Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the ever-increasing list of politicians and celebrities accused of sexual assault or harassment. The latest news cycle has brought more instances of strategic belief or non-belief. When Clinton was accused in his first term, many of us wondered how Democrats would ever be able to regain their credibility on future sexual harassment cases. The solution is simple. You delay your believing until it no longer costs you politically or personally.
President Donald Trump indicated that it was better to elect Roy Moore over a liberal to guarantee a majority in the Senate. Trump’s advisor KellyAnne Conway also made highly controversial comments that appeared to dismiss the allegations against Moore as less relevant than the loss of his vote on the tax bill. It is one thing to say that you simply do not believe the allegations and quite another to want to secure this vote at any moral cost. As I have previously stated, I found the allegations of these women (who are largely Republican, Trump voters with no partisan axe to grind) to be highly credible. It is not enough to simply dismiss the allegations as “unproven” or (as noted by President Trump) denied by the accused. Even if the statute of limitations had not run, there would be no time for a trial before the election. Voters have to reach their own conclusions based on the credibility of women and their allegations. That is what many voters (and President Trump) did in finding the accusers of Clinton credible despite Clinton’s denials. Many struggle to ignore the large number of women alleging a pattern of abuse by Moore — accounts supported by an array of neighbors and former colleagues (including a police veteran who came forward yesterday to say that she was told to keep Moore away from teenage cheerleaders). It is still an inconvenient time to believe alleged victims despite the different standard applied to Clinton’s controversies.
What is striking is that some do believe these women but still insist that the need to secure a GOP vote takes priority over the concerns that Moore is a possible pedophile or even a rapist. These people are selling their ethics (and the ethics of Republican Party) quite cheaply. It is not everyday that one is able to establish your specific price on ethics. In this case, it is a vote on a tax bill. For others, there is no choice but to draw a line in the sand . . .with Moore on the other side. Indeed, when so many politicians are standing on principle in Washington, you know that there is no real alternative. If you find these women credible, there is no principled way to vote for Roy Moore. I find them quite credible.
Here is the column:
In Washington and Hollywood, principle, like politics, is always a matter of timing. With a constantly growing list of politicians and celebrities accused of sexual harassment or assault, many long silent figures are suddenly calling for action. Democrats are now saying, more than 20 years too late, that they believe that Bill Clinton raped a woman and sexually assaulted others.
In Hollywood, celebrities and politicians who once fawned over producer Harvey Weinstein have come forward to say that they now stand with his accusers, after decades of his well-known abuse of women. In Alabama, numerous people are coming forward to discuss former Alabama chief justice and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s creepy and possibly criminal penchant for very young girls.
Many in Washington put their ethics on layaway during the Clinton presidency and that bill is suddenly due. Despite his denials, Clinton did little to hide prowling for women throughout his career and, like Moore and Weinstein, multiple women accused him of a strikingly similar pattern of sexual assault and even rape. At the time, however, the White House and Congress was at stake and no one was prepared to believe anything that would threaten political control.
Now, a poll found 53 percent of those who voted for Hillary Clintonbelieve the allegations of sexual assault and rape against Bill Clinton, allegations that the former first lady herself once dismissed as just new “bimbo eruptions.” While it has become more and more difficult not to “believe” the many victims coming forward in the various scandals, there remain sharp differences in what believing means in a modern scandal.
Public figures often accept blame or cast blame when it no longer threatens personal costs for them to do so. The key is to suspend your belief in victims until your believing is beneficial. One of those proclaiming that she now believes Clinton’s accusers is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a long Clinton defender and the person who took the seat in the Senate once occupied by Hillary Clinton, apologized and said that Bill Clinton should have resigned after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She has been joined by some other reluctant Democrats who now say that they were wrong.
The sudden epiphany of ethics from long silent politicians and commentators has left Clinton diehards with only a type of transactional ethics. Former Hillary Clinton adviser Philippe Reines reminded everyone that, once bought, you are supposed to stay bought. Reines tweetedangrily in response to Gillibrand that for more than 20 years she “took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite.” Reines does not offer a denial of Bill Clinton’s conduct, only an objection to selling out and then trying to cash in.
It is also possible to believe victims while supporting the victimizer. Take Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who left many scratching their heads last week when she announced that she had “no reason to disbelieve” any of the women accusing Moore of acts ranging from sexual assault to sexual harassment to the pursuit of young girls at malls. But she still said that she would vote for Moore because “we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on the things like Supreme Court justices.”
The public admission that she would vote for a presumed sexual assaulter of young girls on a blind party basis is almost refreshing in its honesty, if it were not completely devoid of any moral foundation. Ivey is saying that she is willing to put a man in the Senate who was allegedly barred from malls as a danger to young girls because he is “our” alleged sexual predator. Few politicians are willing to be that honest in expressing a completely amoral viewpoint. It is particularly curious when you are saying that you will vote for a presumed immoral man who is fraudulently running on a moral platform because you want to support good morals.
Lena Dunham recently showed the flipside of calculated belief. Sometimes it is beneficial to believe even if you actually do not believe accusers. When Murray Miller, writer for the HBO series “Girls,” was accused of sexual assault by actress Aurora Perrineau, Dunham and executive producer Jenni Konner issued a statement in support of Miller. While noting other worthy claims of assault and harassment, they said this was the “wrong target” and that “our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.”
Despite revealing their “insider information” about the claims as the basis for their letter, they were quickly denounced for not standing by the accuser regardless of such information. Nevertheless, “What We Lose” author Zinzi Clemmons called Dunham a “hipster racist,” writing that she was quitting Dunham’s weekly online newsletter and that it is “time for women of color, black women in particular, to divest from Lena Dunham.”
Dunham quickly issued an apology and promised to believe the accuser despite saying that she did not believe there was an assault, tweeting, “I naively believed it was important to share my perspective on my friend’s situation as it has transpired behind the scenes over the last few months. I now understand it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry.”
Recently, the New Hampshire Democratic Party held its annual Kennedy Clinton Dinner. Faced with calls for the party to drop Bill Clinton’s name from the dinner due to the sexual assault allegation, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley used a classic Washington side step and said, “I think it would be an interesting conversation right after we see the resignation of Donald Trump.”
In other words, you do not have an obligation to act ethically because it is right, but rather you can wait to act when others are acting ethically. It is akin to saying that you did nothing on sexual harassment because other people didn’t do anything. This is the same spin used by Hillary Clinton in refusing to release her Wall Street speeches until Trump released his taxes. The result is that both parties get to refuse to address ethical questions while waiting for the other do so.
Strangely, in this motley crew, Ivey’s approach of “I choose party over ethics” comes strangely the closest to a consistent ethical position. In American politics, that is what passes for principle. It is also why it is not the absence but the pretense of principle that is so maddening among our ethically challenged leaders.