It’s hard to keep score in the sexual harassment/assault derby.
No, not of the women who have come forward to say they have been victims of (usually) famous, powerful men who forcibly kissed, groped or even raped them.
This is more so that one side or the other can say, “yeah, we’re not perfect, but those guys on the other side are much worse – and there are so many more of them.”
For a while, at least in the current frenzy, it seemed that liberals were far and away the winners (which means the losers).
The list, which started with formerly liberal darling Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein — recall that liberal darling, feminist, President Trump-antagonist Meryl Streep called him “God” just a few years ago — got longer and longer with other Hollywood heroes of the left: Kevin Spacey (in his case, the victims were male), Charlie Sheen, George Takei, Ben Affleck, Jeffrey Tambor, Louis C.K. and others.
From television and radio news, the featured names are Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Hamilton Fish, Ken Baker and now even Charlie Rose — and more than a dozen others, who are not quite so famous but still prominent on the left.
On the conservative side the biggest names, who were ousted from their jobs before the Weinstein accusations began, were the late Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News — Ailes last year and O’Reilly this past April. And of course there was President Trump, whose lewd conversation with then “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in 2005 about kissing and groping women was leaked during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But then, conservatives can always point back another decade, to the 1990s and revelations of President Bill Clinton’s serial sexual predatory behavior — not the consensual affairs with Monica Lewinsky or Gennifer Flowers, but the claims of multiple other women that Clinton harassed or assaulted them without their consent.
They can also note that, at the time, the same crowd that is now “disgusted” and “horrified” at what they all knew Weinstein had been doing for decades, were scolding conservatives for even caring about what Clinton had done.
Jack Nicholson famously declared, “What would be the alternative leadership? Should it be somebody who doesn’t want to (expletive)? Bill, you’re great. Keep on!”
Famous feminist Erica Jong told us all that doing what Clinton had done was far better than being a “fascist pig” like independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who was investigating multiple allegations about Clinton, including the affair with Lewinsky.
Which brings us to the current score-keeping, focused mostly on members of Congress or those who hope to become members of that not-so-august body. The allegations of sexual impropriety have been jumping from right to left and back fast enough to make you think you’re watching a tennis match.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been diverted from the list of creeps and alleged criminals on the left with a pretty much nonstop diet of the alleged creepy preferences of Roy Moore, the ferociously conservative Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama. A parade of women have said he tried to “date” or seduce them when they were teens and he was an assistant district attorney in his early 30s.
But just as those on the left thought Moore was going to give them an extended breather, along came a couple (so far) of women with accusations against left-wing, feminist champion Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota.
First, a Los Angeles broadcaster said he had forcibly kissed her during a “rehearsal” for a skit on a USO tour in 2006, before he was a senator. She produced a picture of him leering while grabbing at her breasts while she was asleep. That was followed by a claim from another woman who said Franken had grabbed her buttocks while they posed for a photo at a state fair.
While Franken was offering the standard defense that he didn’t “remember” the incidents the way the women did, he was rescued, at least temporarily, by Republican Congressman Joe Barton, R-Texas, although Barton (so far) hasn’t been accused of harassment or assault.
In his case, it’s just salacious – a nude photo allegedly posted by a woman with whom he had been in a “consensual relationship.” But it takes the publicity blowtorch off Franken and everybody else for at least 15 minutes or so.
And it is also a reminder that this will not be the end of the list. Surely there will be more – which should be a warning to both parties not to think they can brand the other with being more sordid than they are.
I guess this is all is something to be thankful for, although it seems more than a bit strange to a guy who came of age when everybody was saying, “if it feels good, do it,” and who, 25 years later, was told when he criticized Bill Clinton that he was being an uptight, “sexual McCarthyite.”
Indeed, until a couple of months ago, the people who are now neck deep into a Puritanical lather about Weinstein et al were shrugging off this stuff. As long as you had the correct politics, you could do anything you wanted with, and to, women.
Even feminists gave them a pass. Recall what came to be called Gloria Steinem’s “one free grope” standard in 1998 when she defended Clinton.
Under the standard that has held sway since September, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and other liberal icons would likely have been booted out of office.
I’m not sure that’s a good thing. We are all flawed people, and some people have more salacious, and public, flaws than others.
But if this is the standard, then let’s stick to it – for everybody. Suddenly, character is allegedly much more important than politics. Let’s see how long that lasts.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at email@example.com