Po­lit­i­cal goals are not worth moral con­tor­tion


As pres­i­dent, John F Kennedy made sex­ual ad­vances to­ward a 19-year-old White House in­tern named Mimi Beard­s­ley. He pres­sured her to pro­vide oral sex to other men. What­ever else hap­pened be­tween them, th­ese acts are sex­ual ha­rass­ment and co­er­cion, and if Kennedy were alive to­day, his be­hav­iour would dis­qual­ify him from pub­lic of­fice.

It’s en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate that for­mer Demo­cratic con­gress­man An­thony Weiner is serv­ing time in prison for trans­fer­ring ob­scene ma­te­ri­als to a mi­nor.

And given the mul­ti­ple al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against for­mer pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, the Demo­cratic Party should have got him off the cam­paign trail a long time ago.

See? I may be a lib­eral. But say­ing th­ese things isn’t so hard.

Over the past year, as our na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault has grown from “grab ’em by the p **** ” to #MeToo, we’ve wit­nessed some ex­tra­or­di­nary acts of moral con­tor­tion.

Af­ter The Washington Post pub­lished a video clip of then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump brag­ging about sex­u­ally as­sault­ing women, Trump ap­peared with Clin­ton’s ac­cusers be­fore a de­bate in a bizarre at­tempt to bal­ance the scales (never mind that he was run­ning against Hil­lary Clin­ton, not her hus­band).

In the af­ter­math of The Post’s story about Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore’s al­leged pur­suit of teenage girls when he was in his thir­ties, which in­cluded an ac­count from a woman who says Moore touched her sex­u­ally when she was 14, con­ser­va­tive pun­dit Ann Coul­ter raised the spec­tre of Mimi Beard­s­ley – as if that made Moore’s be­hav­iour ac­cept­able.

This is moral sick­ness in the ser­vice of par­ti­san­ship. Some of Moore’s de­fend­ers have even gone so far as to say they would vote for crim­i­nal men on their own side of the aisle if it meant keep­ing Democrats out of of­fice.

Bibb County Repub­li­can chair­per­son Jerry Pow told the Toronto Star’s Washington cor­re­spon­dent that “I would vote for Judge Moore”, even if he was guilty of a sex crime, “be­cause I wouldn’t want to vote for Doug Jones, Moore’s Demo­cratic op­po­nent”. Bibb added, “I’m not say­ing I sup­port what Moore did.” But ap­par­ently he can tol­er­ate it if it helps his party win.

I can­not be­lieve that there is any bill the cur­rent Repub­li­can-led Congress could pos­si­bly pass that is worth de­fend­ing the al­leged mo­lesta­tion of a 14-year-old. I can­not be­lieve that there are no costs, be they moral or po­lit­i­cal, to tol­er­at­ing gross mis­con­duct in your midst as long as the abuser in ques­tion helps you stand against your op­po­nents. This de­grad­ing race to the bot­tom drives us all deeper into the muck.

Ralph Waldo Emer­son was right that “a fool­ish con­sis­tency is the hob­gob­lin of lit­tle minds”. Stick­ing to a point even if the facts ought to lead you to an­other con­clu­sion is fool­ish, not brave.

That’s why it’s nice to see Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader Mitch McCon­nell be­lat­edly say that he be­lieves Moore’s ac­cusers and that Moore ought to with­draw from the Se­nate race. But it’s equally fool­ish, and equally de­mean­ing, to aban­don a sen­si­ble con­sis­tency in the name of strate­gic flex­i­bil­ity – to treat a lack of prin­ci­ple as proof of your own savvy and sup­posed so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

It’s long past time to stop view­ing con­sis­tency as merely a re­stric­tion. When con­sis­tency is sen­si­ble, it can be lib­er­at­ing, too. If we truly be­lieve that sex­u­ally as­sault­ing or ha­rass­ing women dis­qual­i­fies men from po­si­tions of power, we can stop de­bat­ing the al­le­ga­tions against Bill Clin­ton.

We can free our­selves of any need to weigh the roles Har­vey We­in­stein cre­ated for women against the other women’s ca­reers he un­der­mined or de­stroyed.

(We might also take a mo­ment to re­mem­ber that for every fa­mous man who abused women in pri­vate and de­fended our rights in pub­lic, there’s prob­a­bly a woman or un­com­pro­mised man who could have done that pub­lic-fac­ing work equally well.)

Tan­gling our­selves up in end­less skeins of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is a bur­den. We can set it aside if we’re firm in our con­vic­tions and don’t let party loy­alty or the prom­ise of some hy­po­thet­i­cal piece of leg­is­la­tion sway us. That may mean ac­cept­ing some short-term po­lit­i­cal losses. But it’s a rea­son­able price to pay for pre­serv­ing our morals and our peace of mind. – The Washington Post

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