NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Winning in the era of #MeToo

Joe Biden has had a bad cou­ple of weeks, to put it mildly.

In the mid­dle of March, polit­i­cal pun­dits believed that the for­mer vice pres­i­dent was on the cusp of announc­ing his bid for the pres­i­den­cy – espe­cial­ly after he acci­den­tal­ly described him­self as one of the can­di­dates, spark­ing a huge cheer which prompt­ed him to cor­rect himself.

Rumours also swirled that Biden was seek­ing to per­suade Stacey Abrams – the Geor­gian 2018 guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date and ris­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic star – to join his run as vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, a move which might tem­per crit­i­cism that Biden does not exact­ly fit the pro­file of diver­si­ty that many Democ­rats are look­ing for in an oppo­nent to the white-nation­al­ist geron­toc­ra­cy that is the Trump regime.

How­ev­er, a week lat­er, pub­lic per­cep­tion had begun to change.

First came anoth­er wave of scruti­ny over Biden’s role in the 1991 Clarence Thomas hear­ings, when Ani­ta Hill – who has accused Thomas of sex­u­al harass­ment when she worked with him – was treat­ed dis­grace­ful­ly by the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, which Biden chaired at the time.

Biden’s apol­o­gy on March 26th made it sound like he was pow­er­less to pre­vent Hill’s humil­i­a­tion in front of the com­mit­tee; crit­ics soon point­ed out that he had allowed Thomas to both pre­empt and respond to Hill’s tes­ti­mo­ny, effec­tive­ly say­ing that his ver­sion of events was more legitimate.

Two days lat­er, Stacey Abrams pub­licly dis­missed the idea that she and Biden were in talks to run as a joint tick­et. “I think you don’t run for sec­ond place,” she said on The View, “if I’m going to enter a pri­ma­ry, then I’m going to enter a pri­ma­ry.” Biden was sub­se­quent­ly accused of using Abrams as a polit­i­cal token.

Worse was to come.

The very next day a for­mer can­di­date for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Neva­da, Lucy Flo­res, wrote an arti­cle about how Biden’s behav­ior at a 2014 cam­paign event made her feel deeply uncomfortable.

Biden’s apol­o­gy for this only hurt him more; in claim­ing that he had not intend­ed to act inap­pro­pri­ate­ly, he only showed that he didn’t under­stand the crux of Flo­res’ com­plaint. Flo­res not­ed that that she didn’t sus­pect Biden’s inten­tions, but that his behav­ior itself was the problem.

Lucy Flores speaking in Nevada

Lucy Flo­res speak­ing in Neva­da (Pho­to: Deacontyler1, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license). Flo­res’ arti­cle said that Biden made her feel “uneasy, gross and confused”

Flo­res’ arti­cle opened the flood­gates for years of Biden’s behav­ior around women to come under scruti­ny. The Vice Pres­i­dent has often been crit­i­cized (or sim­ply laughed at) for being a lit­tle too com­fort­able with women – one video that has resur­faced is of Biden whis­per­ing into Stephanie Carter’s ear dur­ing her husband’s swear­ing-in as Sec­re­tary of Defense (Carter has pub­licly defend­ed Biden, say­ing that the video rep­re­sent­ed, “a moment between close friends”).

On April 1st, a sec­ond woman, Amy Lap­pos, made alle­ga­tions sim­i­lar to Flores’.

Amidst the back­drop of this reex­am­i­na­tion of Biden, many of his rivals are mak­ing huge strides in chang­ing gen­der-rela­tions in the cul­ture of politics.

Moth­er Jones inves­ti­gat­ed the inter­nal harass­ment poli­cies of sev­er­al 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and found that big changes are afoot.

Gone are the days of the Barack Oba­ma and Hilary Clin­ton cam­paigns, whose harass­ment train­ing con­sist­ed only of basic “box-check­ing” exercises.

Kirsten Gillibrand’s cam­paign has con­duct­ed a sur­vey of its employ­ees to gauge how they feel about their work envi­ron­ment. The cam­paign has also made it com­pul­so­ry for employ­ees to read the campaign’s guide­lines and have manda­to­ry harass­ment train­ing for managers.

Cory Book­er has imple­ment­ed an “open-door” pol­i­cy for employ­ees to eas­i­ly meet their manager’s boss to report mis­con­duct. His cam­paign is also work­ing on an employ­ee hand­book for deal­ing with these issues.

Kamala Har­ris’ cam­paign has insti­tut­ed manda­to­ry train­ing, and intro­duced mul­ti­ple report­ing mech­a­nisms to ensure that vic­tim­ized employ­ees do not feel dis­cour­aged by the process.

Bernie Sanders – whose cam­paign has already been rocked by com­plaints that his 2016 cam­paign mis­han­dled harass­ment claims – has already made his­to­ry for the union­iza­tion of his cam­paign workers.

In his cam­paign, harass­ment claims will be dealt with by both the campaign’s human resources depart­ment and union rep­re­sen­ta­tives; this means that vic­tims will have inves­ti­ga­tors who work direct­ly for them, rather than hav­ing the inter­ests of the cam­paign at heart. Sanders has also arranged for the set­up of a third-par­ty com­plaint hot­line for his employees.

These changes are espe­cial­ly impor­tant con­sid­er­ing the inher­ent risks that come with polit­i­cal campaigning.

The essen­tial busi­ness of a polit­i­cal cam­paign is to recruit moti­vat­ed young peo­ple and scat­ter them across the coun­try – in the process expos­ing them unsu­per­vised to influ­en­tial and pow­er­ful peo­ple, from local politi­cians to hard­ened polit­i­cal cam­paign­ers, in close quar­ters. Suc­cess­ful cam­paigns expand from a tiny team to a bil­lion-dol­lar, fifty-state enter­prise with­in a year, a sit­u­a­tion which no team could pos­si­bly hope to man­age effec­tive­ly. It’s a recipe for all man­ner of abuse.

In recent years a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions have sprung up to help politi­cians deal with the issue of harassment.

Groups like Ultra­Vi­o­let, Bright Com­pass and Works in Progress have received a boost from the emer­gence of the #MeToo movement.

These groups have not only con­sult­ed with Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates on pub­lic pol­i­cy in advance of the 2020 pri­maries and cau­cus­es, but have pushed them to intro­duce pro­tec­tions for work­ers with­in their campaigns.

Emma Boor­boor, the deputy orga­niz­ing direc­tor of Ultra­Vi­o­let, has intro­duced a three-page pack­et for cam­paigns which rec­om­mend­ed many of the mea­sures tak­en up by the cam­paigns men­tioned above. As she puts it: “For 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates to believ­ably advo­cate for poli­cies to make work­places safer, they need to cre­ate their own safe work­place cultures.”

It is to the Democ­rats’ cred­it that they are going to such lengths to pro­tect their employ­ees, but it is also smart strat­e­gy. Who­ev­er wins the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­maries will face Don­ald Trump, and hav­ing a strong posi­tion on work­er pro­tec­tion and stop­ping abuse in the work­place will be crit­i­cal to cre­at­ing an effec­tive contrast.

Trump’s 2016 cam­paign was mem­o­rably dogged by accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al harass­ment by Trump… that he him­self made!

In Octo­ber 2016, audio emerged of a con­ver­sa­tion Trump had in 2005 on the show Access Hol­ly­wood, where he claimed that he reg­u­lar­ly fon­dled women and pres­sured them to sleep with him. Over twen­ty women have come for­ward to accuse Don­ald Trump of var­i­ous forms of sex­u­al abuse and harassment.

"Women's rights are human rights!"

Pro­tes­tors denounce Don­ald Trump in Min­neapo­lis (Pho­to: Fibonac­ci Blue, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

The Democ­rats can­not sim­ply point to Trump’s dis­grace­ful record if they want to win in 2020. Hillary Clin­ton tried to make the 2016 elec­tion a ref­er­en­dum on Trump’s fit­ness for office; as we all know, that strat­e­gy did not work.

Trump is a skilled pro­jec­tion­ist who projects his own faults onto his oppo­nents. For instance, in Octo­ber 2016 Trump host­ed a pan­el of women who had accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al abuse to make against the Clin­tons. Not his oppo­nent, Hillary Clin­ton, but her hus­band, for­mer-pres­i­dent Bill Clinton.

To cred­i­bly denounce Trump’s vile and hyp­o­crit­i­cal his­to­ry when it comes to sex­u­al harass­ment, Democ­rats need to prac­tice what they preach. Democ­rats will be well-served if they have strong anti-harass­ment poli­cies in their own campaigns.

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One Comment

  1. Well done article.

    # by Mike Barer :: April 4th, 2019 at 8:34 AM
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