Harvey Weinstein should’ve run for president, or at least Congress.
Let me explain.
Weinstein is by most accounts a despicable man, a Hollywood mogul who stands accused by a slew of women of using his position of power to get away with sexually harassing or assaulting them over the years. He has no business running doughnuts from the pastry shop to the green room, much less running a major business; that much has become clear as his colleagues and the public have turned against him. After years of getting away with it, he has met with immediate consequences since the New York Times first published the stories of some of his accusers, followed by other media outlets’ reporting of similar claims. Others in the entertainment industry, most notably the actor Kevin Spacey, have fallen with similar swiftness.
It is a swiftness we are not accustomed to seeing when it comes to those who want to run the government.
Bill Clinton was elected president not once but twice despite accusations not just of mere extramarital affairs but, in the case of Juanita Broaddrick, of rape. The left demonized Broaddrick and Clinton’s other accusers, most memorably in James Carville’s (in)famous phrasing: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” Leading feminists were apparently too worried about losing on some other issues dear to them, and to most Democrats, to take a stand against an accused sexual predator and for his victims. On the contrary, they joined in the smear campaign against those women. Now, 25 years after he captured the presidency and a year after his behavior was raised as an issue in his wife’s near-miss of the White House, we get columns like this one in the Times today: “I Believe Juanita.” Even this concession and its long delay in coming about is couched in partisan terms, to the point the piece should have had a sub-hed: “But It’s Republicans’ Fault I Didn’t Before Now.”
Yet today, we see too many members of the party that criticized and even sought to impeach Clinton for his actions performing an about-face in defense of its own accused candidate. Roy Moore, the longtime religious conservative and twice-defrocked chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is on the verge of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. Or he was, until last week’s publication of a Washington Post story in which four women now in their 50s say that some four decades ago — when they were teenagers as young as 14, and Moore was in his 30s — Moore sought and in some cases had romantic relationships with them. There is no indication he physically forced himself upon them, as Broaddrick said Clinton did. But then, there are laws prohibiting sexual relationships between adults and children precisely because age, and such a large age difference, in itself represents a measure of authority and thus a kind of coercion. There was no moral confusion about this sort of thing on the right — indeed, the right has persisted in, shall we say, promoting guidelines about appropriate relationships — until now. Because, you see, Moore is a Republican; if voters abandon him for violating their moral standards, they might elect someone who in Congress would help weaken their moral standards. Or something.
It is a measure of progress, I guess, that far more Republican leaders today have spoken out against Moore than did Democrats in the 1990s. But the ultimate measure is the ballot box, and opinion polls indicate many, perhaps most, Republican voters in Alabama are prepared to back Moore despite the allegations because the alternative is to vote for a Democrat.
Not that Moore is the first Republican to put the party’s voters in such a bind. Just last year, Donald Trump was nearing the end of his campaign against Hillary Clinton when he was accused of speaking about women in a degrading way (“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the” — well, you remember) and, soon afterward, of acting on what he had dismissed as “locker room talk.” Like Clinton before him and Moore after him, Trump denied the accusations and his supporters sought to vilify his accusers.
It was around that time, in relation to those accusations but also the rest of what Trump did contrary to, until then, standards for Republicans and conservatives, that we were given a devious phrase to explain why it had to be this way: “binary choice.”
You have to stand with a lout who makes you uncomfortable sometimes because, you know, it’s a “binary choice.” It doesn’t matter if the lout is a sexual predator who will protect abortion rights, or a local prosecutor who trolls the mall for high-school girls but insists the Ten Commandments belong in courtrooms. If he’s on your team, there’s nothing you can do because it’s a “binary choice.”
Here, I expect someone to tell me there are so many more examples of this on the other team. Or to tell me why their team’s political goals and agenda are so desperately necessary as to justify electing creeps and criminals to carry it out. And which team will that person belong to? Either one. In due time, we’ll hear it from both.
Then, soon enough, we’ll revert to our old debates about moral relativism and degradation on the one hand, and the sexual-assault epidemic and male privilege and mansplaining on the other. And why the other team is standing in the way of setting everything right in the world.
And maybe then Harvey Weinstein will realize why he should’ve run for president. Because he can’t offer his friends, or former friends, a “binary choice” as just another rich businessman.