Consent: A Concept Apparently Unknown to Republicans

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.

46 comments on this post.
  1. Manju:

    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:

    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. Murc:

    What Warren said mostly, but I think it’s even simpler; there are people who legitimately think sexual harassment doesn’t exist. It’s harder to build a moral framework that accepts a long extramartial affair.

    You can spin harassment as ‘those bitches are getting all out of shape because I called them sweet cheeks. Nobody can take a compliment anymore. And I slap my male colleagues on the back all the time, its the same thing!’.

    Much harder to spin a consensual affair. Now you’re just an adulterer.

  4. rea:

    Why would you bring them up? As examples of ridiculous claims generated by a rightwing propaganda machine?

  5. rea:

    there are people who legitimately think sexual harassment doesn’t exist

    There are no people who legitimately think sexual harassment doesn’t exist

  6. Murc:

    There are people who believe it doesn’t exist and aren’t lying. This would seem to make said belief legitimate. I’m fairly certain I’m using the word properly, although I could of course be wrong.

  7. Rarely Posts:

    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).

  8. c u n d gulag:

    Don’t feed the…

  9. Uncle Kvetch:

    What Warren said mostly, but I think it’s even simpler; there are people who legitimately think sexual harassment doesn’t exist. It’s harder to build a moral framework that accepts a long extramartial affair.

    What Murc said.

  10. John Howard:

    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.

  11. witless chum:

    But how does this relate to racist Democrats from 1956?

  12. Furious Jorge:

    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.

  13. Tirxu:

    I think that “honestly” would be more adequate than “legitimatly”.

  14. Scott Lemieux:

    I certainly agree that Clinton’s conduct was objectionable, but it wasn’t sexual harassment and (as far as I can tell) didn’t break any rules.

  15. Don K:

    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.

  16. Spokane Moderate Johnson:

    Uncle Kvetch Johnson is right about Murc Johnson being right.

  17. joinSC:

    GOP song? http://youtu.be/AokBQwrn6u0

  18. Hogan:

    You left out Vince Foster and Ron Brown.

  19. Walt:

    Spokane Moderate is right, but Uncle Kvetch is wrong.

  20. Lee:

    I’m with Murc on this one, whether you use the word honestly or legitmatly. There are people, usually men, who view sexual harassment as being nothing more than heavily sexualized flirting. I see this a lot. Many men are aggressive touchers of women and are really surpised if you suggest to them that their attentions might not be warranted or constitute harassment.

  21. Incontinentia Buttocks:

    (as far as I can tell) didn’t break any rules.

    I dunno, Scott. I think you’d have to ask our current Secretary of State.

  22. Malaclypse:

    All Cretans Spokanans are Liars.

  23. DrDick:

    Needs more Robert Byrd.

  24. Holden Pattern:

    I think that the Cain story is just a combination of standard liberal racism and authoritarian leftist political correctness. Liberals can’t stand to see a black man succeed unless he’s come up on the liberal plantation and leftists just want to control everyone’s speech, like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and Josef Stalin taught them.

    Cain didn’t do any of this, and if he did do any of this, the women really actually wanted it just like Dominque Francon did, but they’ve been bought off by a cabal of corrupt leftist oligarchs out to destroy Cain.

  25. Malaclypse:

    /golf clap

  26. Uncle Kvetch:

    Uncle Kvetch has a headache and needs to go lie down for a bit.

  27. Rhino:

    The secretary of state, lewinsky, and Billy boy are in fact the only people on earth entitled to any opinion on the matter at all.

  28. Bill Murray:

    so having a sexual relationship with an underling is not sexual harassment?

  29. Njorl:

    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.

  30. Scott Lemieux:

    Not in itself, no.

  31. Manju:

    I would bring it up in order to trick a clueless lefty into responding just like Herman Cain and his rightly supporters responded.

  32. Manju:

    I dunno…but I suppose one could connect it to the Clinton’s Southern Strategy, most recently seen used against our sitting President.

  33. Bill Murray:

    That is definitely not what my University’s training says

  34. Scott Lemieux:

    The teacher/student relationship is different. Not all employers and employees are governed by the same rules.

  35. dangermouse:

    I don’t think “honestly” has anything to do with anything here, either.

    Of course they believe it exists, they just want it to be totally okay to do.

  36. dangermouse:

    There are people, usually men, who view sexual harassment as being nothing more than heavily sexualized flirting. I see this a lot. Many men are aggressive touchers of women and are really surpised if you suggest to them that their attentions might not be warranted or constitute harassment.

    Lots of total assholes are ‘surprised’ if you call them out on being assholes.

  37. Malaclypse:


    Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like “racial discrimination“? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live?

    While the Derb is doing a lot of things in that quote, I fear “lying” is not one of them. He’d be far less of an ass if he were, in fact, lying.

  38. DrDick:

    On the other had, if the Derb paid me a compliment, i would consult my lawyer as well.

  39. Holden Pattern:

    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.

  40. Ed:

    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).

  41. Deggjr:

    What Uncle Kvetch Johnson said is right.

  42. Njorl:

    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.

  43. Hogan:

    What greater opportunities did Lewinsky get?

  44. Sunday Reading « zunguzungu:

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

  45. Procopius:

    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.”

  46. Procopius:

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

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