One thing we’ve learned since the #MeToo movement got into high gear was that future elections are going to include a vetting phase where opposition research digs into the past of all candidates to see if they’ve been accused (or convicted) of sexual assault or harassment. Think of it as the Roy Moore Test if you like. Probably not a bad idea, right? But how much further should such checking extend? One idea taking shape on the left coast is asking whether candidates who have been unfaithful to their spouses or partners should be disqualified.
The test case may be the California Governor’s race. Two of the early entrants were former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Both have been around the Golden State political scene for a long time and each was involved in an infidelity scandal in their past. Should that be lumped into the #MeToo bucket and determine that such actions represent disrespect for women, thus disqualifying them? (LA Times)
When Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa entered the governor’s race, it was widely assumed that their past extramarital affairs were behind them. The details about their relationships when they served as mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, had been aired more than a decade ago, both men had settled down and established families and voters seemed uninterested in politicians’ peccadilloes.
Then, the #MeToo movement happened. Multiple detailed accounts of sexual misconduct emerged in Hollywood, the media and statehouses across the nation.
Neither candidate has been accused of harassment. But heightened scrutiny of powerful men’s behavior has led to a new focus on Newsom and Villaraigosa’s relationships while in office, and questions about whether the affairs will affect their chances of being elected California’s next governor.
In the interest of being thorough, one of the GOP gubernatorial candidates, Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen, has actually been accused of sexual harassment. The specifics are that he made a woman uncomfortable by standing too close to her. Of course, that’s sort of a non-issue here since the odds of California electing a Republican as governor this year are about on par with the chances that I’ll win the Miss America contest next time it comes around.
But getting back to the original subject, should extramarital affairs be considered a #MeToo offense? It’s clearly hurtful and disrespectful to your spouse, so I suppose some linguistic gymnastics could lead you to call that harassment, but it’s really not the same as sexual harassment or assault. Voters have always been free to take information about a candidate’s past extramarital affairs into account, but that’s more a question of character than being some sort of criminal.
Another thing to consider here is that if we’re going to lump all of these sins together, you’re going to start disqualifying a lot more women. When it comes to sexual harassment and assault it’s almost (but not entirely) always a man doing it. But when it comes to cheating, some studies have shown that nearly half of all married women step out with somebody else at some point, so they’re not far behind the men in that category.
One proven (or extremely plausible) instance of sexual assault can and probably should knock you out of the running. But if we’re going to include infidelity we could really be thinning out the herd here. It will be interesting to see if Californians are willing to simply forgive and forget on this issue when it comes to Villaraigosa and Newsom. If they do, it might be time to start compiling a list of sins and determine just how much of a saint someone had to be in order to be considered for public office.
The times… they are certainly changing, arent they? How well do you think the Kennedy brothers would have done under this level of scrutiny back in the day?