Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Your ball, GOP.
Sen. Al Franken announced Thursday that he was resigning from the United States Senate amid allegations, leveled at him by several women, of inappropriate conduct. After denying those allegations, Franken told the chamber, “I, of all people, am aware of the irony that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has preyed on underage girls is running for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
Indeed, irony is a gentle word choice here. Perhaps instead we should talk about hypocrisy.
Early on, I called for Franken to step down. I did so because as a Democrat, I believe that if we’re going to support women in our policies and rhetoric, we also have to support them with our actions — and that includes standing against sexual assault and sexual harassment, regardless of whether the perpetrator is within our own party. This is moral leadership.
Paradoxically, Republicans in Alabama and across the country who continue to support Senate candidate Roy Moore claim to do so because of moral values. What this apparently means is that they’re willing to vote for a man who is alleged to have repeatedly preyed on and harassed multiple teenage girls (one as young as 14) because he is against abortion and gay marriage. (Moore denies the allegations.)
This is not moral leadership; it is moral hypocrisy. It is treating principles as things you pick and choose at a cafeteria, depending on which party is offering you the menu. Real principles, and the principles behind true moral and ethical leadership, are consistently applied no matter what.
Democrats haven’t always offered that moral leadership in this area. See, for instance, the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Bill Clinton. Then as now, it’s arguable that part of the reason most Democrats didn’t speak out then – and many were so reluctant to do so even now in the case of Franken – wasn’t because they didn’t believe Clinton or Franken’s accusers of find the alleged actions odious, but because they found both men’s policies, by-and-large, so positive, particularly for women.
In public, these men were champions of women’s rights, from equal pay to reproductive freedom and plenty in between. Just as Hollywood abetted Harvey Weinstein for so long because his movies were good, Democrats often abet politicians who are privately sexist pigs because their public policies are good.
Which all – ridiculously – perpetuates the problem by implying we could never expect more, such as nonsexist movie moguls who make good movies, and nonsexist legislators who also make good policies. We have for too long resigned ourselves to “the way things are” because we are pessimistic that a solution is possible.
And still, set against this backdrop, the hypocrisy of Republicans stands out even further. Because not only have Republicans made attacking the equal rights and opportunity of women a core part of their political agenda, but they also are now embracing a pattern – that being a man accused of harassing and assaulting women and girls won’t just fail to get you kicked out of office but won’t stand in the way of your getting elected.
It worked this way with President Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women (he denies the allegations), and next week seems likely to do so with Roy Moore.
Conservatives like to feign outrage at liberals accusing them of launching a “war on women,” but let’s look at what conservatives themselves are doing, and how the Republican Party seems to increasingly be embracing misogynist anti-women leadership.
Democrats, like Franken, are finally starting to account for their wrongs. Republicans? They seem to be getting worse.