Sexual misconduct should not be weaponized as a mechanism to score points against political adversaries. To do so is insulting to the victims of an epidemic which we must address as a societal problem, not a partisan, political one. The strains of patriarchy and hyper-masculinity that have impacted our society don’t discriminate. As we’ve seen lately, necessary revelations have exposed abhorred behaviors at all points on the political spectrum.
In my recent journeys through the most political realms of the internet, I’ve noticed a particularly disturbing trend in how the self-described Left addresses such revelations, especially those that expose elected officials of the Democratic Party as no different than some of the Right’s sexual predators we love to demonize. The label of “deflection” has been used to describe a lot of activity lately: frequent defense of Trump manifests through shouts of “…but Hillary! But Obama!” in an attempt to remove the spotlight from clearly heinous acts. Yet, as much as the Left accuses Trump supporters of deflection, we are now observing a large contingent of Democratic loyalists using the same tactic to mitigate the political impact of harassment allegations against people like Sen. Franken and Rep. Conyers. These deflectors may not be denying the accusations outright, but they certainly trivialize their significance when they say, “Why doesn’t our ‘pussy-grabber-in-chief’ go first?” in response to calls for resignation. This is textbook deflection, shifting the focus of criticism onto political adversaries without pausing for a moment of concerted self-reflection. Of course, Trump’s long history of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault should never be ignored or forgotten, but if we are truly committed to fighting this plague we must be consistent in our outrage and not weigh certain crimes as forgivable just because of the perpetrator’s political affiliation.
Indeed, hypocrisy runs deep when sexual misconduct is politicized. Last weekend, Sen. Nancy Pelosi gave a brutally insulting answer while being interviewed by Chuck Todd about her take on the John Conyers allegations. When Todd asked Pelosi what her so called “zero tolerance” policy for sexual harassment entailed for Conyers, Pelosi stumbled around a defense of due process before saying firmly, “John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women.”
When Todd then asked Pelosi whether she believed the victims’ accounts, she made her answer even worse: “I don’t know who they are. They haven’t really come forward.”
Pelosi may now be calling for Conyers’ resignation, but her initial reaction is still telling. Her attempts to mitigate the impact of such allegations, discrediting the victims and hailing Conyers’ “protection of women” are indicative of a fiercely partisan response to a nonpartisan issue. Harkening back to the accused’s historic good deeds is a classic ploy to discredit victims. Think of the Hollywood insiders who championed Weinstein as giving countless career-changing opportunities to women—according to them, this made him a true ally! Victims of sexual misconduct don’t care about the politics of their attacker, or their so-called “merit.” Those who stand in true solidarity with the victims shouldn’t either. Nancy Pelosi is not a real ally of the victims, and apparently not an ally of her own policies, either.
Things also got dicey when, last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that she thinks Bill Clinton should have resigned from the presidency after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This unexpected development from a long-time Clinton ally received a pretty serious backlash from some parts of her own base—fiercely loyal Democratic voters and Clinton supporters who accused Gillibrand of irresponsibly bringing up past events when the present problem of Trump should be receiving all of her focus.
Worse, those same supporters lambasted Gillibrand for being ungrateful to a political figure (Bill Clinton) who, alongside Hillary, has bolstered Gillibrand’s political career and backed her unequivocally throughout her tenure.
This is one of the most dangerous reactions from the “left” I’ve seen yet. Berating a woman for being ungrateful to the man who helped her career because she spoke out about his sexual misconduct sets up a precedent that is toxic and unbelievably hypocritical for Democrats to expound. Again, it looks eerily similar to defenses mounted by Weinstein allies. Furthermore, it echoes a sentiment from the election cycle I think is equally dangerous—the idea that the Clintons should be isolated from criticism because any amount of it bolsters Republican narratives and propagates internal division. Bullshit—we must always be vigilant of misconduct, and I applaud Gillibrand for her divergence.
Victims of sexual harassment simply deserve better than politicized reactions. They deserve consistent outrage, validity and nonpartisan solidarity. Let’s give it to them.