Imagine if you will a large multi-national corporation.
The CEO of this corporation is quite charismatic and is extremely popular with most of his employees and well as the corporate shareholders. His opponents, on the other hand, hate him to a degree that seems unhinged. They spread rumors about him, and quite a few of these rumors are pretty silly: he’s a gangster; he’s really a mole for a rival corporation; he has employees killed. Since there’s no evidence of these allegations (not even circumstantial) the employees and shareholders don’t pay them much attention.
There are other rumors, though, that are more troubling — rumors where there are witnesses.
Several ex-employee women claim the CEO sexually harassed them. Some even claim that when they attempted to rebuff him, he forced himself on them anyway. There were investigations, of course, but for most of these women it was a matter of he said/she said; due to the charisma of the CEO this puts “she said” at a bit of a disadvantage. Not that the executive staff is relied on that charisma to save the day, mind you.
In some instances the corporation’s executive staff released personal letters they had obtained from accusers to make them look “slutty.” In other instances the executives hired private detectives, discovered what may or may not have been couplings these women had outside the bonds of marriage, and sent out memos describing these dalliances to the corporation’s employees. In one case it turned out that one of these women had actually recorded a conversation that proved her case. Still, HR decided that since she was probably a bit of slut anyway it didn’t warrant any kind of action.
But that’s all in the past. How can you blame someone for doing something that’s in the past?
Now, it so happens there is also a young intern who works in this corporation’s executive offices. This intern is not paid. Part of the reason she has agreed to work for free is that being an intern in the executive offices is a career booster. Having it on her resume will mean more opportunities and probably more income in later years. In truth, there are thousands of young people in her industry that would jump at the chance to have this internship; it’s a plum assignment. Once there, this intern catches the CEO’s eye and over time he seduces her. Well, he sort of seduces her — their sole physical tryst is his convincing her to give him oral sex, eventually ejaculating onto her dress and sending her home in her stained garment.
Afterwards, however, the president decides that although he likes getting a blowjob, he doesn’t particularly like having to hang around with someone that has already given him one. So the executive staff arranges to have the intern transferred to a considerably less plum assignment in another division. Being an intern at this other division will not lead to the kind of career opportunities that she would have had with the executive office gig. Worse, in this particular industry being transferred from the executive offices to this other division communicates something lacking in her performance. Rather than being a highlight, that executive office job has suddenly become a red mark for the intern, should she decides to continue her career in this industry.
Later, when all of this is has been taken up in courts, the CEO and his executive staff wage a smear campaign against the intern. She is subsequently described in the press as a stalker, crazy, a slut, a home wrecker, a harlot, and part of a vast conspiracy against the corporation itself.
After the entire sordid affair is over, everyone agrees that the intern is slut who deserved every bad thing that was coming to her, and more. The executive staff — the ones who waged the smear campaign they knew to be false — went on to positions even more lucrative than they held while in the CEO’s staff. The CEO, of course, went on to receive many lucrative bonuses. After he retired, the corporation continued to lionize him as a great leader and — somewhat ironically — one of the best employers a woman could ever hope to have.
But that’s all in the past. How can you blame someone for doing something that’s in the past?
Unless, you know, it’s a woman.
This weekend I put up a post criticizing the Left for the way it continues to handle the sexual harassment scandal that swept up Monica Lewinski. The pushback I received was, in my opinion, a good indicator of how just how far we as a society have to go when it comes to how we treat the crime of sexual harassment.
The objections to criticizing the way the Left handles this scandal were — as always — threefold:
- The scandal was framed as an affair.
- Those pundits who did not savage Lewinski when framing the crime in terms of what she did or did not do wrong were excused as not being part of the problem.
- The good work Democrats do overall was given as an excuse to President Clinton, his senior advisors, and the vast majority of talking heads on Team Blue who continue years later to provide cover for those crimes.
Or, if you prefer: See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.
As regular readers know, sexual harassment is a subject with which I have some professional experience. Part of my house was paid for by my assisting corporations craft harassment policies, mediating harassment disputes, and assisting with harassment training and investigations. Even in our “advanced” age of 2014, it remains the most misunderstood of all employer liabilities. It continues to be obfuscated by myths, some of which the Left perpetuates with the Lewinski scandal.
Here’s one: If a person consented to a relationship, no sexual harassment occurred.
The Left continues to frame Clinton’s transgression as having had an extramarital affair. They are wrong. And it isn’t simply because the President had power over an unpaid staffer (thought that certainly is an integral point). After he was done with her, he and his staff had her transferred to an out-of-the-way, less plum position at the Pentagon so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the potential aftermath that can come with an intern whose career one holds in one’s hands as one leads them on.
There’s also this: Despite what the Left likes to tell itself to feel better about itself, Lewinsky wasn’t made to testify in connection to an investigation regarding sweet young thangs giving blowjobs to married men. She was compelled to testify in regards to an actual sexual harassment lawsuit — one which, as it turned out, the President was actually guilty of having committed. Indeed, despite the President’s defenders insistence that she’s a fame whore, Lewinsky actually tried hard to avoid the spotlight. She even initially perjured herself, denying that there had been an inappropriate relationship in hopes of avoiding the slut shaming she guessed in advance she would receive.
Not that she needed to be Kreskin to see it coming.
Various women had in fact already accused the President of sexual harassment. Some had claimed something far worse: that Bill Clinton, prior to having been elected to the highest office, had forced sex with them against their will. The response from Clinton, his wife, and their core advisors had been the same in each instance: paint the accuser as a crazy, slutty woman with whom nothing had happened and even if it did she was totally asking for it. They did this as well with other women who began stepping forward saying that Clinton had come on to them as well. (It is important to note that several of these women didn’t sue for damages or try to cash in on their infamy; they simply wanted to stand behind his other accusers as their names were being dragged through the mud.) In every case Clinton and his staff dug up information about these women’s sex lives and broadcast them to the world. Some were threatened with perjury charges. And of course there was Paula Jones. Jones’ claims that she was harassed held up to scrutiny — we know now that the harassment did occur — but were initially dismissed nonetheless because there were “no damages suffered.” (Clinton would eventually pay almost $1 million to Jones.)
When Lewinsky eventually testified (stained blue dress and all), it wasn’t on her own behalf. She was called as a witness to prove that Clinton had lied during the Jones investigation. Indeed, we now know that Clinton has been proven to have lied, to one degree or another, regarding the case of every woman that came forward. And if you think that’s not such a big deal when it comes to all the good he did for women, remember that some these were rape allegations — and that the reason they had been dropped was that it had been assumed earlier that his word meant something and that theirs meant considerably less.
So no, the big thing about Monica Lewinsky isn’t that she had an “affair” or gave a blowjob.
Let’s take a look at the second type of pushback: The notion that, because articles like this one at Think Progress don’t actually smear Lewinsky, they therefore get a pass on sexist or anti-women criticism.
At first blush, this is certainly true enough. And if the article were a sidebar to a discussion — any discussion — of what the Bill Clinton did to Lewinski in 1996 (or his family and staff did to her afterward), I would probably agree. But Think Progress — like pretty much every other non-Right punditry vehicle — won’t dare frame the issue that way, for fear of making things a bit more complicated for the DNC.
Here are the posts you get when you search for Lewinsky on Think Progress. It is, for the most part, a series of comparisons of Lewinsky and other political rogues. Most of the posts that bother discussing her relationship with the former President at all are like this one — pitching the argument that it is somehow impolite, outrageous, or simply the mark of terrible journalism to even bring up the name Lewinski when talking about the Big Dog. In this context, Tara Culp-Resser’s Think Progress piece falls well short of my own personal bar of acceptability. And, I suspect, it would for others on the Left as well were the name “Clinton” not attached to it.
Imagine if you will a piece in the Wall Street Journal that covered a similar scandal that had no political implications, such as the one I gave above involving an imaginary multi-national corporation. Imagine as well that the WSJ gave that CEO a pass and refused to discuss his crimes. Imagine still further that the WSJ continued to lionize the CEO whenever the opportunity arose — but when discussing the intern only did so in terms of her supposed shortcomings. Then imagine an article, when that intern was back in the news, that talked about whether or not she should be empowered be viewing herself as a victim — again, not discussing in any way that a very serious crime was perpetrated against her. Would we not find that article offensive, in that context?
Even the way we continue to refer to the events — the “Lewinski Scandal” — is telling. Consider: How often do you hear anyone refer to the Ginger White Scandal? How about the Maria Chapur Scandal? The Deborah Palfey, Anthony Mercieca, Tracy Jackson and Diane Hill Scandals? The answer, of course, is never. You may, however, at various times hear people refer to the scandals of Herman Cain, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Mark Souder and Tom Ganley. If there is a Left-leaning blog, columnist, magazine, cable network or talk radio show that refers to the events in which Lewinski was entwined “The Bill Clinton Scandal,” I have yet to come across them.
So no, making the choice to frame Clinton’s sexual harassment in terms of how Monica Lewinski is or isn’t so really bad — while ignoring Clinton’s actual crimes — really doesn’t get you a pass, at least not from me.
Which brings us to the third objection: That the Clintons and the Democrats are better for women than Republicans — if women’s issues are important to you, then in the Big Picture it is best to look the other way.
This, too, seems reasonable enough at first blush. After all, pick a bit of legislation that favors women — equal pay, family leave, access to birth control, etc. — and it’s sure to be the product of Team Blue and opposed by Team Red. If you believe that focusing on these issues is necessary (and for the record, I do), then doesn’t it make sense to wish away whatever harassment (and possible rape) Bill Clinton might have engaged in? And if that means demonizing, laughing off, or simply ignoring his victims, isn’t that all for the greater good of women? After all, there’s no question that the Big Dog is still the most popular Democrat out there; he rallies the troops and raises money like nobody’s business. Then, too, there is the little matter that his wife is the presumptive nominee for President in 2016. Doesn’t all of that outweigh what he’s done to a few singular women? The needs and the many, and all that.
Here’s something else most people don’t know about valid sexual harassment claims: They always have a negative effect on people in an organization that had nothing to do with the harassment; there is always an unfair sacrifice.
A sexual harassment scandal for a large corporation can lead to loss of revenue that can lead to layoffs for people — including women — who never even met the harasser. Judgments paid by companies (or increased premiums to liability insurers) mean less money for all employees. A small enough company can go out of business under the weight of these lawsuits and EEOC fines, putting people — again, even women — who did nothing wrong in the unemployment line. Beyond that, these suits are a major disruption to a company’s workflow and moral.
And if that is too esoteric or nebulous a concept, go back to the privatized version of the Clinton scandal from up top. Imagine that the company in question was not a large multi-national corporation, but a nonprofit that raised money for breast cancer, or one that paid for lower-income young women to get education in the STEM fields. Those are very pro-women missions, and women in general are (to some degree) better off that those kinds of nonprofits exist. Would we still waive off sexual harassment by those male executive directors? Would we be complicit about slut shaming the women they targeted — you know, for the greater good of women?
As I have noted before, one of the great gifts Ta-Nehisi Coates has brought to the intertubes is his careful and constant teaching that simply passing laws protecting the disenfranchised and vulnerable isn’t enough. You can pass all the legislation you want; if liberal whites don’t want blacks in their neighborhoods they’ll find a way to pass equal-rights bills and circumvent them. Sexual harassment laws are no different. Here’s a news flash: It’s always easy to agree that some faceless corporation we don’t work for be punished for abusing their female employees; it’s always more “grey” when those lawsuits mean our own lives are negatively impacted. That’s in no small part precisely why we these laws — because there’s always a reason for those closest to the situation to excuse the abuse.
Indeed, sexual harassment laws themselves are ones that were put on the books by the Left. The Right fought them bitterly. (And in many cases, it still does.) What good does it do if the Left passes laws that protect women — only to decide that those protections disappear the moment it isn’t particularly convenient for the Left? What does that make those laws, really, other than political tools with which to bash their opponents? When the Right claims that liberals are the real racists, the Left mocks them — and as well they should based on the Right’s performance on that issue. What then, is the difference between that and the Left calling the Right sexist, when they are unwilling to choose the protection of women over X number of campaign contributions?
And as for whole 2016 issue, here’s another bit of shocking news: No one has placed a single vote in the Democratic primary yet. So when the Left defends the Clintons on the basis that the Right is worse and there’s an election coming up, it’s somewhat disingenuous. Clinton is not yet running against a GOP candidate; she’s running against a field of liberal democrats, many of whom don’t demonize victims of sexual harassment so that they can achieve power. No one’s putting a gun to anyone’s head and making Hilary Clinton the nominee.
And if that’s not enough, consider this: It turns out the Left really can come down hard on the Big Dog these days, providing that the issue is one that’s important enough to the Left.
What that says about how important an issue sexual harassment is for the Left is probably up for debate.