Meet Kate Harding: feminist, liberal, scholar of rape culture — and supporter of confessed sexual harasser Al Franken. From her Washington Post op-ed today:

But I don’t believe resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.

Cynics on both the right and left will presume I am passing by this particular steam tray on 2017’s smorgasbord of feminist outrage because Franken is a Democrat, and so am I. (I was even his proud constituent for two years.) In the most superficial sense, this is true. But it’s meaningless to say it’s because I am a Democrat without asking why I am a Democrat. If you understand what it means to be a Democrat today — that is, why it makes sense to vote blue over red in this highly polarized political environment — you can understand why it might not make the most sense to demand Franken’s resignation, effective immediately.

Ah. Harding tells us that she doesn’t want Franken to resign, because that would be good for Republicans:

In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.

Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term “right thing” leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing. I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.

Read the whole thing. There are a number of Alabama Republicans who say they won’t abandon Roy Moore for the same basic reason (i.e., to hand a Senate seat over to a Democrat candidate who is pro-abortion, and to a liberal party). Kate Harding has just given those Republicans justification for their rationale. This is reminiscent of Gloria Steinem’s infamous 1998 op-ed defending Bill Clinton from his right-wing tormenters, establishing what the snarky called the “One Free Grope Rule” for liberal male lawmakers.

To be sure, I’m disinclined at this point to believe that Franken should resign. What he did was disgusting and wrong. He apologized, and his victim accepted the apology. His sexual harassment was, as far as we know, a one-time thing, it did not involve coerced sex, or an attempt to coerce sex. He’s owned up to it publicly, and received forgiveness from the woman he wronged. I am 100 percent in favor of this public reckoning exposing men who sexually harassed (and worse) women, but I think it’s reasonable to draw distinctions between what creeps like Al Franken did, and the darker stuff Roy Moore is accused of, and that Harvey Weinstein did. Maybe in the end Franken does need to resign, but I am not convinced of that. Yet. Let’s see what else, if anything, comes out.

Understand, though: that’s not Kate Harding’s point. Her point is that he should stay because he’s a good Democratic vote. Hers is basically Gloria Steinem’s. (By the way, I looked in The New York Times‘s database for that op-ed; I’m a subscriber, and have been searching for 15 minutes; there are a few letters from readers criticizing the column, but the column itself is not there.)
Andrew Sullivan remembers it, though. From his column today:

… No party, no cause, no struggle, however worthy, is ever free from evil. No earthly cause is entirely good. And to believe with absolute certainty that you are on “the right side of history,” or on the right side of a battle between “good and evil,” is a dangerous and seductive form of idolatry. It flatters yourself. And it will lead you inevitably to lose your moral bearings because soon, you will find yourself doing and justifying things that are evil solely because they advance the cause of the “good.” These compromises can start as minor and forgivable trade-offs; but they compound over time. In the Catholic church, the conviction that the institution could do no wrong, that its reputation must endure because it represented the right side in the struggle against evil … led to the mass rape of children and teens.

The religious right’s embrace of Trump is of a similar trope. It is not some kind of aberration in the transformation of a faith into a worldly and political cause, it is its logical consequence. The Christian right’s support for a sociopathic, cruel, and vulgar pagan was inevitable, in other words, from the moment the Moral Majority was born. If politics is fused with religion, and if your opponents are deemed evil, then almost anything can be justified to defeat them. Sooner or later, you’l find yourself defending the molestation of a minor. Which is why I have long refused to call this political movement Christian, but Christianist. It is not about faith; it is about power.

But evangelical Republicans are not, of course, the only group susceptible to such corruption. Democrats are human as well, as we have so abundantly discovered. Many of them have also made their political struggle into a secular form of religion, and found myriad ways to defend the indefensible because the cause demanded it. I vividly remember Gloria Steinem’s op-ed defending Bill Clinton’s sex abuse at the time (she still refuses to disown it). I remember how many wanted to conflate sexual abuse with private consensual sex. I also recall a bizarre very-Washington lunch in that period when, for some reason, I was seated next to Barbra Streisand (my first and thankfully last encounter with the singer). I mentioned Paula Jones’s lawsuit — which I’d just defended in the pages of The New Republic — just to see what she’d say. Streisand’s lip curled. “Ugh,” she scoffed. “She’s a little kurva.” I later discovered that this means “whore,” “bitch,” or “slut.” And that was by no means an unusual Democratic response of the time.

Harding’s response is also reminiscent of journalist Nina Burleigh’s 1998 quip that she would personally give Bill Clinton oral sex to thank him for protecting abortion.

The fruits of tribalism. Any liberal who takes Kate Harding’s stance forfeits their right to criticize Roy Moore conservatives — and vice versa.

Back in 2002, I interviewed a Catholic woman who had been blackmailed by her confessor into having an affair with him, even though she was married. She finally broke down psychologically, and sought professional help from a psychiatrist who was known to be a faithful Catholic. (I interviewed him too, and he confirmed her account.) When she and her psychiatrist went to the local bishop (who is now dead, by the way), the bishop told her he had sent the priest away overseas (as he had — that I confirmed), and that if she pursued charges against the offending priest, or made his abuse public, then he, the bishop, would be forced to go after her publicly for her messy past.

She quoted him as saying, “I have to protect the people of God.”

As Sullivan says, this is the same kind of corruption we’re seeing among some political partisans: the idea that we must cover up or make excuses for evil because if we don’t, our enemies will win.

But in the Catholic Church’s case, no external enemy could have done worse damage to the Church than the cover-up bishops. Depending on the current sexual misconduct and abuse reckoning, we may see the same thing in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

UPDATE:

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