The Roy Moore circus continues, with Republicans and men of God going to the wall for the would-be Alabama senator accused of sexual improprieties and crimes. As I recorded last week, some conservatives were compelled by self-interest to declare themselves shocked, shocked at this divergence from what they portrayed, against all evidence, to be normal GOP moral order.
But last week the brethren both made and were gifted opportunities to change the subject. A number decided that a more important moral topic than candidate Moore was Bill Clinton, who last stood for office more than twenty years ago. And when it was reported that Democratic senator Al Franken had once allegedly assaulted a USO show co-star, more paroxysms of whataboutism ensued.
The Clinton comparison was spurred by liberal saps such as Jeff Greenfield (“Years of excusing Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct suddenly seems morally indefensible”) and Matthew Yglesias (“Bill Clinton should have resigned”) who demonstrated their wokeness by relitigating not only Clinton’s impeachment, but also various sexual crimes imputed to him during his presidency, including Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that Clinton raped her.
Conservatives treated these folks and their scruples exactly as the more cynical among us would expect them to.
“Liberals’ Sudden Concern About Bill Clinton’s Behavior Is Cynical And Self-Serving,” declared the Federalist’s David Harsanyi. “MSM’s Phony Clinton Contrition Is Only About Destroying Roy Moore,” cried Breitbart’s John Nolte, who ambitiously grafted Clinton’s alleged crime spree onto that of New Jersey Democratic senator Bob Menendez, “a Democrat currently on trial for corruption, and who is also accused of having sex with underage hookers.” Nolte claimed the “MSM” had “protected” Menendez, though it would seem a jury of his peers has actually done far more to protect Menendez than anyone else.
National Review’s Mona Charen even blamed Clinton for “Harvey Weinstein and Anthony Weiner and Kevin Spacey and Roger Ailes” because his example led them to believe “even if only in the back of their minds, that if they got caught, in our age, this sort of thing would get a wink and a nod.” If only he’d broken down like Jimmy Cagney at the end of Angels With Dirty Faces! But no, he’s that selfish.
On Thursday, rightbloggers got a chance to test this approach on a live target when a TV host claimed while she and Al Franken — then a comedian, now senator from Minnesota — were on a USO tour in 2006, he pushed his tongue into her mouth. She also offered what appeared to be a posed photo of Franken reaching for her breasts while she slept in a flak jacket.
When the Franken story was quickly covered by every major press outlet in the country (and they’re catching up on a new accusation against Franken this morning), and Democratic politicians and liberal and feminist journalists immediately denounced him and even called for him to resign (he has not) or be investigated (he will be), conservatives suggested that the press and the Democrats were actually covering up for Franken.
Fox News’ Brian Flood, for example, accused “the left” of “downplaying [the] Senator’s harassment.” How so? While “the photo is clear evidence of twisted behavior by Franken,” said Flood, “most mainstream media outlets softened the situation with terms that make it seem like the harassment is merely a rumor.” That is, the press used “words such as ‘allegedly’ and ‘says’ ” — as they do with murder cases, as well as allegations against celebrities, as well as those against Roy Moore — “despite the undeniable evidence.”
Inevitably, both ends were played against the middle: While some conservatives demanded “Admitted creep Al Franken must go,” others like National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson said even if Democrats succeeded in getting Franken to resign, it would be meaningless. “Minnesota has plenty of Democrats waiting to take his place,” said Williamson. “Just don’t let them fool you into believing that this is moral calculus. It’s political calculus — today, just like it was in 1998.” Democrats, you see, are literally damned if they do denounce, and damned if they don’t.
Around this time, somebody tried to cook up and disseminate a fake sexual assault scandal involving Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal. In this case, it turned out, there wasn’t even an actual accuser, but maybe in the near future that won’t be necessary.
Meanwhile, there was actual legislation moving through Congress: a tax bill giving massive breaks to wealthy citizens and big business, to be funded by cuts to Medicare, student loans, and plenty else — a historic transfer of wealth to the rich.
If you haven’t heard the brethren’s defenses of this bill, it’s because for the most part they haven’t bothered to make any. Even Fox News was reporting “Only 16% of Americans Believe GOP Tax Plan Will Reduce Their Taxes.” They can afford to be honest about it — unlike the previously botched Obamacare overthrow attempts, this is a money bill and, as New York Republican congressman Chris Collins put it with refreshing frankness, GOP donors demand it and what they say goes.
So we can expect some version of this bill to be passed, and then forwarded for signature to a man who has, at last count, been accused of rape or attempted rape by three women and of lesser improprieties by two dozen others, yet has escaped any consequences apart from election to the presidency. A lot of people hoped the Harvey Weinstein revelations last month, and the similar exposés that followed, would make it easier for women abused by powerful men to get their stories believed. I hope so, too, and that it won’t instead become, like so much else in modern life, just another opportunity for unscrupulous propagandists.