A few weeks ago I wrote that I thought we were witnessing a “sea change” in how Democrats and Republicans viewed sexual harassment charges: Democrats used to condemn Republicans for alleged harassment while excusing or overlooking charges against Democrats, while Republicans condemned Democrats while excusing their fellow Republicans. Now Democrats and Republicans alike are condemning those accused of harassment without regard to party affiliation. But now it looks as if changes in tactics are cosmetic at best, and don’t really represent changes in underlying attitudes.
Consider the Democrats. Once they argued that:
- Former Texas Senator John Tower was unfit to be George H. W. Bush’s Defense Secretary because he slept with too many women, not his wife;
- Clarence Thomas was unfit to serve on the United States Supreme Court because he talked dirty to a woman and read Playboy Magazine; and
- Oregon Senator Bob Packwood was unfit to remain in the United States Senate because he kissed and groped too many women.
And then came Bill Clinton.
Tower, Thomas, and Packwood were all Republicans. But Bill Clinton was a Democrat. Suddenly, whether he had exposed himself to one woman, fondled and groped another, raped a third, and conducted an affair with an intern young enough to be his daughter was no big deal. It was only sex. Besides—Hillary didn’t care, so why should we. And of course, the Democrats always protected Ted “Chappaquidick” Kennedy (and by the way, if you run out of things to do, google “waitress sandwich”) and see what pops up).
But now the Democrats are condemning their own members of Congress and are even pressuring them to resign. They’ve made Representative John Conyers walk the plank, and Senator Al Franken has promised to do likewise soon. Neither has been afforded due process. What gives?
It would be nice to think Democrats have had a change in heart, but that’s probably expecting too much. More likely is there desire to impeach President Trump and expel, should he be elected, Senate candidate Roy Moore. But they know they can no longer credibly present themselves as champions of harassed women if they don’t clean their own house first.
Besides, in devouring their own as appetizers before they try to make Trump and Moore their main courses, the Democrats are really risking no loss of political power. Representative Conyers is from a solidly Democratic district which will certainly elect a Democratic replacement, probably either his son or his nephew. And the Democratic governor of Minnesota will certainly appoint another Democrat to replace Senator Franken if and when he resigns. In other words, the Democrats will suffer no loss in strength in the Congress. One wonders whether they would be so eager to jettison Conyers and Franken if there was even a slight chance they could be replaced by Republicans.
And what of the Republicans?
For decades they’ve presented themselves as the “family values” and “pro-life” party. At times they’ve commendably compelled the resignation of Republican senators and representatives who’ve proven to be adulterous or who tried to pressure their wives or mistresses to get abortions, and I don’t know a single Republican activist in Erath County who doesn’t sincerely believe in family values or the sanctity of innocent life beginning at conception. But all too often our ranks have also included the morally hypocritical and sleazy. Republicans who favored Bill Clinton’s impeachment and removal from office said they did so because Clinton had lied under oath about adultery, but some Republican leaders clouded the issue by being adulterers themselves. And despite their professed loathing for Clinton’s lifestyle (enabled, of course, by Hillary), Republicans nominated and overwhelmingly supported for President a candidate whose lifestyle, if no worse than Clinton’s, is certainly not noticeably better.
The opposition of Mitch McConnell and many other prominent Republicans (including Alabama’s Republican Senator Richard Shelby) to Roy Moore’s election seemed to represent the GOP’s attempt to reassert its collective sense of propriety. But while many Republican Senators remain opposed to Moore’s election, President Trump and the Republican National Committee, after seeming to cut him adrift, have changed their minds and are now supporting him anyway.
So while the Democrats seem to be claiming the moral high ground, they’re doing so when they risk nothing politically. As for the Republicans, public opinion polls are showing Moore still commands the overwhelming support of Alabama Republicans and has a slight overall lead in the run-up to Tuesday’s special election. And he may have been helped by the revelation that one of his accusers has admitted to doctoring evidence she presented against him—a signed yearbook to be precise. Whether Moore wins his race, whether more evidence of his alleged sexual perversions emerges, and whether Republicans will want to be known as the party of Roy Moore, and how long he’ll be permitted to remain in the Senate are questions whose answers we may soon learn. But one thing’s certain: No matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the Republican Party risks losing. Big Time. I’ll explain why next week.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.