The 1919 World Series pitted the Cincinnati Reds against the Chicago White Sox. The Sox were heavily favored to win but lost 5:10. Rumors soon circulated that players like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson threw the games. The ensuing Black Sox Scandal resulted in a grand jury indictment of Shoeless Joe, 7 other White Sox players and 5 gamblers for conspiracy to defraud.
According to a Chicago newspaper:
When Jackson left the criminal court building in the custody of a sheriff after telling his story to the grand jury, he found several hundred youngsters, aged from 6 to 16, waiting for a glimpse of their idol. One child stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said:
“It ain’t true, is it, Joe?”
“Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is,” Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for the ball player and stood in silence until he passed out of sight.
“Well, I’d never have thought it,” sighed the lad.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, in the face of sexual harassment allegations.
When the Harvey Weinstein story broke, I was in Los Angeles for a book tour. Since Hollywood is big business in the City of Angels, the coverage was non-stop. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the women accusing him of sexual harassment were all young and beautiful while Weinstein himself is not.
Optics are important in La La Land but they’re more important to me than I’d like to admit. I have come to expect Republican congressmen and senators to be morally corrupt, if not for passing a tax bill that is unconscionable, then in the more obvious ways. Take Judge Roy Moore. He’s been removed twice from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to enforce the US Constitution’s separation of church and state. Now he’s running for Senate while trying to parry sexual harassment claims involving teenagers.
Earlier this month, Welsh politician Carl Sargeant was suspended from the British Labour Party and stepped down as cabinet minister for communities and children. Accused of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping,” he killed himself 3 days later. When I heard the news, I immediately assumed that the allegations must have been true. Then my husband reminded me: Sargeant could also have been driven over the edge by the prospect of having to prove his own innocence.
Have I lost my sense of humanity?
Humor, too, seems to be in short supply these days. Former President George H.W. Bush fumbles a joke about a bodacious butt. Some of us shake our heads fondly (as Barbara Bush is reputed to do) while others clamor to slap him silly. Every form of unwanted sexual attention is now grounds for complaint from whistling in the street to off-color jokes to invading one’s personal space.
What is the point? Life, after all, is filled with daily barbs and insults. Reacting with outrage at every incident is unsustainable. Moreover, it erases the distinction between a hand on the knee, a run around the desk and rape.
So, at some level, I understand it when men use #MeToo as a mocking refrain of self-pity. It speaks to a level of awareness of the issue and possibly even self-knowledge. I find it harder to fathom why a woman would laugh. I fear this is another bias of mine rearing its ugly head. That any woman coming forward with her #MeToo account of sexual harassment or abuse must be taken seriously, especially by other women.
Paula Jones would laugh. When she sued Bill Clinton in 1998 for sexual harassment, she was reviled as a tool of the Clinton-bashing right wing of the Republican Party. James Carville infamously said:
If you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.
Feminists did not rally to her cause. Not when a progressive president was in the Oval Office. The Clinton political agenda was more important than any bimbo with big hair. In the end, Jones settled her sexual harassment claims out of court but she didn’t get justice.
Jones and other Clinton accusers have since appeared at the side of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. And they’re on Fox News these days, too, sneering at liberal Democrats for finally conceding that Bill Clinton should have resigned. Jones would ask: where were you when I needed you?
They say hindsight is 20/20. That we shouldn’t judge the past by the norms of today. I’ve heard Trump’s pussy-grabbing explained away as normal for that time and place. Normal, I suppose, in the sense that it happened a lot. Not in the sense that it was the right thing to do.
Some now offer these same sorts of excuses on behalf of Al Franken. It happened before he became a senator or before any of us knew any better. And then there’s the Clinton defense 2.0. We need progressive voices in the Senate and damn the cost.
quid pro quo
At the heart of any sexual harassment claim lies the quid pro quo. You have sex with me and I’ll hire / promote / reward you. Or else. The quid pro quo is Harvey Weinstein’s modus operandi. You could say it’s his very own Art of the Deal.
That’s abuse of power and it’s actionable in a court of law. It’s also plain wrong. The schoolyard bully writ large.
I believe the claims against Franken. But I don’t think he abused his power. He was not in a position to either threaten or reward. But what he did was demeaning to those women. He imposed his will on another human being simply because he could. It might be enough, in the court of public opinion, to get him thrown out of office. Not because pinching a butt is an impeachable offense. As a voter, I have the right to hold my leaders to a higher standard than the merely criminal.
The story of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson doesn’t end well. The court acquitted him but the baseball commissioner banned Jackson and his fellow co-conspirators from professional baseball. Jackson fought his entire life to clear his name and failed.
Even the famous quote is wrong. There was no kid on the courthouse steps. It was a journalist who came up with the catchy headline, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Adults can have heroes, too. And when those heroes stumble and fall, our disappointment is just as sharp. Show me you’re better than this, Al Franken. Show me it ain’t so.