How Democrats killed #MeToo

The movement is running aground on the rocks of political convenience

Andrew Cuomo.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is in trouble. Since I called for him to resign over the scandal of him allegedly concealing COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, three people have accused him of sexual harassment — two former staffers, and one attendee at a wedding. The allegations range from unwelcome sexual comments to a non-consensual kiss on the lips, and most of them allegedly happened after the #MeToo movement got started and Cuomo attacked the "pervasive poison of workplace sexual harassment."

A few Democrats and institutions like the Working Families Party have since called on Cuomo to resign. But so far the party elite — particularly President Biden, Vice President Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — have not (though Pelosi did admit that the allegations sound "credible"). Unless Cuomo is actually indicted for violating criminal law due to the nursing home cover-up, it appears unlikely he will choose to resign on his own.

The #MeToo movement is running aground on the rocks of Democratic political convenience.

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Michelle Goldberg writes in The New York Times that there are a number of reasons why Cuomo's sexual harassment allegations have not led to widespread condemnation within the party. One is that the sexual assault allegation against Biden himself fell flat. "Tara Reade made allegations against Joe Biden which got national attention but turned out to be full of inconsistencies," she writes.

This is misleading. Nobody actually disproved Reade's story according to the standards of #MeToo. One of the primary lessons supposedly learned during the avalanche of stories in 2017-19 was that victims are routinely somewhat inconsistent in telling their stories. Severe trauma tends to create memory distortions, or people may leave details out due to fear of not being believed, or they might have psychological problems stemming from the assault, or they may simply misremember things from years ago as all humans are prone to do. Thus the general guideline of "believe women." In that sense, Reade's story was no different — she had a consistent basic narrative of being digitally raped by Biden in 1993 while working in his Senate office, which three different people corroborated she had told them around that time.

In reality, what allowed loyal Democrats to dismiss Reade was reporters snooping into her personal history. It turns out she had stiffed several landlords on rent, had gotten into disputes with people over money, and allegedly misrepresented her legal credentials to get work. Her previous support of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary was also taken as suggestive evidence she was lying. In other words, she is no angel. This hostile coverage created the impression of doubt, which fueled a narrative that the accusation had been conclusively disproved, which allowed liberals to relieve their cognitive dissonance and dismiss the whole thing. (It's instructive to note that when E. Jean Carroll accused Donald Trump of rape, no top journalists scurried to interview her ex-landlords to create the most damaging possible picture of her general credibility, or suggested that her being a registered Democrat cast doubt on her story.)

This kind of dynamic is a big reason why #MeToo happened in the first place. When rich, powerful men have faced accusations of sexual misconduct in the past, their accusers were very often smeared in the press as sluts, liars, or both — leading many victims to simply clam up instead, and predators to go un-punished. Why bother coming forward when one's reputation will be ruined and nobody will believe it anyway?

In any case, the Reade story is also partly beside the point, because Biden has also been accused of Cuomo-style harassment by other people. He is infamous for being publicly handsy with women and girls (and even apologized for doing so), and Lucy Flores accused him of kissing her without her consent when she was running for the lieutenant governorship of Nevada in 2014. She wrote the following in 2019:

He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, "tragame tierra," it means, "earth, swallow me whole." I couldn't move and I couldn't say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. [The Cut]

It would thus be baldly hypocritical to ask Cuomo to resign for kissing people against their will but not ask the same thing of Biden. So elite Democrats, it seems, have decided to look the other way at both. As I predicted back in April last year, nominating Biden for president has indeed done terrific damage to #MeToo.

Still, there is a particularly wretched aspect to letting Cuomo slide on this one. For one, as I previously argued, the nursing home scandal alone is more than enough to end his political career. For another, even if we stipulate that the party can't get rid of Biden for political reasons (and one must admit that Trump has been accused of far worse), that is not at all true of Cuomo. Any of 10,000 Democrats in New York could do his job better than he could. It wouldn't be hard to find someone capable of signing their name to the progressive bills coming out of the Democratic supermajority in Albany instead of vetoing them, or who doesn't conspire with Republicans to give them control of the state Senate, or who isn't an incompetent meddlesome control freak whose abusive bullying drives the state's top public health officials and scientists out of government during a pandemic.

Here Cuomo appears to be benefiting from lingering frustration among liberals who are still mad about Al Franken being pushed to resign from the Senate after numerous women accused him of sexual harassment. Goldberg describes "tremendous bitterness" towards people like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who led that charge — in keeping with previous reporting from Amanda Terkel at HuffPost about wealthy liberal donors, including George Soros. Many "Democrats are sick of holding themselves to a set of standards that Republicans feel no need to try to meet," writes Goldberg.

High office is supposed to be a public trust. Nobody has a right to be a United States senator or a governor. But a great many Democrats apparently believe the party is little more than a social club that exists to advance the careers of its most prominent members. And if Republicans get away with being sex pests, apparently it's only "fair" to let Democrats get away with the same. Reinforcing a culture of impunity for sexual harassment, and sinking much of the cultural work of #MeToo, is just collateral damage.

Yet Franken was just like Cuomo is today: easily replaceable. Minnesota is a reliably blue state, and his successor Tina Smith has by all accounts done a fine job. As far as anyone knows, she has not kissed or groped anyone without their consent. And the first step to punishing the Republican Party for being infested with sexual predators is for Democrats to not be egregious hypocrites on the issue. Andrew Cuomo should resign immediately.

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