Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, December 9, 2017 11:48 am

The diminishing view from the moral high ground

As Democrats work to align their practices with their stated principles, they — and women — risk losing a wider war.

Time magazine has dubbed them “The Silence Breakers” and named them Person of the Year: the women (mostly) who have come forward to allege sexual harassment, or worse, on the part of powerful men, many of them quite famous.

Politics having forever been a boys’ club, it’s no surprise that the trend is affecting official Washington. What has been striking, however, has been the difference in the ways Democrats and Republicans have handled allegations against their respective members.

Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member in the House, was forced to resign. Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat who some Democrats believe should be the party’s 2020 presidential nominee, was forced to resign. (More on him in a moment.) Rep. Alcee Hastings, the Florida Democrat, is alleged to have used more than $200,000 in taxpayer money to settle allegations; at this writing he has not resigned, but his situation is tenuous.

Contrast that approach with the GOP’s: Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, also used taxpayer money to settle allegations; he hasn’t resigned and has no plans to. (UPDATE: There are new allegations against him, too.) Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who has been accused of sexual assault by women including one who was 14 at the time, is running for the vacant Alabama seat in the U.S. Senate with the full support of the Republican National Committee, Alabama elected officials (who are mostly Republican) and President Donald Trump, himself currently being accused of sexual harassment or assault by almost 20 women. The Republicans who control Congress have expressed zero interest in expelling Farenhold, expelling Moore if he’s elected (legally, the Senate probably cannot prevent him from being seated if he wins), or even investigating Trump.

The Democrats, having long espoused equality of the sexes, and having argued at least since the 1991 Anita Hill case that women accusers should be believed, are now having to figure out exactly how that will work in practice, lest they be credibly accused of hypocrisy. There’s no road map; it’s being drawn now as they proceed. But they do seem to be acting, or trying to act, on the belief that the party’s practices should align with its principles, however painfully.

This is a particularly acute problem in Franken’s case. The allegations against him are generally far more minor in nature than those against, say, Moore or Trump. Franken has been an ally for women in the Senate. And, again, a lot of Dems would’ve liked to see him not just stay in the Senate but also go on to win the White House. But the party, publicly led by women senators, insisted he resign. And so he said he would.

But the Republicans, having not been a party that particularly favors women’s rights, have no such worries about hypocrisy. As has been abundantly clear at least since 1995, they care not about principles, only power. Accordingly, they’ve doubled down on support for Moore, primarily to protect their tenuous Senate majority.

Think about that. One of the two major parties in this country thinks it’s just fine for a credibly accused child molester to be a U.S. Senate candidate, and to be seated if he wins. And while the press hasn’t exactly endorsed Moore — indeed, Alabama’s three largest newspapers editorialized against Moore and in favor of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones — neither has it made enough of a stink about the GOP’s appalling lack of a moral center. And Republican voters are all for him, and not just in Alabama.

Now think about this: Suppose Moore were a Democrat, and his Republican opponent would become the 51st Republican senator — enough to, say, overturn the Affordable Care Act or some other law favored by liberals. Would the Democrats take the “Democrats uber alles!” approach? It’s inconceivable that they would (I suspect most would sit the race out, which is as good as voting for the Republican). And in the unlikely event that they did, it’s inconceivable that the news media would accept that decision with the equanimity that it seems to be accepting GOP support of Moore.

Herein lies a major dilemma for Democrats: If they do the right thing — and punishing sexual harassers and abusers is indisputably the right thing — they’ll get, at best, nominal congratulations from their base (some of whom will argue, correctly, that this course correction is happening decades too late), nominal praise from the news media, and little to no political bump.

Republicans, on the other hand, have decided that they can brazen out anything — and that therefore, they will. If anything, this is enhancing the already-strong party support from the base. Moreover, Republicans are not paying a price either in news coverage or in public esteem; the country already is deeply divided along partisan lines, so any movement would be minimal to begin with, but even so, the latest disturbing news about GOP support for a sexual predator is having little to no discernible impact on voter registration.

So from a political standpoint, what’s the benefit to Democrats of doing the right thing? It keeps the base on board, which is important, but beyond that, benefits are hard to see. And why does that matter? Because the Republicans are actively hostile to women’s rights, and only the Democrats can stop them from their current path toward banning not just abortion but also birth control, halting efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work, and many other things — yes, including stopping sexual harassment. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick observes:

Is [Franken going while Moore stays] the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.

To see the double standard in action, watch Mike Huckabee making the case that Roy Moore should be welcomed into the Senate because Franken has stayed. Then keep watching and realize that in the next breath, he adds that Moore has “denied the charges against him vehemently and categorically” so they must be false. Franken and Conyers are deployed by the right to say Moore should stay, and then they are dismissed as suckers for crediting their accusers.

We see this dynamic in other areas of politics, too, such as to what extent Nazis should be given the same rights as everybody else: The problem is that Nazis aren’t playing by the same rules as everyone else; they intend to use their rights to get into a position in which they can deny the rights of others. And as Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who presided at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials, has famously observed, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

So what can the Democrats do? I don’t think playing the game the way the Republicans do is the right call; that way, no one wins, least of all the victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Beyond that, I would argue that the party needs to make this issue a priority, by which I mean Democrats in both houses of Congress, and particularly the women senators who brought about Franken’s resignation, ought to use the rules of their respective houses to throw enough wrenches into the works to bring business to a standstill until there’s a bipartisan investigation of the allegations (including alleged the rape of a then-13-year-old girl) against Donald Trump and against Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas for lying about his treatment of Anita Hill, and a standard procedure to follow in each house when a member is accused of sexual misconduct. If a government shutdown ensues, so be it. This matters (UPDATE: and if Vanity Fair is correct, it’s about to start mattering a whole lot more).

From where I sit, Al Franken had to resign. Yes, there’s some circumstantial evidence that the first accusation against him was by a Republican operative. But the accusations against him, though minor as these things go, were too serious, numerous and credible to ignore.

But rather than simply announcing he would resign — and even noting the irony of his resignation when Trump, accused by more people of having done worse things, remains in office — I wish Franken had said, “I will resign … right after you do, Mr. President.” That would help restore some of the moral and ethical balance now currently MIA in U.S. politics, and it would lessen the political costs and enhance the political benefits to the Democratic Party of redoubling its work on behalf of the victims of sexual misconduct, and on behalf of women generally.

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Friday, December 6, 2013 7:35 pm

Quote of the Day, Response to Cardinal Timothy Dolan Edition

So Cardinal Timothy Dolan went on Press the Meat this past Sunday to argue that Catholic doctrine on gays and women has been “caricatured” by Hollywood and the media and that the Church has been “outmarketed” in spreading its message. No, he really said this. So Charlie Pierce responds:

And the Founder assured us that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, and you’re arguing that you got “outmarketed” by the Sundance Festival?

(Dolan also argued that the Pope “can’t make doctrinal changes,” which would surprise the hell out of most Catholics, the Pope included. You can’t make this stuff up.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:52 pm

Incoming, or, War on women? WHAT war on women?

I’ve been beyond swamped lately. I worked for 40 hours straight this past weekend on a research paper (yes, “straight” means “without sleeping”), slammed through a boatload of reading and video-watching for school and am leading discussion this week in one of my classes. And that doesn’t even get into the day job and kids.

But I did a little Twittering over meals, during which I was battened onto by some troll claiming to have served someplace where women are second-class citizens and insisting that because the Taliban are stoning women and setting them on fire and whatnot, American women have no right to suggest that there’s a war on women going on in this country. I pointed out that he had the awareness and grasp of metaphor of your average cinder block and then blocked him because I’m too old for that crap.

But there’s a lot of that going around, as Angry Black Lady at Balloon Juice points out with this jaw-droppingly stupid rant from some woman named Cathy McMorris-Rogers. Her thesis: There is no Republican war on women; there is only a Democratic Party trying to scare women for political gain.

No, really:

Because I’m still swamped, I’m outsourcing my response to ABL, who can add a uterocentric perspective that I cannot. her language is a little coarse, which, in light of all the circumstances she describes, I ascribe to her being in good cerebrovascular health:

This woman is out of her f—— skull.  How DARE she? Democrats are scaring women to drum up votes?  Is she serious?  Let’s take a little walk down GOP F—ery Lane, shall we?

  • Republicans want to tax us if we choose to get an abortion.
  • Republicans are forcing doctors to flat-out lie to us about abortions increasing the risk of breast cancer.
  • Republicans are trying to force us to get permission from the man (Father? Rapist? Who cares!) before getting an abortion.
  • Republicans think we’re sluts for wanting insurance coverage for contraception—whether for birth control or otherwise—all the while demonstrating how utterly devoid of brain activity they are by suggesting that the doctor-recommended use for birth control is “a-pill-per-screw,” and that maybe we could pay for our ovarian cyst treatment if we’d just stop drinking so many f—— soy lattes.

(She left out one other one: Tennessee was until just recently considering a bill that would make public details about every abortion in the state, along with information on the doctor who performed it. Because, the sacred notion of medical privacy aside, there’s no way anything bad could come of that. But don’t take my word for it — we can just ask David Gunn, John Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, Barnett Slepian or George Tiller. Oh, wait, no, we can’t.)

Republicans want us to lie back and take it.  They want us to just “close our eyes” while they shame us and guilt us and emotionally traumatize us and out us to the public for making a choice about our bodies that has absolutely f—-all to do with them.  And they’re doing this under the guise of “education” and “life-affirmation”; attaching quaint and pithy names to horrific bills which violate our rights as humans.  Names like “Ultrasound Opportunity” or “Right to Know and See.”  Don’t worry.  It’s all about knowledge.

Knowledge is power, you see, and frankly ladies, you don’t know what the f— you’re doing.  You think you’re incubating baby iguanas in your wombs while storks slingshot babies through open windows in the dead of night.  No, no, silly one.  This here probe will give you all the knowledge about the birds and the bees that you need, and conveniently, since you’re pregnant in the first place, you’ve already consented to be vaginally probed by our metal knowledge stick. Hooray!

Oh yeah—and let’s not forget that we’re getting f—— FIREBOMBED for daring to believe that a woman’s uterus is hers.  Not her husband’s.  Not her boyfriend’s. Not her father’s or uncle’s or brother’s. And certainly not some f—— politician who does not now nor has he ever owned a uterus, or the feckless Republican women who fall in line behind these misogynist [asses].

And you can f— right off with that “oh, the firebomber was just a crazy homeless dude” crap.  As Melissa MacEwan at Shakesville so eloquently put it:

Guess who else is “crazy”? Anyone who sees a pattern of anti-progressive violence—and, very specifically, misogynist and/or homophobic and/or racist violence—and has the unmitigated temerity to suggest that, hey, maybe this [stuff] isn’t happening in a void.

All of this is to say the following—

Cathy McMorris-Rodgers? Jump up your own uterus, lady. You don’t speak for me. You don’t speak for thousands of women who don’t have the distinct privilege of standing on the Capitol steps spewing bullshit in order to protect the misogynist necks of the Republican men to whom you’ve sold your soul, your dignity, your humanity, your personal freedom, and, indeed your life; all the while knowing that should you or your daughter Grace require birth control or an abortion or any of the women’s health services that you and your ilk are viciously stripping from us, you will be able to get them.  After all, as a member of Congress, you have some of the best health insurance in the country!  And we all know that the rules which you seek to apply to millions of women—many of them poor women of color—don’t apply to the daughters of deluded state politicians from the Pacific Northwest. (Dontcha know.)

So, Cathy, you want to give up your reproductive rights? Or the reproductive rights of your daughter? Fine. Go right ahead.

But back the f— up off of mine.

And the notion that Democrats are scaring women by shining a light on the horrific human rights injustices that you Republicans seek to impose on us is patently absurd.  Democrats aren’t scaring women, Cathy. Republicans are scaring women.

I’ll go one better than that: Republicans aren’t just scaring women, they’re terrorizing women.

And I’ll borrow from another of Melissa’s Shakesville tweets to summarize:

There are a lot of things that don’t get called terrorism in this country, but chief among them is the anti-choice movement, which is the most brazen, unapologetic terrorist campaign in the US, its co-ordination and orchestration done right out in the open, where no one in the media or politics will call it what it is. It is an inherently violent ideology, backed by a decades-long campaign of intimidation, harassment and violence directed at abortion providers and abortion seekers, that is ignored by one party and mainstreamed as a central plank of its party platform by the other.

Now, Republicans will deny that they’re involved with such a thing, or that they even could benefit from it, let alone consciously try to cash in. To which I say, with all due respect: Bullshit.

It’s terrorism. The perps need to be locked up in SuperMax for the rest of their miserable, bitter, un-American little lives, and all their privileged enablers (and I’m looking at you, Cathy) need to be held legally and publicly accountable as well, because if there’s a war on terror, then that war, like charity, needs to start at home.

It’s the 21st century folks, and I’m damned tired of coddling criminals.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 8:49 pm

Devoured by moths and rust; or, Sex is the hill they have chosen to die on

As I’ve said before, the Roman Catholic Church is a continuing criminal enterprise, an international scheme to victimize children, intimidate and/or bribe the victims and their families and protect the guilty.

It is also, as is true of all people and most human institutions, a mixture of good and evil. It has spoken out on behalf of the poor (though, I would argue, not nearly loudly enough) many times, for example. And not that you’d know it because it has the megaphone turned down on this issue, but it  currently also is speaking out against a hasty rush to war with Iran.

But on some issues, the church speaks more loudly than on others. What it speaks most loudly on today in this country — abortion and other issues related to women’s sexual activity — is a matter of conscious choice. The church likely would deny this and claim that all its moral stands are of equal importance, which, even if it were true, would fly in the face of logic. All sin is equal before God, true, but here on Earth we have long since comes to grips, those of us in the reality-based community, with proportionality. That’s why we execute people for premeditated murder but not for parking violations.

The Church, although a body of believers and a body of belief, also is an earthly institution with vast but finite resources. And so it, too, has to come to grips with proportionality and make choices. If the Church does not choose carefully, innocent people will be harmed, both as a direct result of the church’s emphasis and as an indirect result of the church’s refusal to emphasize other issues that could have helped other people. That’s going to be true whatever the Church prioritizes, of course. But one must wonder what could have led it to decide that abortion and contraception are more important than starting a war. As Matthew’s Gospel (6:21) says, where your treasure is, there your heart is also. And so we see that the Church’s heart — where it has allocated its treasure, defined as its efforts and resources as a megaphone of moral authority — is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, siding with the powerful against the poor and poor in spirit, siding with those who refuse to comfort those who mourn, siding with warmakers against the gentle, siding with criminals against their victims, and on and on and on, all in contravention of the teachings of the Christ that this same church professes to love and worship.

Which makes particularly sad this comment from Athenae at First Draft:

“When it comes right down to it the Church has made a deliberate choice that sexual intercourse is going to be the hill they want to die on. And absent some massive backlash on the part of the faithful, dying is exactly what they’re going to do.”

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