Who are we…Really?
In 1974 a politician serving on the national level was discovered in a compromising position with a burlesque performer. Being a member of the conservative political party, he claimed he was just supporting the woman’s career and was doing so with his wife’s support. In the next several months the true affair was revealed, a relationship that had involved a pregnancy and an abortion, all the time while the politician campaigned against abortion and touted his own family values. This was a watershed moment for national politics. Up to this point, their private lives were just that – private. In a nation that proudly disavowed an aristocracy or ruling monarchy so that all could be considered equal (and held equally accountable by a justice system that supposedly was blind to class, politicians had been given a free ride based upon their stature as … well, politicians.
After a wave of sexual misconduct and corruption revelations following the 1974 Tidal Basin incident, Congress created ethics committees for each chamber and formal processes for reprimands, censures and expulsion. The Arkansas politician involved decided to end his political career amid the negative press coverage of his affair also demonstrated that powerful lawmakers could face consequences for their sexual misdeeds ― even if they were consensual affairs.
In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Paul Blumenthal wrote: “Congress is currently grappling with how to respond to a new wave of sexual misconduct allegations. The effort is occurring amid a national outcry over accusations that powerful men ― not only in politics, but the media and the entertainment world ― abused their positions to harass, assault and rape women, girls, men and boys.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was accused of kissing radio news anchor Leann Tweeden against her will, and he was photographed groping her while she slept in 2006. He has since resigned his Senate seat. Then news broke that 88-year-old Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) allegedly made repeated sexual advances to women on his staff. He reportedly settled in 2015 a wrongful dismissal complaint filed by one of them. Several women alleged that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore either sexually assaulted them, kissed them or made unwanted advances while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Moore lost the Senate race and is said to be pursuing legal action against his accusers.
Blumenthal also wrote: “Absent an imminent election, the public sector has few levers available for ousting a lawmaker from Congress (or a president from the White House, for that matter) for sexual misconduct — fewer, certainly, than the private sector has at its disposal for dealing with miscreant CEOs and the like. No lawmaker has ever been expelled for sexual misconduct, and many facing such accusations have simply declared that they would not seek re-election. But more and more, lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct are resigning from office. A survey of past cases by HuffPost determined that six of the 11 resignations from Congress since the mid-1970s that stemmed directly from sexual misconduct have occurred since 2006. This trend began after a second watershed moment in Congress’ history of dealing with sexual misconduct.”
The 2006 reporting by ABC News that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had engaged in sexually explicit instant message conversations with male teenage congressional pages brought up another issue – power over the powerless. . At least 10 men came forward to allege that Foley had sexually harassed them or made inappropriate sexual comments to them when they were underage pages. Foley ultimately admitted he had a consensual sexual relationship with a former page once the page was of age. Foley quickly resigned from office, but the true scandal was not just about the personal failings and misconduct of an individual. Foley’s pattern of abusive behavior toward underage pages was known by powerful congressional leaders and staffers, and they swept it under the rug. That’s where it stayed, until the instant message conversations leaked to the press.
Clearly those in a position of power need to be held accountable but we must make sure that in doing so, we do not ourselves exercise our own discrimination or misuse of power. Righteous indignation is perfectly understandable and accountability must be ensured but how do we do that?
Earlier this week an Ohio Republican state legislator who consistently touts his faith and his anti-LGBT stances resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office. Representative Wes Goodman, who is married, was reportedly seen by someone who is not a staffer having sex with a man inside his Riffe Center office. The witness told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe of the situation early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Dittoe told House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger, who met with Goodman. Shortly after the meeting, Goodman resigned due to “inappropriate conduct.”
Wes Goodman had made his religious beliefs a major part of his political campaign and life. He was famous for speaking about what he termed “natural marriage” being between a man and a woman. His campaign website outlined his views on family: “Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio’s proud history and the key to Ohio’s future greatness. The ideals of a loving father and mother, a committed natural marriage, and a caring community are well worth pursuing and protecting.”
Goodman said in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch: “We all bring our own struggles and our own trials into public life. That has been true for me, and I sincerely regret that my actions and choices have kept me from serving my constituents and our state in a way that reflects the best ideals of public service. For those whom I have let down, I’m sorry. As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I sincerely ask for privacy for myself, my family, and my friends.”
It did not take more than ten minutes for Facebook to be full of his opponents and those in the LGTBQ community to start pointing fingers at the hypocrisy of Goodman’s words versus his actions. My question is this? Where is our compassion, our humanity in dealing with such revelations?
I think it boils down to living what we profess to believe. It is not a problem known only to one group of people, one political party. Society has created the environment that prevents people from living authentic lives. The media is full of images that contribute to the emphasis on sex and its supposed accompanying power. We the public encourage this from the media by watching and buying those products, programs, books, fashions, etc.
Joe Camel was possibly one of the most effective advertising campaigns in the twentieth century. The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was seeking an advertising campaign that would rebrand their Camel cigarettes as being right for younger people. The plan worked a little too well.
On May 28, 1997 the Federal Trade Commission released the following statement: “The Joe Camel advertising campaign violates federal law, the Federal Trade Commission charged today. The campaign, which the FTC alleges was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under 18, induced many young people to begin smoking or to continue smoking cigarettes and as a result caused significant injury to their health and safety. The FTC charged that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the seller of Camel cigarettes, promoted an addictive and dangerous product through a campaign that was attractive to those too young to purchase cigarettes legally. In fact, the FTC said, after the campaign began the percentage of kids who smoked Camels became larger than the percentage of adults who smoked Camels….The agency is seeking an order that would bar Reynolds from using the Joe Camel campaign to advertise to kids and would require the company to conduct a public education campaign discouraging young people from smoking. The Commission also may order further relief, such as corrective advertising or other affirmative disclosures, after the trial on the case has concluded…. Consumers who smoke cigarettes risk addiction and long term health problems including cancer and heart disease,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “and the earlier they begin smoking the greater the risk. That is why it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.”
Where is the outrage today about the barrage of suggestive material, music, and media that encourages the behavior we are seeing in the highest office of this country? IN its statement of 1997, the FTC concluded “R.J. Reynolds has conducted one of the most effective advertising campaigns in decades. Joe Camel has become as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse. Yet the campaign promotes a product that causes serious injury, addiction and death. It appeals to our young people. It is illegal and should be stopped. Joe Camel must grow up or go away.”
Perhaps that is the crux of today’s sexual allegations. Are people trying to use sexual acts, consensual and harassing, as a means for staying young? Or have we just decided that whatever a politician wants, he should get? Have we forgotten why we have a constitution with elected officials instead of a monarchy based upon inheritance and family?
I have no easy answers and, quite frankly, do not think there are any. What does concern me is the religious community’s response. Being a religious community involves a sense of compassion and humanity and this week, in response to Rep Wes Goodman, there was precious little of that. Where is our own compassion when dealing with those who have fallen short and strayed from a path they themselves claim to follow? Can we not see the need for humanity in these situations, kindness and charity for both sides?
Before you starting yelling at me, let me be honest and fully disclose that I have never been a sexual perpetrator but I have been a victim. I would wish it on no one, not even an enemy, to be so victimized and yet, I must rise above any feeling of hatred to find my own humanity. Who do we wish to be? Vindictive haters or compassionate in holding others accountable? I do think we can be accountable and loving without condoning the illicit behavior. The choice is ours. I do think we are better as a race than to allow the incorrect, illegal, and inconsiderate behavior of others to pull us down to lower level of behavior than anyone would want. The selfish behavior of others should create insensitivity and unkind responses of our own. Very few, if any of us, are perfect. We hope and seek understanding for ourselves. I just think we owe it to others to give them the same respect. Perhaps that is the definition of being mature – the ability to show concern to those who have not earned it but are still just are human as the rest of us. I firmly believe perpetrators should be held accountable. I just happen to believe and hope there is a humane manner to do so.