Hours after The New York Times released a report alleging numerous instances of sexual harassment by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the Republican National Committee was capitalizing on the scandal, demanding Democrats return hundreds of thousands of dollars Weinstein donated over the years. The move smacked of opportunism—but it was savvy, because what the RNC clearly knows that some Democrats don’t is that Harvey Weinstein and men like him have already helped the GOP. In fact, Harvey Weinstein serves as the perfect symbol of why Hillary Clinton failed to defeat a candidate many of us had presumed was laughably beatable.
Harvey Weinstein represents much more than the reviled coastal elites disdained by Trump voters (despite the fact that Donald Trump is one himself.) Weinstein’s growing scandal represents yet another instance of liberal hypocrisy on issues liberals relentlessly criticize conservatives on. After all, conservatives were allegedly responsible for a War on Women, but yet again we have a liberal man accused of privately mounting his own War on Women, and hiding in part behind his public support of feminist causes and candidates to do so. Conservatives will be quick to point out it’s not the first time, and they’d be right. (Weinstein is even blaming a right-wing conspiracy. Sound familiar?)
It is worth noting that Weinstein, while issuing an apology for some bad past behavior, has also challenged some of the claims in the Times piece, and has threatened to sue. But even if only a fraction of what is alleged in the piece is accurate, combined with previous reports and public knowledge of Weinstein’s behavior and statements, it is baffling that he has remained a welcome face of the Hollywood liberal political establishment.
For instance, as I wrote years ago, long before these latest allegations surfaced, Harvey Weinstein was one of the most prominent defenders of filmmaker Roman Polanski who admitted raping a young girl. Apparently, that wasn’t an important enough detail to matter to Weinstein because Polanski makes good films, so the mogul was a key force behind a petition supporting the director’s release after being taken into custody again in Switzerland in 2009.
Now I want you to take a moment and consider what the reaction would be from prominent progressives if any of the country’s leading conservative donors (The Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, take your pick) actively defended an admitted pedophile. I have a feeling the protests and think pieces would never end—at least not until candidates backed by said donors returned money from them.
You know, sort of like the Republican National Committee is asking recipients of donations from Weinstein to do. (Some Democratic elected officials, among them Sen. Elizabeth Warren, had begun donating contributions from Weinstein to charitable causes at the time this piece was filed.)
Not to mention widely circulated tales of poor treatment of employees—of all genders and at all levels—by Weinstein, that if true represent the kind of work environment those who claim to care about labor issues normally balk at.
To be clear, I don’t believe being perfect is a prerequisite to being active in the political process regardless of party affiliation. But while perfection shouldn’t be the standard, we should have some standards—on both sides of the aisle. That means the sword of hypocrisy should cut both ways. Just as conservative Congressman Tim Murphy was rightly condemned by his colleagues for allegedly pressuring a mistress to have an abortion while seeking to outlaw the procedure for others, liberal men who behave badly should be condemned and held accountable as well.
That means that those of us who were outraged by the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women should be outraged when a powerful Democratic donor is alleged to have engaged in similar, or at the very least adjacent, behavior—regardless of whether he’s funded women candidates or not (or made movies we like.)
I accept that people, including powerful people, can be complicated. As I wrote recently, I believe Hugh Hefner was great for civil rights but he certainly didn’t sound like an ideal romantic partner or boss to put it mildly. History is littered with talented artists who were terrible parents, and inspiring leaders who were terrible spouses. I believe someone can be a great leader and not a great person. I also believe someone can be a great advocate on causes that are important to women and not great with every woman in his personal life. But I also believe that even more problematic than hypocrites are those who use politics as a form of performance art to shield them from legitimate criticism of behavior in their personal and professional lives that is damaging or dangerous to others.
This is precisely what Bill Clinton did. For all of his political gifts and accomplishments, no self-identifying feminist should feel good about the way Monica Lewinsky’s life was ultimately impacted by their scandal in comparison to his. Nor should any self-identifying feminist who has critiqued Roger Ailes feel comfortable downplaying the similarly long list of allegations against the former president.
I believe Bill Clinton’s destructive behavior ultimately harmed his wife, and our country because it neutralized any legitimate allegations of sexism and harassment against Donald Trump and now all of us are paying the price for that (in his latest move Trump has rolled back mandatory coverage of birth control as guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act.). But I also believe progressives shoulder some of the blame for not holding him accountable long ago. The truth is for all of the talk of not reaching out to working class white voters enough, or not being likable enough, one of Hillary Clinton’s greatest obstacles was her husband—or more specifically her husband’s history.
Against any other candidate, the “Access Hollywood” tape combined with other harassment allegations against Donald Trump would have been enough to finish him off. But running against someone who had defended another powerful man—the one she was married to—against an endless stream of allegations involving at the very least serial poor treatment of women, the election became a wash in the eyes of some of the white women who would end up deserting her on Election Day. While Clinton won the majority of female voters 54 to 42 percent, she lost white women 53 to 43 percent.
Plenty of women who went to the polls on Election Day may have identified with candidate Clinton, an impressive, educated, well-coiffed, powerful woman of privilege. But there were others who probably identified more closely with the Monica Lewinsky’s and Paula Joneses of the world. Women lacking in power, who were not deemed particularly impressive and were therefore publicly dismissed and demeaned.
Madeline Albright famously said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” The easy interpretation of course is that the women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton were betraying the sisterhood. But there are women who believe the liberal feminist sisterhood has betrayed women by not holding men accountable simply because they agree with them politically.
So maybe the Weinstein scandal represents an opportunity for liberals to press reset and prove they learned a lesson from the 2016 election. Namely that when you protect Democratic men in the name of winning politically, all women lose.