In the weeks following the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse, many similar instances have been courageously publicized. Spreading beyond Hollywood, almost every industry in the United States has seen cases of prominent individuals’ past abuses coming to light. In most industries, from media to business, credible allegations of abuse have led to immediate firings amid public outrage. Given a national moment like this, we see the status quo of quiet settlements and feigning ignorance as being rightfully upended across every sphere of American society. Except for one.
Politics has been hit by the same sort of public outrage over similar revelations. From Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s decades of child abuse to Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s multiple instances of inappropriate conduct around women, public exposures of this behavior are becoming more and more common in politics. The difference between politics and other parts of American society however, is the inability of other national political leaders to unequivocally condemn and remove these individuals in the same way. As of today, Moore leads the Alabama Senate race by five points and Franken has not been pressured to resign by other prominent Democrats.
Thirteen months ago, a similar situation unfolded amidst the presidential election. When the Access Hollywood tape surfaced, in which then-candidate Donald Trump bragged about sexual misconduct, Republicans distanced themselves in the short-term from Trump but steadily fell back into line as his polling improved. By the time of the election and in its aftermath, Trump had their full support. This hypocrisy is not limited to just Republicans; there has been no serious pressure for Franken’s resignation from Democrats in spite of more and more allegations becoming public. The behavior of these politicians begs the question of how abhorrent does a candidate need to be in an election for politicians to endorse the opposing party’s candidate? We’ve yet to find out.
In looking at candidates for elected office, voters primarily see a list of policy positions. This makes sense. Elected officials’ primary responsibility is to enact policy to serve their constituents. That said, candidates for elected office are not just lists of policies, but people like everyone else. And like every other job in America, there are minimum standards for personal conduct in order to be employable. Unlike other spheres of American society that are reckoning with their prior tolerance for abuse, the political world is stuck defending individuals on party lines. When elected Republicans refuse to choose a mainstream Democrat over a child abuser and elected Democrats refuse to demand the resignation of abusers in their ranks, our politics only becomes more toxic and the moral leadership of America suffers.
Abigail Adams wrote that the “whole duty of man” is “to be good, and to do good.” Democrats and Republicans might disagree on what constitutes doing good as a public servant, but Americans agree on what constitutes being good. We should demand more of it.