Politics & Media
Jul 04, 2019, 05:55AM

Making Excuses for the Powerful

Candidates could do anything. 

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"Nothing matters." That's what many journalists concluded after Trump's victory in 2016. Trump was easily the most corrupt and unqualified candidate ever to win the presidency, and the most openly bigoted candidate of the modern era. He even confessed on tape to systematic sexual harassment. His base voters loved him anyway. If he could win, it seemed like all of the old rules of campaigning and scandal were done. Candidates could do anything. Elite scolds might wag their fingers, but voters didn't care.

As far as the Republican Party goes, there's some truth to the idea that standards have been permanently lowered. Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore lost a razor-thin special election in 2017 after multiple women accused him of assaulting underage girls. But Republicans were unfazed when their candidate in a Montana house election body slammed a reporter; they voted the assailant into office anyway. And even supposedly moderate Senators like Susan Collins rallied to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after he was accused of sexual assault by multiple women. It would’ve been easy to nominate another judge who was not credibly accused of sexual violence, but Republicans wanted to make it clear not just that nothing mattered, but that they preferred a candidate who indulged in unhinged bitter rants.

The dynamic for Democrats has been different. When Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was accused of groping and sexual harassment by multiple women in 2017, his support among Democrats plummeted, colleagues condemned him, and he chose to resign rather than face the electorate again. High profile attorney Michael Avenatti was planning to run for the Democratic nomination for president on the strength of his defense of Stormy Daniels, a porn actress who’d received hush money from Trump. But when Avenatti was accused of stealing money from Daniels and domestic violence, his support vanished.

Joe Biden was derailed by gaffes and mini-scandals in his past runs for president; his 1988 campaign was aborted when it was discovered that he plagiarized speeches from a British Labour leader. Biden’s the frontrunner this year, but the kinds of problems that dogged him in the past still seem to be a danger to his candidacy. On the trail, he boasted about his legislative work with segregationists in the 1970s. As a result, his history of pushing anti-busing, segregationist legislation has come out. In last week’s debate, Kamala Harris pressed him on that record, reducing him to an ineffectual, stuttering, defensive mess.

Just because some things matter doesn't mean that everything does. Accusations that Biden invades women's personal space on the campaign trail with his compulsive touching and hair stroking didn't do much to dent his approval. When an old yearbook picturing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wearing blackface surfaced, virtually every Democratic politician in the state and nationally condemned him and called on him to resign. He didn't, and that's left Democrats with few options, except to wait until his tenure ends.

People have always made excuses for the powerful, and many Democrats in the past have survived sexual harassment scandals, corruption charges, and racist gaffes. But at the moment, at least, Democrats are clearly much less tolerant of abuses of power than are Republicans. Even when they can't get rid of a politician like Northam, they generally make it clear that his failings are consequential. Given Trump's bad approval ratings, it's possible that the general public is closer to Democrats than to Republicans in its evaluation of what matters and what doesn't.

  • So. WRT Kavanaugh. Was he credibly accused? Anybody corroborate Avennati's finds? Anybody not see Ford's lies? Is it your opinion that obviously bogus accusations are valid reasons to dump a nomination or candidate? Because if so, or to put it another way, if enough people think as you do, maybe some dems could be in trouble. You know, republicans lowering themselves to your standards. BTW, you're not wiping your hard drive, like with a cloth, are you?

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  • Thanks for confirming my points about the enthusiasm for rapists on the right, Richard. Can always count on you.

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  • You need to quit beating around the bush. Come straight out and say it. Say, assertively and without qualification that Kavanaugh is a rapist. Lin Wood could use some more business. You're not wiping your hard drive, like with a cloth, are you?

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  • Noah, what about Clinton and JFK, not to mention Epstein (major dem fundraiser)? All three were accused of what is now considered sexual assault. Both would have been reelected had it been possible to run. Seems both parties are willing to look the other way when one of their own power elite violates the laws of decency Franken was an exception and if he had stuck it out, I'd imagine he'd be re-elected as well

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  • Clinton should have resigned, and should never speak at a Dem convention. JFK was a misogynist asshole and a disaster as president. Epstein is a monster. It's good that Franken got dumped (he left because his numbers were terrible.) Dems have moved in the right direction on sexual assault. No Dem is defending Epstein; Gillibrand criticized Clinton as well, which is the right thing to do.

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