In what passes for political discourse these days, there is an interesting double standard when it comes to public figures caught up in sexual scandals. These are “private matters” that do not impact the individual’s ability to carry out his public responsibilities, goes the general argument of apologists among the offender’s supporters, political party, and sympathetic media. And besides, who are we to pass judgment on that individual’s personal moral standards?
Yet we CAN pass judgment, we are told, on the HYPOCRISY of those – mostly conservative Republicans – who publicly posture about “morality” and “family values” while carrying on illicit affairs or deviant sexual behavior in their private lives. Fair enough. Those who cannot govern their personal behavior according to the moral standards they publicly advocate for others ought not to hold public office.
Yet there is another hypocrisy – one that regularly passes unremarked among political, ideological, and media supporters of liberal Democratic (and some liberal Republican) public figures who stray morally in their personal lives. That is the hypocrisy of the male politician who, while publicly posturing as a heroic defender and promoter of “women’s equality,” treats women in his personal life –- and all too often women who work for him in his public, taxpayer-funded role as a government official — as no more than exploitable objects for his sexual pleasure. And it extends to those politicians who use their power to protect and thus enable such individuals, in order to protect their mutual political interests.
Nowhere was this hypocrisy more blatantly on display – and more blatantly ignored by their aforementioned political, ideological, and media supporters – than in the recent legislative debate over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s so-called “Women’s Equality Act.” Incredibly, leading the charge for this bill in the Assembly -– without a hint of shame or embarrassment — was none other than Speaker Sheldon Silver; the same Shelly Silver who has been caught out repeatedly sheltering and enabling -– including with the use of taxpayer dollars to buy the silence of victims -– sexual harassers within his State Assembly orbit, from his own chief counsel, Michael Boxley (who later pled guilty to sexual misconduct), to powerful Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
And yet, while most Republican legislators supported most of the bill’s provisions – including efforts to combat sexual harassment and human trafficking – it was they, not Silver, who found themselves being portrayed as opposing “women’s equality” because they opposed the bill’s inclusion of radical abortion expansion – a provision, it is clear, that was the centerpiece of the bill for Cuomo, the other provisions included precisely to make it politically difficult for pro-life legislators to oppose it.
Indeed, when Assemblyman Steve Katz of Queens tried to raise the issue of Silver’s attempted coverup of sexual harassment — in the context of this debate on “women’s equality” — he was ruled “out-of-order” by a Silver underling acting as Speaker Pro Tempore. Thus did the Assembly’s Democratic leadership seek to legislate for the rest of us regarding sexual harassment, while refusing to confront its own record of enabling sexual harassment by its own members. And yet this blatant hypocrisy went virtually unremarked in mainstream media, and totally ignored by Democratic elected officials in our state government – including Gov. Cuomo who, when asked whether Silver should be replaced as Speaker given his role as a sexual harassment enabler, averred that it is not his role, as governor, to decide who should lead the Assembly.
Speaking of hypocrisy, would the governor have taken the same hands-off, separation of powers approach if the Assembly Speaker were, say, a racist Republican rather than a misogynist Democrat?