Yesterday, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was accused of kissing and groping a model without consent while on a USO tour in 2006. He released an apology, called for an ethics investigation into himself, and generally hunkered down into damage control mode. As you might expect, there were many conservatives who felt a certain satisfaction hearing this news, coming on the heels of the Roy Moore fiasco. Those Republicans who maintained their support for Moore eagerly watched the left to see if they’d have the courage of their convictions, or if they’d hypocritically support Franken, even tacitly, since he shared their ideology. Thankfully, most reactions from the left began and ended with condemnation.
Most, but not all. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Kate Harding:
Harding, who describes herself on Twitter as “co-editor of Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America, & co-host of Feminasty podcast,” is not the only person to espouse this incredibly cynical and ugly viewpoint, but she does seem to be the most prominent public figure to say it aloud. There's a lot to despise about Harding's take, but one responder put it perfectly:
That's just it: If the left doesn't hold itself to a higher standard, there will be no differentiating them from the tribalist right. How should any voter feel about a party that condemns sexual assault, but only if it's perpetrated by Republicans? Let's put it simply: If you don't police your own, you forfeit the right to police anyone else. It's the same exact argument that some in the Alabama GOP are using: Yeah, he's a pedophile, but at least he's not a Democrat. Is that who the left really wants to be?
Harding endured a good deal of pushback, and, predictably, she went on a long rant about the need for political pragmatism. As in, if we drop men like Franken from the team, it will only further the evil Republican agenda, so we must dispense with “purity tests” (her words) and accept that to defeat monsters on the other side, we must work with ones of our own.
Aside from the obvious moral repugnancy of the opinion, there's also a deep irony—on a macro level, this is exactly how the Democratic left has lost so much power over the past two decades. The neoliberal mindset of combatting Republicanism by pre-emptively conceding ideological ground, fighting mud with mud, and trying to win the mythical American “middle” by shifting ever rightward…it's been an utter failure. Democrats who play by Republican rules always fail, because Americans prefer monsters to phonies.
Applying this failed strategy on a policy level was bad enough, but using it to passively condone sexual assault—Harding shouted to the rooftops that she wasn't condoning it, exactly, but what else would you call letting Franken go unpunished for the sake of political expediency?—manages to combine stupidity and evil in a way that is utterly baffling.
It's like someone posed a riddle to the universe: How can Democrats manage to lose the moral high ground and elections at the same time? And Kate Harding found the answer.
That was not, unfortunately, the only awful take from the left. Here's another:
It is frankly amazing how centrist Democrats and former Hillary Clinton supporters can take absolutely any issue and use it to bludgeon Bernie Sanders. Barnett, a journalist from Seattle, is equating a very strange essay written by Al Franken from 2000 in which he fantasizes about having sex with various human-like machines. (Excerpts here.) Franken's piece is certainly a form of humor, though it's hard to know whether it's satire or farce or commentary or what. It's also hard to know whether something like that predicts his later acts—I tend to shy away from this causality, because surely there are thousands, if not millions, of erotic fiction writers with depraved imaginations who conduct themselves with total decency in real life. Drawing a line between Franken's essay and his deplorable conduct is a slippery slope to kink-shaming, even if the themes raise an eyebrow.
What does any of this have to do with Bernie Sanders? Well, he wrote an essay on gender roles in 1972 that is actually rather thoughtful, and includes passages like this:
Many women seem to be walking a tightrope now. Their qualities of love, openness, and gentleness were too deeply enmeshed with qualities of dependency, subservience, and masochism. How do you love — without being dependent? How do you be gentle — without being subservient? How do you maintain a relationship without giving up your identity and without getting strung out? How do you reach out and give your heart to your lover, but maintain the soul which is you?
And Men. Men are in pain too. They are thinking, wondering. What is it they want from a woman? Are they at fault? Are they perpetrating this man-woman situation? Are they oppressors?
It also contains the word rape, and discusses rape fantasies held by both men and women. And this, though it never caught on, became a minor cudgel for anti-Sanders liberals during the primary. (Notably, those who tried to make it stick never seemed too bothered by Bill Clinton's long history of actual sexual assault.)
So, first off, the comparison between Franken's hyper-sexualized “humor” piece and Sanders' essay on gender roles is unfounded from the start. Second, it's problematic to draw a line between written words and deeds. Third, and most importantly, Barnett's implication that Bernie Sanders is an abuser on Franken's level because of a (highly) superficial similarity in something he wrote is strikingly dishonest and vile.
Of course, Barnett swore up and down that she wasn't making that implication. She was just comparing two pieces of writing! See this exchange:
Again, there's something infuriating about Barnett doing the winky “It was just an innocent comparison!” thing, but what's more infuriating is that she would respond to a problem like sexual assault by trying to score a cheap political point. (For what it's worth, it was also annoying to see that when Twitter put her on the defensive, she accused her critics of sexism—a move straight out of the Clinton playbook.)
This says it all:
Liberals…don’t do this.