Blam­ing mes­sen­ger doesn’t make mes­sage un­true

The Republican Herald - - OPINION - (Mar­cus is a writer for The Wash­ing­ton Post)

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders had this to say about al­le­ga­tions that Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore mo­lested a 14-year-old girl: “Like most Amer­i­cans the pres­i­dent be­lieves we can­not al­low a mere al­le­ga­tion, in this case one from many years ago, to de­stroy a per­son’s life. How­ever, the pres­i­dent also be­lieves that if these al­le­ga­tions are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

So many things to un­pack in these 46 words. Let’s start with the ele­phant in the quote, the un­com­fort­able fact that Pres­i­dent Trump was him­self the tar­get of such years-old “mere” al­le­ga­tions, more than a dozen, from women who claimed that he sex­u­ally as­saulted them. These were, as then-can­di­date Trump as­sured us all “hor­ri­ble liars,” who would be duly sued af­ter the elec­tion. Still wait­ing, Mr. Pres­i­dent.

Trump’s con­ve­niently flex­i­ble stan­dard on ac­cu­sa­tions, and he is not alone, boils down to: If the ac­cuser points a finger at a Demo­crat — Bill Clin­ton, Har­vey We­in­stein — her word is to be trusted, au­to­mat­i­cally. If she com­plains about a Repub­li­can, Trump’s oth­er­wise dor­mant de­vo­tion to due process kicks in. How can claims from “many years ago” be al­lowed to “de­stroy a per­son’s life”?

Some an­swers: Be­cause they are en­tirely cred­i­ble. Be­cause the girl, now a woman, has no con­ceiv­able ax to grind — she is a long­time Repub­li­can, a Trump voter even — and noth­ing to gain from com­ing for­ward. Be­cause three other women re­lated sim­i­lar, al­though less dis­turb­ing sto­ries, un­der­scor­ing Moore’s in­ter­est in younger girls.

Be­cause the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence, while es­sen­tial in the le­gal realm, does not mean the elim­i­na­tion of com­mon sense out­side it. (Thank you, Mitt Rom­ney, for say­ing that.) The will­ing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief has its lim­its.

Un­less, that is, you are a politi­cian deal­ing with a story you wish would go away. Then you turn in­stinc­tively to if-then-ism. “If these al­le­ga­tions are true ... ,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, lead­ing his prove-it cau­cus. Among them were women sen­a­tors who ought to know bet­ter. “If it’s true ... ,” said Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. “If there is any truth at all to these hor­rific al­le­ga­tions ... ,” said Maine’s Su­san Collins. Se­ri­ously, have you read this story?

The cor­rect re­sponse came from Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, who — with­out hedg­ing — termed the al­le­ga­tions “deeply dis­turb­ing and dis­qual­i­fy­ing” and called on Moore to with­draw.

If-then-ism is the rhetor­i­cal cousin of what-about-ism, a bid to de­flect at­ten­tion by ques­tion­ing whether those com­plain­ing about “x” were equally in­flamed by “y,” when “y” in­volved some­one on their side. If-then-ism rep­re­sents a sim­i­lar ef­fort to avoid cast­ing a po­lit­i­cally in­con­ve­nient judg­ment.

It is bet­ter, sure, than the jaw­drop­ping al­ter­na­tive: so-whatism, re­mark­ably fla­grant among Alabami­ans in re­sponse to the Moore re­port.

If-then-ism, by con­trast, is pure cow­ardly dodge. There are some sit­u­a­tions where the fact pat­tern may be too murky to pass judg­ment. Not here. What more in­for­ma­tion do the if-then-ers want?

One last strat­egy — blame-the mes­sen­ger — has come into play here, de­ployed by Moore and sup­port­ers like for­mer Trump ad­viser Steve Ban­non.

Blam­ing the mes­sen­ger is al­ways easier than hear­ing an un­wel­come mes­sage. It does not make that mes­sage any less true.

Ruth Mar­cus

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