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Cherchez la Femme, For a Change

The latest sexual harassment scandal comes from right here in Kansas, so of course there’s a peculiar twist to it. This time the notable target of the allegations is a woman, Andrea Ramsey, who withdrew from the race for the third congressional district’s Democratic nomination after The Kansas City Star called to ask about a lawsuit her former employer had settled with a man who alleged she had subjected him to “unwelcome sexual comments and innuendos.”
Ramsey denies the charges, notes it was her employer who settled the suit with a cash payment but no admission of guilt, and insists that if she had been a party to the suit she would have endeavored to clear her name. In a brief statement announcing her withdrawal from the race, however, she added that “In the rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance policy. For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee’s false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment when rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance, and due process.”
Indeed, the DCCC issued its own statement that “If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, that person should not hold office,” and that it’s holding Democratic candidates to a very high standard. Ramsey had previously won the endorsement of Emily’s List, a well-heeled outfit that supports women candidates, but it also issued its own statement supporting the candidates withdrawal and wishing her well.”
We’re sure that both the DCCCers and the Emily’s Listers hated to do it, as Ramsey would have made a formidable nominee. Kansas is a reliably red state, but its third district is mostly comprised by the mostly affluent suburbs of Kansas City, which gave a slim majority of its votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the last election, so Republican incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder is considered vulnerable. Since Republican nominee Donald Trump became president those mostly affluent suburbs have proved a problem for his party in special and off-year elections almost everywhere, even here in the more rock-ribbed fourth district, where a gun-toting and outspokenly centrist Democrat gave the Republican a real scare and actually wounding up winning Sedgwick County with its big city of Wichita and surrounding suburbs, and the dramatic drop-off in Republican votes in the suburbs of such purplish states as Virginia and Pennsylvania suggest it’s a very scary trend for the GOP.
Which makes it hard for the Democrats to defenestrate a real contender in a state such as Kansas, but then again it must have also been hard for them to do the same to such a popular figure and potent fund-raiser as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and such a longstanding civil rights icon as Michigan Rep. John Conyers, but they went right ahead and did that, despite the similarly disputed nature of the allegations. The Democrats are deadly serious about a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, and Ramsey is right to note that they don’t care much about due process, even if she didn’t publicly object until her own head was on the chopping block, and sooner or later someone’s going to be vindicated and a backlash will ensue, but until then it might be well worth the cost.
If the backlash doesn’t develop by next November the Democrats can at least credibly claim a high ground in our roiling conversation on harassment until the crucial mid-terms. The Republicans have lately been defenestrating its misbehaving congressional members at a rapid rate, with almost as much moral outrage as they mustered for the accused and quickly defenestrated Democrats, but there’s as yet no window big enough to throw their grab-’em-by-the-wherevers President through it. The Republicans just lost a Senate seat in even deeper red Alabama, thanks in some part to defections from affluent suburban Alabamians, but there’s no so getting past the president’s full-throated endorsement of a nutcase credibly accused of having an unsavory interest in teenaged girls back when he as a 30-something prosecutor. Women are slightly more than half of the electorate in every election, and our guess is that much more than of women will have a problem with that.
Probably even more than that in those affluent suburbs where the women might otherwise be tempted to vote the upcoming Republican tax bill and the salutary effect Trump’s rapid de-regulating has had on their stock portfolios. In our white collar experience they’re almost as likely to tell “me too” stories as are the barmaids and factory women we’re more likely to chat with after hours, and college educated types are more likely to make a federal case of it. Most of our women friends, who range across the entire socio-economic scale, regard Trump as one of those creeps they’ve had to deal with too often in the past, and we can’t blame the Democrats for taking advantage of that.
We usually nod in agreement whenever our women friends tell their “me too” stories, because based on what we’ve seen after so many years in offices and bars we rarely doubt their accounts, and we more rarely raise our concerns about due process and the inevitable backlash. Even when the backlash comes we’ll still hold to our old-fashioned notions about respectful treatment of women, and be glad that our women friends will attest that at least we’re not one of the creeps they’ve to off had to deal with too often in the past. We trust that when the backlash comes they’ll be more open to arguments about due process, and we hope that it works out in the end.
In the meantime that won’t do any good for Andrea Ramsey, who has been offered by the feminist sisterhood as the first sacrifice of their own on the altar of the greater good. We have no idea if she actually did what that man alleged, and although we can remember several times when female co-workers mad sexual comments and innuendoes, and a few times when they were unwelcome, we didn’t make a federal case of it. None of those women were our boss, though, and empathy only gets you so far to the truth. As far as the politics of the moment go, though, it’s hers and some unlucky guy’s tough luck if their innocent. Still, like Emily’s List we wish her well in her future endeavors.

— Bud Norman

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The Persons of the Year

Time’s “Person of the Year” isn’t President Donald Trump, which surely annoyed him, and he was surely further annoyed by the choice the magazine made. This year’s pick is the “Silence Breakers,” as Time calls all the women who have come forward with tales of inappropriate sexual behavior by prominent men.
That includes the dozen or so women who are still accusing Trump of the same behavior he boasted of in that “Access Hollywood” tape, as well as the eight women who are accusing Trump’s favored Alabama senate candidate of pursuing them when they were teenaged girls, but it also includes a countless number of women alleging bad behavior on the left. This year’s long, long list of men whose reputations and careers have been damaged by allegations of sexual misbehavior also includes several Hollywood heavyweights, some well-known figures in the liberal media, and a couple of once-revered Democratic politicians.
After 52 years Michigan Rep. John Conyers was congress’ most long-serving member, and the beatings he endured during the civil rights crusade and his founding role in the Black Congressional Caucus and a long record of legislative activism had made him a saint-like figure in the Democratic party, but even he stepped down this week after a spate of accusations of sexual harassment by former staffers. He was allowed to do so for plausible reasons of deteriorating health, and it looks as if either his son or nephew will inherit his seat, but his future biographers will have to acknowledge that his career came to a disappointing end. Former comedian and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was similarly lionized by the left because of his impeccably liberal voting record and harshly anti-Republican rhetoric, and was even considered a contender for the party’s presidential nomination, but a series of women claiming that he had forced kisses and gropes on them have left his career in doubt. By Wednesday most of the Senate’s Democrats and all of the Democratic women in the chamber were calling for his resignation, with Minnesota Public Radio reporting that he would resign today during a scheduled announcement, and although Franken’s staff has “tweeted” that he’s still undecided it’s clear that he won’t be the party’s presidential nominee.
Some prominent Democrats are even apologizing for their support of once-beloved President Bill Clinton despite all his indisputable hound dog ways, and with the support of such media as Time magazine and all those networks and publications that have recently defenestrated prominent men they seem set on a zero-tolerance policy for misbehaving men. It’s such a shrewd political move, especially given that anyone Clinton has outlived his or her usefulness to the party, and that Conyers had clearly grown too old and Franken was always one of those celebrity politicians whose shtick soon grows tiring, that we assume some cynical motive. We nonetheless give some begrudging credit to the party for taking this sensible stand, and wish the Republicans would do the same.
For now our once-beloved Republican party is stuck with Trump and his boastfully hound dog ways, though, as well as that Alabama Senate candidate who sure sounds a a lot like a child molester to us and a lot of other people around the country. Trump and the talk radio talkers and the rest of the modern day Republican apparatus will continue to feign great indignation at the allegations against any Democrat, believing every word the women coming forward might say, but they’ll continue to insist you just can’t believe any woman who might say the same thing about a Republican. That worked well enough back when the Democrats were defending their guys and believing any woman who made allegations against Republicans, but the Democrats’ shrewd move makes that harder to pull off.
There’s no telling for sure, of course, but our guess is that most of these “Silence Breakers” are telling the truth, whether they’re breaking the silence about either a Democrat or a Republican. Some of them are bound to be lying, sooner or later, but the truth has a way of eventually asserting itself. Our experience of working and living in America tells us that men do often misbehave badly, and it takes a cynical political calculation to make that less common we’ll take it.

— Bud Norman

On the Bipartisan Problem of Misbehaving Men

The economy seems to humming along well enough and the stock market is humming along a bit too far ahead of it for our feverous tastes, and for the moment none of the nuclear threats around the world seem especially imminent, but every day seems to bring more stories about men behaving badly toward women. As much as we’d prefers to mull other matters, there’s no ignoring it.
The latest round-up of men credibly accused of sexual misbehavior includes an impeccably Democratic senator who was once considered a presidential contender, a star of the impeccably liberal Public Broadcasting System, and a New York Times reporter who has been a very effective tormenter of Republican President Donald Trump. All the Republican talk radio hosts are having a grand old time of it, and one can hardly blame them, but they also have to deal with a Republican president who has been credibly accused and caught on tape bragging about his bad behavior towards women and is still standing by a Republican senate candidate in Alabama who still stands credibly accused of even worse misbehavior toward considerably younger women, not to mention all the undeniable Fox News scandals.
It’s such a bipartisan mess that neither party or any political ideology will emerge unscathed, which is fine by us, but there’s no avoiding it even when you stop reading the news. Last week we stopped for a beer at a favorite dive of ours on the north end, and an old friend invited us to join her and a couple of other women on the still-warm patio, and we found ourselves in the middle of yet another conversation about men behaving badly toward women. All of their hair-raising tails about fellow students and co-workers and passersby seemed completely believable, based on what we’ve observed over the past decades of American life, and when our friend frankly declared that women have a certain unshakeable fear of men we could only sympathize.
Being the nocturnal sorts given to long brooding walks, we’ve often found ourselves on an an empty and dimly street-lighted avenue when suddenly a woman will round the corner just ahead of us and start walking in the same direction, and we assured our friend and her friends that from half a block away we can palpably sense her anxiety about the big scary man who is suddenly following her. Just to let them know there are still some nice guys out there, we explained how we always handled the situation by stopping to tie a shoe, even though it’s not come untied, and then crossing the street and looking at nothing in particular in shop window for a while, and then taking a smoke break until she gets safely behind a locked door or turns a corner or at least gets far enough ahead of us that we are no longer shivering with that uncomfortable sense of her fear of us.
God knows that woman’s fear of us isn’t our fault, but she doesn’t know that, and God knows and we know that it’s also not her fault. Some big and scary men have suddenly been suddenly been following us as rounded the corner on some empty and dimly street during some of our late night walks, so we can empathize with their anxiety, and for reasons that have nothing to do with partisan politics we strive not to menace anyone. Nor do we remark on women’s breasts and buttocks, no matter how remarkable they might be, and we most certainly don’t touch them without an explicit request, and we even try to lay off the saltier jokes in our repertoire until a woman has made clear she’s likely to re-tell them to her friends,.
Our old friend vouched to her friends that we’re among the rare good guys, although she also noted that we’re old-fashioned Republicans and she’s a newfangled Democrat. We asked them what percentage of men they figured were among the good guys, and were distressed to hear them all agree that about 80 percent of men are irredeemable pigs. The next day we ran into an older woman friend of longstanding who still performs in the local burlesque revues and is quite a colorful character in her own right, and when we put the same question to her she figured that only one out of five men are irredeemable pigs, which seemed more right to us, and she also vouched that we’re among the good guys even though we’re old-fashioned Republicans and of course she’s another one of those new fangled Democrats.
There seems to be a bipartisan consensus about men not behaving badly toward women, and we hope it prevails despite how awful both parties are at the moment. One of those friends of our old friend at the north side dive was a very young and very attractive woman who paid us a very welcome compliment that might be construed as sexual harassment if it had come from some big scary man, but instead of filing a human rights complaint we’ll relish the non-threatening remark and hold out hope that whatever percentage of men are irredeemable pigs, no matter what party or ideology, they’ll eventually figure it out.

— Bud Norman