Since 1976, most races for the White House have pitted center-left Democrats against moderate or conservative Republicans. In every case, the primary and general elections mattered, but not nearly as much as they do this year.
Two major parties have never offered Americans such a diverse ideological buffet. The menu on the left presents a binary choice between the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders and the moderate progressivism of Hillary Clinton. On the Republican bill of fare, Donald Trump’s maverick populism crowds the right-wing extremism of Ted Cruz, relegating the conventional conservatism of John Kasich to the fine print.
With such stark differences to consider, Americans would do well to study the menus carefully and skeptically scrutinize the buffet tables, judiciously weighing each candidate’s qualifications, records and policy proposals. There is more than enough substance there to occupy us for quite some time.
Sadly, some people apparently prefer to hang out in the alley and rummage around in the trash. These dumpster divers dig for character assassination shortcuts — nasty labels to smear on the candidates they dislike.
The tinfoil hat posse is motivated by malice and sloth. Incapable of civil disagreement, they actively loathe their political opponents. Too indolent to delve into matters of substance, they aim to discourage intelligent analysis by tarring their enemies as evil incarnate. Filled with hate and too lazy to bother with fact-checking, they uncritically circulate absurd and vicious memes that make mountains out of molehills and fabricate fantasies from whole cloth.
No Treason Here
As the front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton has caught the worst of this. Since 2007, her detractors have circulated this false Photoshopped image:
One of my former students — a Sanders supporter — relayed a version of this meme on Facebook earlier this week, captioned “Remember this picture when she wants your American vote!” To his credit, when I gave him a link to the Snopes story documenting the photo’s falsity, he gallantly conceded, “I’ve been had!”
Republicans have been leveling baseless accusations of murder and treason against Mrs. Clinton for several decades now, but it is noteworthy when the Bern Unit piles on and parrots the same unfounded and profoundly illiberal charges.
Playing the Race Card
Of course, the holy grail of political takedowns is to smear an opponent as racist. This must be particularly tempting for those who feel the Bern, because their candidate has struggled to appeal to minorities, while the Democratic front-runner has earned consistently strong support from black and Latino voters. Sadly, some Sanders supporters have therefore joined forces with conservatives to level this baseless charge against Clinton.
The Republican-Bern Unit alliance accused her of racism after she performed a skit with Bill de Blasio at an event in New York City. In the skit, the mayor stated that his endorsement of Clinton came late because he “was running on C.P. time.” That was an inside joke; de Blasio — who is married to a black woman, has biracial kids and enjoys strong support from African American and Hispanic voters — was displaying familiarity with the cultural concept of “colored people time” (i.e., being late).
In the skit, a black actor took mock umbrage to the mayor’s statement, complaining, “I don’t like jokes like that, Bill.”
Clinton’s next line resolved the tension by interpreting the abbreviation as standing for “cautious politician time.” (If you are a glutton for punishment, you can view the painfully unfunny skit here.)
It was not great comedy, but calling Clinton racist for participating in the skit would seem a desperate stretch. Equating it with Trump calling Mexican migrants rapists would be feeble and silly.
Unless you feel the Bern. In that case, it might strike you as perfectly logical.
In the course of an online exchange with a Sander supporter who seemed reasonable, I drew a distinction between Trump making explicitly racist statements and Clinton not saying anything racist during a skit of questionable taste. At that point, the Sanderista came unhinged. If you are offended by foul language, then you should take my word for it and skip the next paragraph, but I reprint his words here as a testament to the profane, misogynist vitriol of a certain subset of those who feel the Bern:
“Makes sense. Hilary says racist things, A-OKAY. Trump does, OMG HE’S A BIGOT. You stupid close minded fuck…. Aren’t you the fucking cunt. Go die in a fire, cocksucker…. I truly feel sorry for your students, who had to suffer through your one-sided teachings. Jesus fucking Christ, I’m surprised there were no school shootings in your school having to listen to you suck off Hilary all day. Ug.”
The Skeleton in Bernie’s Closet
The only thing as damaging as portraying opponents as racist is casting them as pro-rape.
Last year, Mother Jones dug up an article Sanders wrote in 1972 about gender roles. He led the article with a few fictional vignettes, one of which described a woman having a rape fantasy.
The article goes on to discuss how conventional sex roles complicate relationships, even for groovy hippies trying to transcend those traditions. The article’s conclusion feels autobiographical; it appears that Sanders was working through some heavy relationship issues at the time. It becomes clear that he regards the rape fantasy as an example of negative baggage that undermines relationships. (You can read the article here.)
To their credit, many conservatives and the Clinton campaign have mostly given him a pass on this one. However, some Sanders detractors still don their tinfoil hats and invoke the article as evidence that the Senator is somehow pro-rape and anti-woman.
Of course, that is absurd. The Senator has an excellent public record on women’s issues and — as far as we know — a good personal one, too.
Sanders was right that some women have rape fantasies, if perhaps not often the particular scenario he described in his article. His writing about rape seems more creepy, jarring and clumsy now than it did then because attitudes about sexual violence have evolved considerably since 1972. Early episodes of the popular TV show M*A*S*H included rape jokes. At the beginning of the acclaimed Western High Plains Drifter (1973), the hero played by Clint Eastwood teaches a woman a “lesson in manners” by dragging her into a barn and raping her while a gleeful voyeur watches.
Placed in its proper historical context, the article Sanders wrote remains unfortunate, but in the context of the early ‘70s, his views on rape appeared relatively enlightened.
Does John Kasich Support “Rape Culture”?
Governor Kasich is probably grateful for any news coverage that reminds an indifferent public that his quixotic candidacy continues, but two weeks ago, he learned that there really is such a thing as bad publicity. When a young woman asked what he would do to prevent sexual violence on college campuses, Kasich concluded his response by addressing the questioner directly: “Well, I would also give you one bit of advice: Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.”
Democrats immediately pounced, accusing Kasich of blaming the victim and perpetuating rape culture. They related his statements to a long history of unfortunate comments about sexual violence made by other Republican candidates in recent years.
All of that was grossly unfair. Here is what Kasich said before he started giving advice:
“In our state, we think that when you enroll, you ought to absolutely know that if something happens to you along the lines of sexual harassment or whatever, you have a place to go where there is a confidential reporting, where there is an ability for you to access a rape kit, where that is kept confidential, but where it gives you the opportunity to be able to pursue justice after you’ve had some time to reflect on it all. We are in the process of making sure that all higher education in our state, and this ought to be done in the country, that our co-eds know exactly what the rules are, what the opportunities are, what the confidential policies are so that you are not vulnerable, at risk and can be preyed upon. I have two 16-year-old daughters, and um, I don’t even like to think about it.”
His answer was far from perfect, but the governor’s support for confidential reporting, rape kits and the pursuit of justice show some determination to hold sex offenders accountable. Nowhere does he imply that rapists could be excused under any circumstances, nor does he suggest that victims bear any blame for the crime. Those implications and suggestions exist only in the partisan imaginations of Kasich’s detractors. Here is an example:
Kasich To Women: If You Go To A Party With Alcohol, It’s Your Fault If You Get Assaulted
Given that the other two options on the table are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, many reasonable people have listened to…
In response to the massive media blowback, the governor denied blaming rape victims and clarified: “It’s just — you have to be careful. When alcohol is involved, it becomes more difficult for justice to be rendered, for a whole variety of reasons. But we can still find the perpetrator.”
Of course, that clarification did nothing to mitigate the anti-Kasich backlash. Fanatics do not forgive.
Certainly, the governor could have done better. He should have pointed out that campus outreach should educate not just prospective victims (“co-eds”) but also potential perpetrators (male students) about sexual violence prevention, victim services and the consequences for rapists. Kasich should have strongly emphasized his determination to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law.
Finally, rather than simply denying that he was blaming victims, he should have seized the opportunity to draw a clear distinction between sensible rape prevention advice and victim-blaming. It might look something like this:
We know who bears the blame for rape. It is always the rapist, every time, 100%. It doesn’t matter how the victim was dressed, whether she was drunk, where it happened, etc. “No” means “no.” Forced sex — any kind of nonconsensual sex — is rape. We must ensure that rapists pay the severest criminal penalties.
Although rapists are completely responsible for their actions, people should still take sensible measures to minimize risk. Does anyone seriously propose that we encourage any American — male or female, young or old — to go to parties where there will be a lot of drinking? If you must drink to excess, then do it in a safe place with people you can trust, but — really — what candidate for any office anywhere is pro-binge drinking? Who wants their children attending out-of-control frat parties or spring break bacchanalias? As a civilization, should we not aspire to healthier and more edifying leisure pursuits?
We routinely minimize risk for other crimes, and no one accuses us of blaming the victim or fostering a culture of crime. When we lock our doors at night, we are not blaming victims or perpetuating burglary culture and home invasion culture. When we avoid dangerous parts of town, we are not saying that the people who have to live there deserve to be victims, nor are we cultivating a culture of street violence. When we avoid driving late at night for fear of drunk drivers, we are not blaming car crash victims or encouraging a DUI culture.
Advising people to take sensible steps to reduce their risk of becoming crime victims is not blaming the victim. It is crime prevention. It is considerate and loving. We are always going to help crime victims after the fact, but if we can prevent victimization in the first place, that is even better.
By contrast, advocating irresponsible behavior as an inalienable right vastly increases the risk of all kinds of crime. We must never blame the victim, but we should blame anyone who promotes risky behaviors that aid and abet sexual violence, because they are, in effect, manufacturing victims.