Maureen Dowd: Washington mired in mud of sexual harassment

Al Franken resigns for wet kisses while Trump skips past his braggadocio on groping

Alan Simpson was appalled by the injustice of it all.

Back in 1991, during the incendiary Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the salty Republican senator from Wyoming was very concerned at the idea that a woman would wait many years after a disturbing encounter and then "come out of the night like a missile and destroy a man".

It has been a rough spell for men whose primal fear is women coming out of the night like missiles.

Even though then-senator Simpson absurdly claimed during those hearings that it was puzzling that Hill had not come forward sooner given that the nation’s capital was “fertile ground” for a woman with a sexual harassment complaint to be treated fairly, it took 26 more years of rampant sexual harassment – and a fortune in secret settlements on Capitol Hill – before women took to the ramparts.


For all the furore surrounding those hearings, male politicians did not learn anything about sexual harassment. Most of the all-male, all-white members of the Judiciary Committee privately – and mistakenly – assumed that Thomas and Hill had had some sort of work romance that soured. So they just went through the motions of looking into it and then got back to business as usual in the men's club.

It took far too long, but something finally snapped with women. Why had we allowed ourselves to think of abusive behaviour as the norm for so long? Maybe it was this pent-up anger that has given the cascading accusations such a feral edge.

"There's roadkill, yeah," conceded one Democratic woman in Congress. "People are being forced to resign whose conduct was not as bad as other people's." And she believes that a lot more missile-fearing legislators will quietly slink away, opening up a lot of seats for women and minorities and a younger generation.

Hierarchy of sins

There is rough justice in this initial barrage of j'accuses, before people work out a hierarchy of sins and due process. That may stem from the decades when so many women accusers – from Anita Hill to Bill Clinton's inamorata and prey – were treated as collateral damage, smeared and pushed aside so that the careers of powerful men could be preserved.

For the first time, as they shudder watching the reputations and livelihoods of so many high-profile men disappear in a blink, many men are paying close attention to women’s stories of being manhandled and minimised, out of self-preservation if not sympathy.

The more potent lesson of the Hill-Thomas hearings (echoed in the 2000 Florida recount) was that Democrats often lose out because Republicans play to win, and they play rough.

So Al Franken, who is good on women's rights, resigns for wet kisses and random squeezes while President Donald Trump, who is awful on women's rights, skips right past his braggadocio on groping. Meanwhile, the accused pervert and paedophile Roy Moore, who is a Neanderthal on women's rights, leads once more in the senate race in Alabama, buoyed by the president – who believes in nothing but winning – and the soulless Republican National Committee.

There were many women who wanted to save Franken and who complained to the Furies in the Senate, "Why are we killing our own when we're getting Roy Moore?"

And Nancy Pelosi's first instinct was to protect John Conyers, because, as she said, he was "an icon in our country".

But Democrats in Congress want to use Trump and Moore as foils to stamp themselves as the party that sticks up for women.

They can no longer justify the way they defended Bill Clinton's retrograde treatment of women simply because of his progressive policies toward women. Kirsten Gillibrand knew that when she jettisoned her old patrons, the Clintons, in a recent interview with the Times's podcast "The New Washington. "

They also are aware that they sound tinny hailing Hillary Clinton as a feminist icon when she participated in smear campaigns against Bill's girlfriends and prey.

Nutty and slutty

Harvey Weinstein took a couple of vile pages out of the Clinton playbook, hiring private investigators to dig up dirt to discredit accusers and floating suggestions that the victims might be a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.

When the first Times story revealed Ashley Judd's harrowing experience with Weinstein, the ogre evoked Hillary's move with Monica when she told people that Bill was merely "ministering" to a troubled young woman, hinting with faux sympathy that Judd was a troubled woman. "I know Ashley Judd is going through a tough time right now," Weinstein told Page Six's Emily Smith. "I read her book in which she talks about being the victim of sexual abuse and depression as a child."

The Times reported on Tuesday that Lena Dunham and Tina Brown had cautioned Hillary's campaign to keep its distance from Weinstein. ("I just want to let you know that Harvey's a rapist," Dunham said she warned a Clinton aide.) But Clinton Inc ignored the advice, preferring to let one of Hillary's top fundraisers bask in her aura even as he mauled women.

The muddled message of Hillary campaigning as a feminist while being a key cog in Weinstein's complicity machine was summed up nicely in a tweet on Wednesday by the Times's Amy Chozick. Running the gamut from Bill to Harvey to Trump to Anthony Weiner, Chozick tweeted: "So Hillary, married to an alleged sexual abuser, took $ from an alleged sexual abuser to help her defeat an alleged sexual abuser and ended up losing partly b/c of an alleged sexual abuser."

That’s no way to be the party that protects women. – New York Times