Sunday's debate spectacle exposed the bizarre hypocrisy of sex and politics in America
There’s no question, of course, that Republicans cross the line with sex, too, often with the same degree of impunity. Former Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who regularly visited prostitutes, but was re-elected by the voters anyway, and liberal Oregon Republican Bob Packwood, who was known to chase his would-be female prey around his conference room table, come to mind.
But it’s also clear that the number, scale, and scope of these transgressions pale in comparison to those of high-level Democrats.
Two theories come to mind. First, many Democratic transgressors are heirs to the 1960s counter-culture with its libertine attitudes toward sexual experimentation and sexual fidelity. Women in that era were often accused of being “uptight” if they refused to have sex with men who wanted them. “Hooking up” was supposed to be liberating, for women and men both.
Many women say they enjoyed that era’s promiscuous freedom, but others simply succumbed to pressure and sometimes regretted it. Hart, Clinton, Edwards, Hastings, and Filner, among others, all grew to manhood – or perhaps didn’t — in this era; they were deeply socialized in it while Republicans, for the most part, were not.
Second, Democratic politicians more than their GOP counterparts may have a sense of entitlement because of their support for women who are still grossly underrepresented in politics. Women’s advocates are desperate for allies in their fight for reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, and paid maternity leave, among other issues.
And with so few friends in the GOP, they have proven far too willing to overlook rumors of sexual transgressions by Democratic politicians just to keep them supporting their cause. In turn, some of the men they approach appear to treat their sexual advances as a just “reward” for their efforts as well as leverage against their prospective accusers.
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, who chaired the California delegation and knew Filner well, had more than enough evidence from women that he was a “serious problem.” But Filner was also championing legislation supporting women in California, which is why so many advocacy women went to see him to begin with. Many came away feeling shamed and compromised by his unseemly advances, which some tolerated and never reported simply to secure his support for a favored bill.
And Pelosi, in the end did nothing, until a group of Democratic women finally revolted and demanded that Filner be held to account.
Hillary Clinton now says that every woman who comes forward with an allegation of rape should be believed – until the evidence suggests otherwise. That sounds promising but she’s never apologized, even privately, to Juanita Broaddrick or her husband’s other victims; and while the allegations were fresh, she stood by while her allies publicly disparaged them as “trailer trash.”
And young Monica Lewisnky, just 25, and naively in love with her husband, surely deserved far better than to be dismissed by his wife as a “narcissistic loony tune” and left to the cruel mercies of the tabloid press.
In the end, neither party is immune from the temptation to exploit moral sanctimony for partisan gain. The power stakes are simply too high and American culture too schizoid and prurient about sex to develop healthy boundaries for political discourse.
Clinton’s accusers may have gained some satisfaction from seeing their alleged assailant exposed before a live television audience. Or maybe they just felt degraded and humiliated all over again, caught between warring perpetrators in an unseemly public spectacle, with no more justice and peace of mind than they ever had.