As the deluge of sexual assault and abuse accusations continues unabated, Tuesday saw two events that underscored how the political establishment and many ordinary Americans react to such claims. President Donald Trump’s remarks on senatorial candidate Roy Moore and the press conference held by Moore’s campaign in Montgomery, Alabama both reflected a subtle shift in the narrative swirling around sexual allegations against politicians.
Both sides of the political divide find themselves faced with the same, awful dilemma; continue to support an accused politician, even in the face of disturbing allegations against them, or judge them on their alleged behavior, regardless of party loyalty.
How the Accused Are Treated
A campaign has materialized – started by whom, it is not clear, but promoted largely on social media – to believe women who make such accusations. The Twitter hashtag #BelieveWomen has become a frequent feature of many tweets on the subject of gender. The premise is that the integrity of such women should not be questioned. It is a campaign that has already faltered.
Briefly, it was considered taboo to question the veracity of allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Directly questioning the character or motives of the accusers was even worse. These taboos were quickly broken, however, when Los Angeles-based broadcaster, Leeann Tweeden, went public with accusations against Democratic Senator Al Franken. Tweeden described how Franken harassed and sexually assaulted her during a USO tour in 2006. Less than a week later, Tweeden has become the victim of a savage backlash from leftists – including celebrities – on social media.
There is, of course, a distinct difference between doubting an accusation and assassinating the character of the accuser. Whilst the first should not necessarily be considered off limits, the second most certainly should – unless, perhaps, the individual in question has a documented history of making false accusations.
The Accused: Moore, Franken, and Conyers
When the accused is a politician, the focus has shifted from the validity of the accusations against them to whether they deserve continuing support. Political expediency has replaced morality as the deciding factor in the question of whether the accused should stay or go.
Alabama Republican Moore, Democratic Senator Al Franken, and Democratic Representative John Conyers each have controversy swirling around their respective futures, due to unsavory accusations made against them. Yet, each of their situations is slightly different. Moore is currently running for a Senate seat while the two Democrats are both already members of Congress. None of the three men have faced, or are likely to face, criminal charges related to their alleged transgressions.
The Republican Party has withdrawn from its joint fundraising agreement with the Moore campaign and several Republicans have called on the candidate to retire from the race. With just three weeks to go until the special election in Alabama, Moore continues to strongly deny all allegations against him and has vowed to fight on. Not all Republicans want him out of the race, however. The Alabama seat should have been safe for the party and, with a precarious 52-seat majority in the Senate, some are content to wait out the election, hoping that Moore saves the seat for the GOP without directly endorsing him.
Former Alabama Republican primary candidate Mo Brooks is backing Moore. Brooks argues that keeping the Senate seat once occupied by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Republican hands is too important. Like Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and President Trump himself, Brooks has chosen to place the future of the Senate above unproven allegations. He explained his thinking to AL.com.
“America faces huge challenges that are vastly more important than contested sexual allegations from four decades ago. Who will vote in America’s best interests on Supreme Court justices, deficit and debt, economic growth, border security, national defense, and the like? Socialist Democrat Doug Jones will vote wrong. Roy Moore will vote right. Hence, I will vote for Roy Moore.”
Should Moore win the special election, the Senate must seat him. Not allowing him to take his seat is simply not within the power of the Senate, according to current rules. The upper house does have a mechanism to vote to expel Senators. Expulsion must be approved by the votes of two-thirds of the Senate. As Judge Andrew Napolitano pointed out November 16 on Fox & Friends, Moore cannot be expelled. “If he’s seated, they can’t expel him,” the Judge said, “because they can only expel people from Congress for what they’ve done while in Congress.”
Although Senator Al Franken has not directly admitted any sexual impropriety, neither has he denied accusations against him. In this case, at least one photograph exists, showing him pretending to grope his accuser while she slept on a flight home from a USO tour. The picture, Leeann Tweeden explained, was an example of the constant harassment she faced from Franken who, she says, forced himself upon her, at one point; kissing her on the mouth without her consent.
The incident took place well before Franken was elected to the Senate, although another woman has accused Franken of grabbing her behind while he posed for a selfie with her. This happened while he was a Senator.
Technically, then, the Senate could vote to expel him, but that is extremely unrealistic. Should such a vote be held, it would certainly fail, since few Democrats would be likely to vote for expulsion. As in the case of Roy Moore, most Democrats are rallying around Franken because he holds a Senate seat too important for the party to concede.
The House of Representatives appears to have no rule that allows for a member to be voted out. Therefore, John Conyers is unlikely to face any serious punishment for alleged sexual harassment and other improper behavior committed while in office. The pressure on Conyers to resign, however, may prove too much for the elderly Democrat who has held his seat for decades.
Ideology Over Immorality
The grim truth is that most Democrat and Republican politicians, along with most of the people who vote for them, have little intention of surrendering political advantage because of any such allegations. Given the highly-polarized state of American politics, ideology and policy trump sexual morality for all but a small minority on either side. Should the number of allegations continue to rise, a breaking point may yet be reached, where both politicians and private citizens really do say “enough!” It seems an unlikely prospect, however. Sad to say that the future of the country is more important. Then again, perhaps the future of the country really is more important.
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