engaged in any form of conduct that can be characterized as sexual harassment must be tossed aside. If he holds a public office, he must resign. If he is an entertainer, he must never get another job.

The end result of all this may be more of what we’ve seen in the past. Republicans get a pass (think, David Vitter), while Democrats are banned from public life (think Eliot Spitzer). We can also see a variant of this coming with the information leaking out about Congressional settlements of workplace harassment claims; so far it’s two Democrats to zero Republicans, and you can almost bet that we’ll hear nothing about any Republicans while getting a steady drip of Democrats.

I’m not saying avoiding hypocrisy is unimportant, but I do think that it’s also important to have a sense of perspective and that we consider the context in each individual case. Adopting a zero tolerance policy is not necessarily the way to go. I recall, when I was on the school board, being put in the position of expelling a little kid who brought a tiny little knife to school in violation of such a policy. It seemed a bit much.

It is certainly the case that we should not reflexively accuse the accusers of lying. On the other hand, we live in a politically charged moment. It seemed odd, to me, that the first we heard of the Franken charges was a tweet from Roger Stone before the woman herself came forward. In addition, she also works for Sinclair broadcasting, and was herself filmed grabbing a guy’s butt during the rehearsal in which Franken allegedly harassed her. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do something he shouldn’t have done, but it suggests that the context is such that the political death penalty is not necessarily in order. I understand we’ve just seen a reverse example; a woman went to the Washington Post with a made up story that she had been harrassed by Roy Moore in order to set the newspaper up. In a perverse way, the woman, who was working with James O’Keefe, has buttressed the stories of the actual victims, because the Post exposed her. So, going forward, it is not the case that we must believe every accuser; though we should certainly not dismiss them out of hand, nor should we engage in attempts to blacken their reputation unless and until evidence comes out to justify it, as in the situation at the Post.

It is not hypocritical to fail to call for the resignation of every politician accused or guilty of some sort of sexual impropriety. Context matters, as do other factors. Consider Moore vs. Franken. Moore has denied what appear to be extremely credible allegations. He is accused not just of sexual harassment, but of predation upon minors as young as 14 years old. Rather than showing remorse, he has blamed the victims and used the accusations as a fundraising tool. He is, moreover, an avowed political foe of women’s equality generally. Franken, on the other hand, has shown what appears to be true remorse for an incident in which he was either in the wrong or that was morally ambiguous. He has made no attempt to blame the victim, even though the circumstances are such that there is at least a whiff of something not quite right. Nor has what remains of the liberal media sought to demonize her, as the folks at Fox would have done were the situation reversed. Franken is a supporter of women’s rights. You can call that hypocrisy given what he is accused of doing, but the fact is that everyone, in the course of their life, does something stupid that they come to regret. The important thing is that they come to regret it, and don’t blame others for their acts. There is a world of difference between the two men, and that implies that there is a difference in how they should be treated at the present time.

And now, slightly off the point; a prediction. Given that he is running in Alabama, which may be the stupidest polity in the nation, if not the world, I give Moore a 90% chance to win. I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Once he’s ensconced in the Senate, his Republican colleagues will forget all about his sexual transgressions, just as they were willing to overlook his racism, provided he votes to enrich the rich. Meanwhile, they’ll go after Franken. The folks at Fox will have no problem with that, and the word hypocrisy will never be uttered on that channel, at least not in this context.

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