NYT: Daniel Inouye was the senator who told Kirsten Gillibrand that he likes his girls chubby

And he told her that, allegedly, after coming up behind her and squeezing her waist.

As a good half-dozen commenters in Headlines have noted, the Times never quite gets around in today’s item to mentioning which party Inouye belonged to.

With his deep baritone and courtly manner, Mr. Inouye was revered by his colleagues and was a powerhouse in both Hawaii and the Senate, where he was a reliable supporter of women’s rights.

But in an all but forgotten chapter of his career, the senator had been accused of sexual misconduct: In 1992, his hairdresser said that Mr. Inouye had forced her to have sex with him.

Her accusations exploded into a campaign issue that year, and one Hawaii state senator announced that she had heard from nine other women who said they had been sexually harassed by Mr. Inouye. But the women did not want to go forward with their claims.

“All but forgotten” is correct. I’d never heard this before about Inouye even though it was a matter of public record, and even though the allegations against him went quite a bit past harassment:

The accusations, which the 68-year-old Senator has called “unmitigated lies,” were made by his hairdresser of the last two decades, when she was led by an opposition campaign worker with a hidden tape recorder into telling a story of nonconsensual intercourse 17 years ago and persistent gropings in years since.

While few public figures here impugned the 40-year-old hairdresser, Lenore Kwock, neither did they raise their voices in curiosity or censure of Mr. Inouye. In large measure, political, civic and business leaders chose guarded silence, which some of them attribute to fear that the party machine, which controls nearly all state and Federal positions and programs here, might derail their careers or strip their projects of government money…

Most conspicuous in their silence here are the Democratic women among Hawaii’s lawmakers, many of whom dashed to the nearest microphone last year to condemn the indignities Anita F. Hill said she suffered at the hands of Clarence Thomas.

Kwock passed a lie-detector test and, among likely voters, 42 percent said they believed her at the time versus just 20 percent who believed Inouye’s denials. No matter: He crushed his Republican opponent in deep-blue Hawaii anyway, taking more than 57 percent of the vote. Accusations of sexual misconduct never stopped Democratic strongholds from endlessly reelecting people like Ted Kennedy to the Senate. Why should Inouye have been an exception?

Patterico notes that it’s highly convenient for Gillibrand’s allies to lay all of this off on a dead man who can’t defend himself rather than on a living senator who can, and whose seat might be jeopardized by the accusation. Fair enough, but Inouye is a revered figure — recipient of the Medal of Honor and Democratic Senate mainstay for nearly 50 years. You don’t smear a man like that lightly. A lot of old hands on the Hill won’t like that he’s being remembered this way, especially at a moment when Democrats are desperate to convince women before the midterms that they’re the only game in town politically. Plus, it’s not like the media’s been hounding Gillibrand to name names. She faced a few days of grumbling after she first told the “chubby girls” story from people who wanted her to identify the harasser but she stood firm in saying she wouldn’t reveal who it was. Since then it’s been “all but forgotten,” just like the accusations against Inouye 20 years ago. Whoever leaked it did it because they wanted it known, I assume, not because the media simply wouldn’t lay off Gillibrand until they had a name. If anything, putting Inouye’s name out there will generate a new round of pressure on Gillibrand to confirm or deny.

Let me gently suggest that the takeaway from this story shouldn’t simply be, “Are they smearing Inouye to get this story off the table?” The takeaway should also be, “If it’s true that he was willing to casually harass a colleague in the Senate, how many less powerful women on the Hill did he harass during his 53 years as a House delegate and then as a Senator?” If there was a de facto conspiracy of silence in Hawaii’s corridors of power in 1992 to ignore the accusations against him, you’d better believe there was one in Washington too. Maybe that’s why the Times’s source finally felt obliged to speak up.

Update: Good point from Ace: The senator who told Gillibrand he likes his girls chubby wasn’t the only one she claimed had made sexist comments to her. What about the others?

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David Strom 12:31 PM on December 07, 2022