Struggling to summon a defense of John Conyers over the weekend, Nancy Pelosi looked a bit like a malfunctioning robot with a depleted battery. But after warming up, she finally hit on the button “icon.” Pelosi uttered the word icon as a cue to end all discussion. She had spoken her formula of absolution over Conyers and now it was time for NBC’s Chuck Todd to let the penitent go in peace.
Pelosi’s comment completes feminism’s arc of hypocrisy: Clarence Thomas’s tormentors have become John Conyers’s defenders. The same feminists who scoffed at Thomas’s description of his hearing as a “high-tech lynching” now play the race card for Conyers as a civil rights “icon.”
The long-awaited “reckoning” looks more like the tired rationalization, as feminists, for all their advertised anguish in recent days, return to what can be called the Pelosi rule: our pigs are better than their pigs.
Shaken by the prospect of losing political power to the Republicans, the Michelle Goldbergs want the “reckoning” toned down. It is dawning on them that the reckoning could result in losing too many “icons,” both past and present, from JFK, MLK, and Teddy to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Al Franken. Or to put the problem in the anxious language of Goldberg: “It’s easy to condemn morally worthless men like Trump; it’s much harder to figure out what should happen to men who make valuable political and cultural contributions…”
When Orwell, commenting on the drift of totalitarian liberal utopias, noted that in them “some pigs are more equal than others,” he wasn’t thinking of sexual harassers. But he might as well have been. Not so long ago the social engineers of today’s animal farm were launching letter-writing campaigns for Roman Polanski and envying Europe’s “sophisticated” acceptance of libertinism in pols. Who cares, they said, if Bill Clinton preyed on an intern decades younger than him? It had nothing to do with the “performance of his duties,” as Pelosi put it on Sunday. Now they pretend to faint at the prospect of Roy Moore in the Senate. On MSNBC, Steve Schmidt, who is presented as a “Republican” strategist, rails against the moral bankruptcy of the Republicans for running Moore. Somehow the moral scruples of Schmidt didn’t stop him from working for serial groper Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom the anti-Moore Republican establishment, everyone seems to have forgotten, saved from a last-minute investigative piece in the Los Angeles Times.
Were Moore a Democrat, the liberals would extend to him the Gloria Steinem mulligan: that a rebuffed sexual advance doesn’t count as “sexual harassment” as long as the rebuffed man stops.
According to Steinem’s moral calculus, the words of Clarence Thomas were worse than the deeds of Bill Clinton. Thomas had created a “hostile workplace”; Clinton merely made a “clumsy sexual pass” in the workplace against Kathleen Willey.
Steinem readily admitted that she believed Clinton’s accusers, but she said that their stories didn’t matter and applauded the public for viewing the gropings with mature indifference:
Commentators might stop puzzling over the President’s favorable poll ratings, especially among women, if they understood the common-sense guideline to sexual behavior that came out of the women’s movement 30 years ago: no means no; yes means yes. It’s the basis of sexual harassment law. It also explains why the media’s obsession with sex qua sex is offensive to some, titillating to many and beside the point to almost everybody. Like most feminists, most Americans become concerned about sexual behavior when someone’s will has been violated; that is, when “no” hasn’t been accepted as an answer…
The President’s approval ratings have remained high. Why? The truth is that even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took “no” for an answer.
In her original story, Paula Jones essentially said the same thing. She went to then-Governor Clinton’s hotel room, where she said he asked her to perform oral sex and even dropped his trousers. She refused, and even she claims that he said something like, “Well, I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do.”
Even if one put the worst possible construction on the accusations against Clarence Thomas, they didn’t come close to what Steinem conceded about Clinton. Yet she declared Thomas unfit for public life while insisting that the commonweal depended upon Clinton’s “talent” and “energy.” Perhaps she anticipated the crisis feminism would face later if she didn’t then weigh words more than deeds.
The logic of the Steinem rule laid the groundwork for the Pelosi rule, in that if words are more relevant than deeds, then thought is more important than conduct. In the end, this means ideology is more important than morality. Only by clinging to such warped criteria of who is and who is not fit for public life could feminism turn its pigs into icons and conservatives into pigs.