On One Senator Calling Another a Slut
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Is Sen. Elizabeth Warren running against President Trump as the Democrats’ version of Trump?

The only other explanation for a tweet of hers Tuesday, the one where she called Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York a “slut,” is that it was some horrible mistake.

But then she went and talked to a bunch of reporters about Gillibrand’s supposedly loose ways. So unless we see some overwhelming show of contrition from Warren, I think we should assume that she’s running, and that she’s been studying dirty tricks, by which I am not referring to Gillibrand’s male donors.

Warren just threw the lowest blow in a Democratic primary since a newspaper publisher made Edmund Muskie cry by depicting his wife as a cackling drunk. And she might get away with it, too, for two reasons. The obvious reason is that the media is obsessed with Trump. The interesting reason is that current fashions in Democratic orthodoxy open up new possibilities in passive-aggressive slander for left-leaning cynics.

Early Tuesday morning, Trump went on Twitter and opened his heart to the world:

“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

Some folks saw this and gave it a sexual reading, which never occurred to me when I first saw it. We’ve been equating campaign finance and prostitution for so long that you’d think the weight of the cliché would crush any literal reading. But I tuned it out before I got to that “USED!” at the end. And that is the Trumpian touch, the sort of zinger that Scott Adams wrote about endlessly during the campaign.

The media jumped on the tweet, criticizing it as crude and demeaning. They’ve got a point, of course. This is baseless slander, although I think we’re all clear by now that the president is not Cary Grant. At the same time, they’re missing a bigger story: Warren is jumping in on the slander of one of her presumptive rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, using one of Trump’s signature moves:

“Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you’re picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted.”

If you were judging by degree of difficulty, like they do with certain ladysports, Warren’s tweet deserves an extra point or two for all those contortions in a tight space. With “Nevertheless, she persisted,” we’ve got the plug for brand Warren. (The catchphrase has always sounded to me like the grievance a Victorian wife-beater might offer an arresting officer. “I implored her to cease her hectoring. Nevertheless…”) Plus we get a backhanded compliment for the ages, a bit of passive-aggression that mean girls everywhere should be copying.

It is possible, of course, that Warren is genuinely clueless about the definition of slut-shaming, and just meant to scold Trump for his insinuations. But the term means exactly what it sounds like — it means to denigrate somebody for slutty behavior. You can’t call out Trump for slut-shaming without also calling Gillibrand a slut.

The term was popularized by sex-positive women, which is what some young women call themselves before the regret sets in. But belief in the idea is just about mandatory on the left these days. Or rather, leftists have gone so far in trying to eradicate sexual taboo of any sort, to require the universal celebration of every fetish imaginable, that they find it inconceivable that there might be any shame attached to something so quotidian as plain old vanilla hetero sex (if you’ll pardon my ghastly cisnormativity). It’s the very idea of a “slut” that Warren and the identitarian left reject.

So it may come to them as some surprise that there are still parts of this country in which it is not considered a compliment to call a woman a brazen whore. Yet that’s what she’s done. If she thinks a woman should not be ashamed of promiscuous behavior, even of a transactional sort, then she’s on the side of whore pride.

I bet she’ll get away with it, too, because the left no longer has the moral vocabulary to condemn her. You can’t say Warren has done something wrong unless you agree that slut is a valid category. The same goes for any number of other once-taboo sexual practices that the modern left now considers not simply valid, but the very basis of personhood. Why shouldn’t a cynical, ambitious political candidate of the left imply that his opponent is into kink, or cross-dressing, all in the language of celebrating diversity?

Look at Warren’s crafty example. She didn’t phrase her description as an insult, yet she’s associating Gillibrand with the idea all the same, using one of Trump’s favorite techniques, a rhetorical device known as apophasis. This is when you talk about something by denying you want to talk about it. Trump does it endlessly. “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo.” “I was going to say ‘dummy’ Bush. I won’t say it. I won’t say it.” “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat’?”

Warren didn’t just talk about her possible opponent’s sex life on Twitter. She brought up the issue later with reporters, under cover of attacking Trump, of course.

“He was disgusting. It was clear what he was getting at,” she said.

It’s clear what she’s getting at, too.

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