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Regarding Hollywood and politics

There’s a rule that I’ve noticed over the past few years whenever a celebrity scandal pops up. I call it the Sandusky Rule: Whenever a prominent person faces charges regarding sexual misconduct, there’s a line regarding the number of credible victims stepping forward. That line, once crossed, means there is a chance that even a small portion of them are probably true. And any number of true accounts higher than zero is straight-up unacceptable, as is any defense of the perpetrator outside of a legal setting. It is not a hard rule, as I have not determined the exact number it takes for it to take effect, but I know it when I see it.

I call it the Sandusky rule because when you consider the 40 counts of sexual assault that the former assistant football coach for Penn State faced, and that he was ultimately convicted of 36 of them, one would think the residents of Happy Valley would condemn both Sandusky as well as anyone who chose not to do the right thing when faced with information about Sandusky. Given that both Penn State students and non-students together caused some $200,000 in damage when the university fired Joe Paterno (one of the few times it, it turns out, it has been acceptable for people to riot) and still speak highly of him, this did not happen. Considering the talks about putting JoePa’s statue back up at Penn State as recently as last year (ESPN.com “Lettermen petition Penn State Nittany Lions to Return Joe Paterno Statue”), I think it is a safe bet that it still has not happened.

Now, we have the current scandal: Recently, a number of allegations came out that had film producer Harvey Weinstein join an illustrious tableau of famous alleged sexual offenders including Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski (of whom Weinstein wrote a glowing defense of in 2009, which should have raised a red flag to us all), R. Kelly, Jeepers Creepers director (and convicted pedophile) Victor Salva, X-Men director Brian Singer, and honestly at this point it would probably have saved time to list the celebrities who haven’t faced multiple allegations of sexual abuse.

You may be wondering why I am writing an op-ed piece on an idea that “you should not support sexual offenders nor accept support from them” (an opinion that you would think would not have to actually be written in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Seventeen) as the chair of a county political party that practically didn’t exist in these here parts until here recently, so here’s the part where I come in:

Given that Harvey Weinstein was a prolific donor to both Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the press have immediately asked both about their connections to Weinstein, and if either party would return the money he had given them. Hillary Clinton (who in recent days is looking and sounding less like ‘the most qualified presidential candidate’ and more like a perpetual grift artist) decided to change the subject to Donald Trump after mumbling something about not knowing how much he donated and a promise to donate his money to charity “sometime soon” as part of her annual charitable giving. The Democratic National Committee, on the other hand, seems to think that returning 10 percent of the $300,000 he donated would somehow constitute a better response. In their press release, they state their decision is because “what we need now is more women in power, not men like [President] Trump who continue to show us they lack respect for more than half of America.” Be that as it may, the DNC isn’t saying much about the other $270,000. By the time this gets published, I would think it would be a safe guess that I am still wondering which response would be worse. Considering that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Caucus has already stated that they have already cut a check for the entire $23,225 they have received from him since 1992 to women’s group Futures Without Violence, it’s a bit of a tossup as both her answer and the DNC’s answer are equally terrible.

In talking over this with a friend, they said that there were two possible ways the DNC could have played it: One in which the DNC gives none of the money back because it was going to be used for “good things, like standing up for women’s rights and standing against rapists in power.” The other option involved giving any and all money that Weinstein donated to charities because the money was dirty and they want nothing to do with it. I added that the optimal strategy would be not accepting money from questionable sources like Weinstein in the first place, but given that he’s been donating longer than I’ve been involved in politics, you play it as it lies. But this right here shows the problem: the usual party line being to start from the middle and negotiate down from there makes nobody happy.

But who cares, right? Well, for a party concerned about optics, we seem to be focusing on the wrong optics. The American criminal court has a strict standard of “innocent until proven guilty.” The American court of public opinion, however, has no such standards, and any attempt to try and convince others that people cannot have an opinion on something in the news is a fool’s errand. Modern politics is just as much about public relations and marketing as it is about policy. Given my degree is in that area, I do have the sources and case studies backing me up when I say that these responses are not good enough. If your immediate answer to a question along the lines of “Weinstein, am I right?” isn’t immediately met with an answer like “I know – to hell with him and his money,” then you have point-blank messed up.

So why am I calling out other Democrats instead of the Republicans on this? The reason is that department has already been covered frequently by other Democrats. The conventional wisdom with Democrats already holds that the Republicans will consistently defend the indefensible. Considering that Dennis Hastert, a former speaker of the house, is currently serving time in federal prison for trying to dodge banking withdrawal rules (in hiding the hush money he paid out to the victims of his sexual abuse during his years as a wrestling coach) is still spoken of quite highly in some circles and on Fox News, their defense of the admissions in Trump’s “locker room talk” should come as no surprise. I’ll grant that my words seem particularly harsh towards the members of my party, but I direct this towards those who speak as if they are better than Trump and his defenders, but whose actions have not matched that talk. The mealy-mouthed reactions I have seen from supposedly professional and politically-savvy people have left me absolutely dumbstruck. We cannot lecture others about the speck in their eye until we remove the plank from ours.

I know victims of sexual assault, people I am proud to call my friends, far better people than I could hope to be. I’ve seen for myself the damage it does to them, the psychological scars it leaves on them for a long time. I’ve seen the joy and trust robbed from the victims. I’ve lost track of the time taken from their lives spent in rebuilding. I’ve seen the doubt and allegations thrown at them just for coming forward. For a few of them, I’ve shared the heartbreak in the justice they have been denied. And you know what? I will be damned if I play a part in continuing the cycle.

Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee both have totally botched what should have been an incredibly easy decision. If the Democratic Party is going to pose itself as a party that champions itself on victims’ rights, then a little consistency in our actions would not be too much out of line. The whole lot of us should be ashamed. I certainly am.

Josh Eldridge is chair, Claiborne County Democrats. He may be reached at josh.eldridge@carboncpy.com. The views expressed may not necessarily represent those of the Democratic Party. The county party holds meetings on the third Tuesday of every month, and the author would like to welcome anyone interested in attending and can find out about the meeting locations through his email address.