The recently released film about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne has caused some belated soul-searching on the left. Feminist author Jill Filipovic wrote a think piece for NBC last week in which she attempts to wrestle with the meaning of the film while simultaneously claiming Republicans are the party failing to grapple with sexual misconduct. It takes about five paragraphs for Filipovic’s argument to veer off a bridge into icy waters:
There is almost no question that even a politically-connected man could not, in 2018, drive a car carrying a young women into a river, leave her to die and still retain his seat as a United States Senator from the Democratic Party. Former Sen. Al Franken, who was about as universally beloved as anyone gets on the left, was pressured to resign his office after allegations of sexual harassment by multiple women were augmented by a photo of him pretending to grope a sleeping woman on a U.S.O. tour. Democrats, mostly unelected, may continue to debate whether there should have been a more thorough investigation before members of his own party began pressuring him to resign – but he’s still gone.
There’s almost no question. So there’s still some question? Filipovic writes as if a Republican might face a different fate, but that’s silly. No one could get away with this now. The question is how Kennedy got away with it his whole life.
And, when sexual harassment and assault allegations surfaced against Hollywood luminary and long-time megadonor Harvey Weinstein, Democratic politicians took the donations they received from him and turned them over to charity.
Yes, after studiously ignoring the rumors about the Lion of Hollywood for decades while gladly taking his money, progressives finally pronounced themselves shocked, shocked at his behavior once it was undeniable. Weinstein himself first tried to skate away on the strength of his progressive bona fides and seemed surprised that gambit didn’t work for him this time. Eventually, Filipovic gets to the other beloved Democrat that progressives have only recently begun to acknowledge might not be so laudable: Bill Clinton.
Mary Jo Kopechne’s death, and the total lack of consequences that befell Kennedy in its aftermath, remained a right-wing talking point for years and was used by conservatives as a kind of feminist gotcha that was eventually only superseded by allegations sexual harassment and assault against Bill Clinton. Still, when feminists point out our current president’s misogyny and the deep hypocrisy of his base, the rebuttals range from Juanita Broaddrick to Chappaquiddick. The argument seems to be: You guys did it, so now we get to, too.
Here we’ve reached the “Republicans seize” moment of her piece. What matters isn’t that Kennedy was a drunk who let a woman die to save his own career but that Republicans seized on this fact to criticize him. And no, the argument isn’t “You guys did it, so now we get to, too.” The argument is much simpler: Democrats defended, ignored, and covered for Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton for decades. Therefore, the sudden eagerness to demand immediate consequences for Trump seems more than a little hypocritical. In fact, accusations of rape against Bill Clinton still mostly get a shrug from the left.
Leaving aside the total moral bankruptcy of this position, it’s telling that the most recent right-wing sexual assault gotcha is a quarter-century old.
And there’s that shrug I was just talking about. Bill Clinton is yesterday’s news and as such can continue to be ignored and generally take a pass. Also, the second half of this statement isn’t remotely true as Filipovic has proven earlier in the same piece. Al Franken isn’t a quarter-century ago. Neither was Rep. John Conyers who resigned over sexual harassment allegations four months ago.
And let’s not forget all the Hollywood progressives and those in the media whose careers have fallen apart recently, starting with Harvey Weinstein himself who made big donations to the party and candidates on the left. Then there’s Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, etc. The idea that you need to go back 25 years to find a prominent progressive gotcha is not supported by the evidence.
Feminist-minded liberals have come a long way from the worldview that enabled Ted Kennedy to turn a terrible crash into a fatal one with his decision to walk away, and still keep his Senate seat. One doesn’t have to stretch too far to imagine that Kennedy weighted his own political future heavier than the life and promise of the bright young political operative trapped in the passenger seat.
Yes, exactly as many on the right have been saying for decades. Welcome to the party, Jill. Now, please apply this same insight to Bill Clinton instead of shrugging off his behavior. As for Trump, he doesn’t deserve a pass either (though I don’t think he’s killed anyone), but after ignoring the creeps on your side of the aisle for decades don’t expect anyone to take your criticism of Trump as any kind of principled stand on the issue. It clearly isn’t that.