In the video shared by NBC, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) are asked that question in what some would say was a clear reference to Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
When asked by Richmond for examples of the punishments, reporters responded with the names of Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.
Clyburn then quipped to Richmond: “Who elected them?”
His response suggested that elected officials are– and should be– treated differently simply because they are elected. And I agree– although not in the way Clyburn may have intended.
Public service brings with it a higher level of scrutiny that requires a higher standard of conduct. Elected officials, law enforcement officers, public school teachers– we expect them to be (or at least act like they’re) better because of the positions of trust they occupy. Notwithstanding the skeletons they may have long ago tucked away in their closets (it’s probably okay to overlook things done long ago), we expect them to come to the job prepared to live up to the unwritten expectations of moral decency and acceptability– and to do no one any harm. If they have no intention of conforming their behavior they should do something less demanding for a living.
Like Weinstein, Rose and Lauer, Conyers is facing multiple sexual misconduct allegations. Unlike either of them, he remains on the job. Why shouldn’t Roy Moore get the same ‘elected official pass’?
I get that nothing has been proven against him, and I’m not saying that he should or should not step down, but I’m sure the fact that “allegations” are merely unproven charges hasn’t brought Bill Cosby any comfort. And then there’s that sticky little widget called disparity.
I like what I know about John Conyer’s commitment to the cause of leveling the playing field in America. I’m not sure I can easily dismiss the charges of sexual misconduct, though. I have daughters and granddaughters to think about, after all.
I suspect that any man who sees women as sexual objects and toys would likely hold my daughters and granddaughters in the same low regard. And because I try to see beyond the ambit of my own 4 walls, I am concerned about what we permit and support in our nation.
I know that it is easy for anyone to level charges, and I know that all too many people are AWNF– accusers with no foundation. But anyone who has been sexually assaulted– yes, even a person as clearly capable of defending himself as Terry Crews— has a duty to expose the assailant. Once exposed, however, the question becomes: what do we do? What happens if the actions are morally repugnant but just short of prosecutable? Do we simply say “you’ve gotten away with it ’til now, don’t do it again”?
In Crew’s case, his assailant got a probably insulting one-month suspension. Does that adequately measure the importance of the wrongful act in anyone’s eyes? You tell me.
Should it be easier for a man to touch, suggestively talk down to, engage in Trump-style “men’s locker room” talk in the presence of women, just because their “bosses” are constituents?
Conyers is not alone in the Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is also facing sexual misconduct allegations, but has apologized for his behavior, saying his supporters had “counted on [him] to be a champion for women.” He promised that “this will not happen again going forward.”
I fervently believe in the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” It is one of the hallmarks of American jurisprudence. Every American understands its importance and we all embrace its applicability to both legal and extra-legal processes. And yet the question remains: what do we do?
Cosby was prosecuted but not (yet) found guilty of anything. Still, he lost endorsements, contracts, honorary degrees– if that isn’t being “fired,” I don’t know what is– but is that the way we really want things to be? Should people suffer for crimes either not admitted or proven in a court of law?
I’m not comfortable with that.
Still, when we make it easier for men in any area of life to mistreat women, we end up consciously putting our own daughters and granddaughters smack dab in harm’s way. And I’m not comfortable with that, either.
We need an identifiable process for navigating these tricky waters. As IBM used to say many years ago: “the system is the solution.”
Too bad this apparently growing national outrage over sexual misconduct didn’t happen about a year ago– when candidate Donald Trump was outted for bragging about bullying women and “grabbing p***y.”