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Consent: A Concept Apparently Unknown to Republicans

[ 46 ] November 30, 2011 |

David Weigel and Kaili Joy Gray hove more on the excellent point Paul raised yesterday.   Not only have a lot of Republicans and journalists conflated sexual harassment and consensual affairs into indistinguishable “sex scandals,” the former seem to think that the consensual conduct is actually worse.   When the Cain story first broke, I saw multiple people bringing up John Edwards and Monica Lewinsky, exemplifying the same mistake.   Consent matters, and while the battle to preserve any substantial privacy for public figures has been lost in my mind it’s also the line where gossip turns into something of actual significance to evaluating a candidate.

See also the inability of conservatives to understand the concept of consent when it comes to torture.

…see also Nona Willis Aronowitz.

Comments (46)

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  1. Manju says:

    When the Cain story first broke, I saw multiple people bringing up John Edwards and Monica Lewinsky, exemplifying the same mistake.

    What makes this even stupider is that one could easily bring up Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, or Juanita Broaderick.

    Unforced error.

  2. Warren Terra says:

    I still maintain that there’s a perfectly good reason for Ms. White to be far more politically damaging than the previous accusers: their allegations were of far more serious offenses – actual assault in one case – but were difficult to substantiate. If Ms. White was indeed Cain’s mistress for over a decade, and if as she alleges he traveled with her and dispatched her on flights (and he admits to giving her numerous gifts, in the spirit of charity, of course), that’s going to be easy to prove in a way that the far more serious accusations weren’t. The alleged affair lasted far too long to be passed off as a fling, and in any case he’s publicly denied something that’s probably provably true. Hence the serious political consequences, even though no sane person greatly cares what Cain got up to with a consenting adult who didn’t work for him.

  3. Rarely Posts says:

    I agree that there is a significant difference between consensual private sexual conduct and sexual harassment, and I agree that the latter is far more relevant to assessing a politician.

    However, I’m not sure that Clinton’s conduct with respect to Monica Lewinsky neatly fits into the former and not the latter. There’s no doubt that their relationship was consensual, but they met in the employment context, they were both federal employees, he was her boss, he had massive power over her and her career, and she was remarkably young and naive. I’ve never felt that his conduct with respect to her fell neatly into “private consensual sex,” and aspects of the relationship start looking a lot like sexual harassment.

    Now, it’s not clear-cut because she did not have objections about their relationship, and I certainly don’t think he should have been impeached. But, these factors are one legitimate reason the press reported on the Lewinsky affair (of course, their reporting was remarkably bad nonetheless).

    • Furious Jorge says:

      Honestly, I think that’s a legitimate point. When I was first learning how to be a professor, it was explained that no matter how consensual it was, any romantic or sexual relationship between a professor and a student was at best an unequal one (and at worst, an exploitative one) because of the power imbalance between the two. I don’t see the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky being much different from that.

      True, it’s not the same kind of harassment that Herman Cain has been accused of, but it really isn’t quite so clear cut.

    • Njorl says:

      I believe Lewinski sought the internship specifically because she wanted to have an affair with Clinton. In my opinion, that makes it a bit less onerous.

      It’s always inappropriate to have a sexual relationship with someone whom you manage. Even if it is initiated by the subordinate, there is the implied possibility of favoratism. Other subordinates will inevitably feel that not having a sexual relationship with their boss harms their prospects.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Yes, but “things which are a bad idea” and “things which constitute harassment” are separate venn diagram circles. And of course, “things that your spouse would be angry about” is a completely separate circle on the venn diagram, which one would assume mostly, but not completely overlaps with the harassment circle, though not necessarily the bad idea circle.

        • Procopius says:

          I would think that the “things that your spouse would be angry about” and “things which constitute harassment” overlap and both are completely contained inside the “bad ideas” circle. Whether or not the “things which constitute harassment” circle is completely contained inside the “things that your spouse would be angry about” may be culturally determined. Here in Thailand polygamy is not so far in the past that all women get angry about it, although most do object to it now to some degree. Attitudes toward “minor wives” vary from violent hatred to, “Well, he has bad breath anyway, good luck with that.”

    • Ed says:

      Lewinsky wasn’t that young and wasn’t that naive. I do not excuse Clinton – he was the leader of the free world, many years her senior, and he’d basically promised everyone close to him that he would stay out of this kind of trouble. Nonetheless, to say that Clinton harassed Lewinsky in any sense is pretty absurd, given what we know of their relationship. No question he was the most powerful of the two on paper. But that’s hardly how the story played out. Nor do I recall offhand the press trying to play it as a possible sexual harassment issue, certainly not after the facts started coming out about Lewinsky’s Ahab-like pursuit (which does not excuse attempts by Clinton supporters to smear her as a stalker).

      • Njorl says:

        The problem with Clinton and Lewinski is not that he harrassed her. It is the implicit effect on others in Lewinski’s position. If sex with the boss results in greater opportunities, then there is implicit pressure on all employees to have sex with the boss. Essentially, Clinton didn’t harrass Lewinski, he harrassed all of the other interns.

  4. John Howard says:

    Lack of understanding of the concept of consent fuels right wing stances on abortion, gay marriage and war. Perhaps a more authoritarian mindset doesn’t make room for it.

  5. Don K says:

    I’m not privy to a Vulcan mind meld with a conservative’s brain (ewwww!!), but I’d guess deep down inside there are lots of conservatives who can’t distinguish between sexual harassment and flirting. Maybe really clumsy flirting, but flirting nevertheless. Hell, flirting’s not bad. Everyone does it sometimes.

    Actually having an affair, on the other hand, violates religious rules that were internalized a long time ago, and so cannot be tolerated.

    • Procopius says:

      Except the sinner can be redeemed through repentance. I think I’m thinking of the Bakkers and some of the more Elmer Gantry types.

  6. [...] Scott L aggregates: David Weigel and Kaili Joy Gray have more on the excellent point Paul raised yesterday.   Not [...]

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