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Wieseltier And G.H.W. Bush Get Harveyed

Are we now in the witch hunt phase of the campaign against sexual assault?

OK, this is getting ridiculous:

Former President George H.W. Bush is the latest person accused of sexual assault.

Actress Heather Lind says she was posing with the wheelchair-bound former Prez back in 2014 when he grabbed her from behind. She says, “I found it disturbing because I recognize the respect ex-presidents are given for having served,” referring to a photo taken a few days ago with the 5 former presidents.

Lind goes on … “But when I got the chance to meet George H.W. Bush four years ago to promote a historical television show I was working on, he sexually assaulted me while I was posing for a similar photo. He didn’t shake my hand. He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara by his side. He told me a dirty joke.”
Lind says she was actually admonished by security, who told her she shouldn’t have stood next to him.

A spokesperson for Bush responded, “President Bush would never — under any circumstances — intentionally cause anyone distress, and he most sincerely apologizes if his attempt at humor offended Ms. Lind.”

At the time, he was 90 years old. He was and is feeble and in a wheelchair. If he touched her butt and told her a dirty joke, that was very rude, and he has rightly apologized. But “sexual assault”? This elderly, wheelchair-bound man? In front of his wife?

I wasn’t there, obviously, but it’s not hard to imagine a relatively innocent scenario in which the president reached out to put his arm around her for the photo, touched her butt inadvertently, and made a wisecrack about it in an attempt to dispel the social awkwardness. Is this “sexual assault”? Even if it didn’t happen quite this way, I’m finding it hard to imagine anything the elderly president might plausibly have done in that situation as “sexual assault.”

If Lind was genuinely offended, she ought to have told the president or his people, even if later, and received the apology she no doubt would have gotten (because President Bush is an honorable man). Instead, she waited until she could have her 15 minutes of fame, and shamed a 93-year-old man before the world. Of course he acted honorably, and apologized. I think Lind comes off looking worse in this episode than Bush père.

This is a sign that we are quickly moving into witch hunt territory. I fully support men like Harvey Weinstein being held publicly accountable for what they’ve done for years. What concerns me, though, is that anything sexual that made someone uncomfortable in the workplace may now be ramped up as “sexual assault.” I recall back in 1992 or 1993, when I was in my mid-twenties, and single, engaging in flirty banter with a single woman in my office, and stepping over the line with a somewhat sexualized comment that offended her. It was just rude talk, nothing more — I was actually quoting a risqué line from a popular song of the day — and it wasn’t aimed at her. But it was tasteless, and she let me know that she was offended. I immediately apologized, and that was the end of it. She accepted my apology, and we remained friends and colleagues, no problem. I got to die for a week of embarrassment for not having been a gentleman, but that was the end of it.

Don’t misunderstand: I was wrong, but when my friend and colleague told me I had stepped over the line, I immediately apologized, and she extended me the grace of forgiveness. This is what normal people do. Today, that social error would probably be called a “microaggression,” and raised to the level of “sexual assault” in this climate.

You’ve probably by now heard about the Washington editor Leon Wieseltier being cut loose by Steve Jobs’s wife from the editorship of a magazine he was about to launch — this, because of multiple allegations of sexual harassment from his days at The New Republic. Wieseltier has always been something of a lech. I heard stories about him all the time when I was living in DC in the 1990s. There’s no question that he was serially piggish, and that in general, he is a complete jerk. But he’s getting Harveyed, and Cathy Young, in this must-read Twitter thread, thinks we’re crossing important lines here. Excerpts from that thread:





Again, read the whole thread for context. I can even believe it possible that Wieseltier’s behavior over the years was so egregious that he can’t be trusted in a position of authority. I can also believe that ending his career was comeuppance he richly deserves. All of that can be true … but was it so bad that Lauren Powell Jobs is justified in destroying the culture-and-politics magazine Wieseltier was going to lead, and in a stroke also punishing the staffers who upended their lives to work on it? It’s not clear that the magazine is dead, as opposed to being put on the shelf for now, pending finding a new editor. I hope that is so, because we could use a new culture-and-politics magazine, and that editorial staff, which did nothing wrong, shouldn’t have to pay for their boss’s sins committed in other workplaces.

I’m not defending Wieseltier here (though I am most definitely defending G.H.W. Bush). And I think it’s on balance a good thing that women who suffered are speaking out. What I’m saying is that we had better be very, very careful about this stuff, because a lot of people are at risk of suffering unjustly by false or exaggerated accusations. One doesn’t compensate for one injustice by committing another. If Harvey Weinstein is the worst example, and Leon Wieseltier is a second-tier example, then where do we draw the line? What constitutes past sexual behavior in the workplace that is bad, but not worth ruining someone’s career over? When do you move from being an ass to a sexual assailant? Who decides? The mob?

I ask this for several reasons, but here’s a practical one. When I left college and entered the working world, I was startled by how radically my options for meeting women shrank. You don’t realize how much easier it is to meet people worth dating in college, until it’s gone. It makes sense that people who work in the same place might show romantic interest in each other. On the same job where I made the rude remark to the female colleague, a gay male colleague began showing romantic interest in me, though he never said anything hostile or rude. I wasn’t offended by it in the least, but let him know that I wasn’t interested. That was cool with him. We continued being friends and colleagues.

In this climate, I can well imagine that people are scared to death to show the slightest romantic interest in anybody in the workplace, for fear that they’ll be accused of “sexual assault.” How are people supposed to meet each other for normal human courtship, then? I ask this as the father of two sons and a daughter. I don’t want these kids to grow into adults who sexually harass or who are sexually harassed. But I also worry about false accusations that could ruin them professionally and personally. If you aren’t worried about this too, you aren’t paying attention.

Most of the time I lament working from home, and not being able to have interaction with colleagues. But I’m getting over that.