Politics, culture, ideology and sex, not necessarily in that order.
When it comes to today’s historic Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a few of my friends on the left agree with the fulminating curmudgeon Antonin Scalia. Not about gay marriage itself, of course, but about the purple prose of Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion. “The opinion is couched in a style as pretentious as its content is egotistic,” Scalia sneers. In a footnote, he compares his colleague’s words to “the mystical aphorisms of a fortune cookie.” My friend and Nation editor Richard Kim more or less concurs, calling it, in a tweet, “sentimental” and “barfy.”
I think, though, that the schmaltzy sentimentality is perfect. After all, the intense American romanticism about marriage is what allowed a movement that was marginal only a decade ago to triumph so quickly. To see why marriage equality won, just compare Kennedy’s version of wedlock to Scalia’s.
“Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other,” he writes. His soaring final paragraph says, “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
Americans overwhelmingly believe this, even though marriage rates are plummeting. Sociologists tell us that single mothers tend to revere marriage every bit as much as those who are wed, which is why they’re unwilling to marry under adverse circumstances. People who do get married empty savings accounts and go into debt to stage elaborate pageants to the ideal that Kennedy describes.
Worldly, cynical liberals are not immune. Indeed, the fight for gay marriage has allowed them—us—to express romantic desires that would otherwise seem embarrassingly hokey. (You’re going to hear Kennedy’s words read at every liberal wedding you go to for the rest of your life.)
Contrast Kennedy’s paean to eternal love to Scalia’s grouchy, dutiful vision of matrimony. Scalia begins with a mocking quotation of Kennedy: “The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.” Then, in a long parenthetical, he asks, “(Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.)”
This is a view of marriage as primarily about obligation, not love. And as Scalia’s marvelous appeal to the “nearest hippie” suggests, it’s a view of marriage that both the left and the right have often shared, though one camp celebrated the obligation and one wanted to escape it. As Stephanie Coontz wrote at the beginning of her book Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, “For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage.” Such a view, she wrote, was considered “a serious threat to the social order.”
But that social order has long since been overturned; today Scalia and his hippie friend are outliers. Americans overwhelmingly cherish the notion of marriage as love’s apotheosis. And when love conquered marriage, to use Coontz’s phrase, the prohibition on same-sex marriage became untenable, an absurd expression of arbitrary bigotry. Kennedy’s peroration celebrates the way we’ve made monogamous, amorous love a surpassing social ideal. It’s a historically radical idea that has today become deeply conventional, and it made today’s great victory for equality possible. #LoveWins.
News that Earl Holt, president of the white-supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, has donated $65,000 to Republicans, including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum, has ricocheted around the media since The Guardian broke it last night. No wonder: It reveals a mere two degrees of separation between the racist murderer Dylann Roof, who says the CCC helped inspire him, and the GOP. It might be unfair to make this link if the support only went one way—after all, politicians can’t be held responsible for the views of everyone who gives them money. But the entanglement between the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Republican Party is longer and deeper than just a few checks, and for many years, it was mutual.
“The public sees the CCC and wants to think of it as an extremist group, which it is, but it’s also a group that’s had a foothold historically in mainstream politics,” says Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Before his killing spree, Roof published a half-literate manifesto crediting the CCC for his radicalization. He describes typing “black on White crime” into Google following the Trayvon Martin killing: “The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong.” After Roof’s screed came to light, the CCC didn’t bother to distance itself from the views of its sociopathic admirer. “[W]e utterly condemn Roof’s despicable killings, but they do not detract in the slightest from the legitimacy of some of the positions he has expressed,” it says in a statement.
In a phone interview, CCC spokesman Jared Taylor elaborated on this legitimacy. “Let’s say Dylann Roof has a talent for programming. If he goes out to Silicon Valley, he will find that Apple and Intel have set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to hire people who look like anybody but him,” he says. Another “legitimate grievance,” Taylor says, is the “overwhelming amount of black-on-white rather than white-on-black violence,” particularly rape.
Taylor sympathizes with the needs of Republicans like Cruz, who has returned the CCC’s donation, to distance themselves from the group. The presidential candidate, he says, “will come under tremendous pressure if he doesn’t give the money back. It’s not an easy situation.” That pressure has made it harder for Republicans to openly align with the CCC. “From time to time we have Republicans who are interested in our events, but it’s not as common as it has been in the past,” he says.
Indeed, in the past, Southern Republicans regularly patronized CCC gatherings; the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that 38 elected officials appeared between 2000 and 2004 alone, including Roger Wicker, now a Mississippi senator, and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a major figure in the Christian right, spoke there in 2001. “Southern politicians going to CCC events is just a reflection of the GOP’s traditional Southern strategy,” says Cohen.
In the last decade, Republican politicians have realized that, in the age of social media, association with the CCC can be dangerous. An inflection point was the 2002 resignation of Senate majority leader Trent Lott—who spoke to the CCC at least five times—after a firestorm caused by his praise of Strom Thurmond’s segregationist 1948 third-party presidential campaign, remarks that were amplified by the blogosphere.
But the overlap between the CCC and the GOP has never entirely disappeared, particularly in South Carolina. Two years ago, for example, Roan Garcia-Quintana, a CCC board member and self-described “Confederate Cuban,” resigned his place on Governor Nikki Haley’s campaign steering committee after his links to the group made news. CCC webmaster Kyle Rogers—whose online store, Patriotic-Flags.com, sells the same Rhodesian flag patch worn by Roof in one of his photos—was a member of the Dorchester County Republican Executive Committee. (It’s also worth noting that high-profile conservative pundit Ann Coulter was defending the CCC as recently as 2009.)
This is part of why Republican candidates have been so hesitant to acknowledge that Roof was actually motivated by racism, despite his own unambiguous words. On some level, they realize that if they admit the truth, they will be held politically accountable. And it’s in that context that Holt’s donations are notable. “You can’t help it in this world sometimes who admires you,” says Cohen. “The much more damning thing for the Republican Party historically has been the legitimacy that it has conferred on the CCC.”
In 2007, Anna Quindlen wrote a column in Newsweek titled “How much jail time?” asking the anti-abortion movement what sort of punishment women who terminate their pregnancies should receive if abortion is criminalized. In response, National Review convened an online symposium of anti-abortion leaders on the question, who largely dismissed the idea that women who have abortions would or should be locked up. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, insisted that “compassion for women” would drive anti-abortion laws. “The focus of such laws is on protection, not punishment,” she said. “Women were not punished by the legal system before 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision and there is absolutely no drive to punish her now.”
If only she were right. This week, a 23-year-old Georgia woman named Kenlissa Jones, mother of a 1-year-old son, allegedly took Cytotec, an abortion drug she’d procured online, to end a second-trimester pregnancy, then delivered a live fetus while en route to the emergency room. Prosecutors initially charged her with murder, though the district attorney dropped that charge, concluding that current law wouldn’t support it. “Although third parties could be criminally prosecuted for their actions relating to an illegal abortion, as the law currently stands in Georgia, criminal prosecution of a pregnant woman for her own actions against her unborn child does not seem permitted,” he said in a statement, suggesting that if the law were different, the prosecution would proceed. Jones is still being charged with possession of a dangerous drug.
The Jones case follows the conviction of Purvi Patel, who was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison in Indiana in similar circumstances. Like Jones, prosecutors charged that Patel, who was in her second trimester of pregnancy, took abortion drugs she’d bought online, then delivered a live fetus that soon died. (The defense insisted the fetus was stillborn.) She was found guilty of feticide and neglect of a dependent.
It also comes on the heels of last week’s arrest of a 37-year-old Arkansas woman who obtained abortion pills from a nurse, who was arrested as well. According to news reports, the woman, who was 33 weeks pregnant, delivered alone, then went the emergency room with the fetus in a plastic bag. She’s been charged with concealing a birth, a felony, and abuse of a corpse. “Charges filed against her could be upgraded after the prosecutor reviews the case,” says a local news story.
With abortion access being severely and inexorably eroded all over the country, it has become clear that black-market abortion drugs are the modern version of the old back-alley procedures. There are, however, crucial differences. The participants in the National Review symposium were correct that in pre-Roe America, women were rarely prosecuted, much less locked up, for abortion. But much has changed since then. As Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, points out, 1973 was before mass incarceration. “We put relatively few people in prison, and virtually no women,” she says.
Further, prior to Roe, when a woman ended her pregnancy, the crime was “abortion.” We did not have decades of activists and politicians insisting that it was “murder,” nor did we have police and prosecutors who’d emerged from the anti-abortion movement and were eager to treat it as such. Now we do. Moreover, the advent of abortion pills complicates the anti-abortion trope about innocent women victimized by rapacious abortionists, since so often the abortionist and the pregnant woman are one and the same. It doesn’t matter if anti-abortion spokespeople say they don’t want to use the weight of the legal system to punish these women. It’s already happening, and as more and more clinics close and more anti-abortion laws are passed, it’s only going to get worse.
I have to admit, there have been moments when I have doubted Emma Sulkowicz’s story about being raped by her Columbia classmate Paul Nungesser. Not at first—she seemed perfectly credible to me when I spoke to her last year, for a Nation story about campus sexual assault. But then, in December, Ariel Kaminer’s New York Times article about Nungesser came out. “He has gotten used to former friends crossing the street to avoid him,” Kaminer wrote. “He has even gotten used to being denounced as a rapist on fliers and in a rally in the university’s quadrangle.” I couldn’t help but imagine how horrifying it would be to face such ostracization if you were innocent, and to wonder if he possibly could be.
A few months after Kaminer’s story, Cathy Young published a piece in the Daily Beast quoting friendly Facebook messages that Sulkowicz sent to Nungesser just days after the alleged assault. I know that rape victims can behave in ways that, from the outside, seem strange and counterintuitive. I know that they can try to appease their attackers, and that it can take a while for those raped by intimates to admit to themselves what happened. Yet those messages seemed so insouciant and confident. When Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” came out, about the sexual brutalization of a University of Virginia student named Jackie, I’d felt a flicker of skepticism. If frat boys were really going to lure a young women into a premeditated gang rape as some sort of initiation, wouldn’t they do it somewhere secluded, not at a crowded party? Then I’d suppressed it, worrying that perhaps I was in denial about the true scope of rape culture.
When that story was discredited, one lesson seemed to be not to put aside doubt for political reasons. Perhaps, it occurred to me, much as I wanted to believe Sulkowicz, I should heed the unease I’d felt reading about Nungesser. I didn’t think Sulkowicz was a liar. I wondered, though, if over time she had transformed an ambiguous sexual encounter into something more definitively horrific.
Now that another woman has come forward to write about her alleged assault by Nungesser, I look back on my own thought process and see how doubt can be as reflexive as credulity. I see how easy it is for victims’ stories to be undermined, how simple it is to make a woman—any woman—seem a little bit crazy and prone to exaggeration. The piece, published in Jezebel in response to posters plastered around Columbia calling Sulkowicz a “Pretty Little Liar,” sheds new light on the case and shows how successful Nungesser has been at creating a counter-narrative to Sulkowicz’s. “Every time I read another version of this narrative—that Nungesser merely ‘picked the wrong friends,’ that the complaints against him were a calculated vendetta—my stomach flopped,” writes the anonymous author. “Don’t forget: before he appealed away the conviction, Paul Nungesser was found responsible for sexually assaulting a woman at Columbia. And I’m writing this because that woman was me.”
Of course, we already knew there had been other accusations: Nungesser has faced repeated investigations and disciplinary hearings, though he’s ultimately always escaped any finding of guilt. An ex-girlfriend accused him of “intimate partner violence,” including non-consensual sex, but the university dropped the case against him after she stopped answering e-mails. The author of the Jezebel piece says Nungesser followed her into a room at a party, closed the door behind them, and grabbed her, refusing to listen to her protestations; she ultimately pushed him off her and rushed out. She brought a complaint, which was initially successful; after a hearing, he was put on disciplinary probation. But he appealed, and when she declined to participate further, the judgment was overturned. Then, just last month, Nungesser faced yet another tribunal for sexually assaulting a male victim known pseudonymously as Adam, who lived in his dorm. Again, Nungesser was vindicated.
Viewed from one angle, of course, the multiple accusations confirm one another. But for Nungesser’s defenders, the fact that he was repeatedly cleared, even under evidentiary standards far more lax than those in a court of law, suggests that he was the victim of collusion by students who wanted to see him punished one way or another. The fact that two accusers ultimately declined to follow through strengthens this story.
Young, one of Nungesser’s most dogged media allies, describes the scenario this way in a recent Reason piece: “If Nungesser is innocent, it is entirely plausible that Sulkowicz and [his ex-girlfriend], who met at a party and discussed their history with him shortly before they filed charges, may have genuinely goaded each other into the conviction that he abused them…. It is also entirely plausible that [the Jezebel writer] and Adam either reinterpreted their past encounters with him, or even fabricated stories in the sincere belief that they were helping eject a rapist from the house and supporting his victims. The problem is…a campus culture that fetishizes trauma and turns ‘survivorship’ into a cult.”
The Jezebel author, however, doesn’t sound like a cult member. She sounds like someone who values her privacy and scrupulously followed the rules when she decided to press forward with her charges. “When I filed the complaint against Paul, I didn’t know it would turn into a national event. It was over a year before Emma started carrying that weight, months before what happened at Columbia helped sparked a national dialogue about rape on college campus,” she writes. “I was just trying to do the right thing.”
She explains how even after going through a “horrible and draining” trial, she was initially willing to fight it again when Nungesser appealed, despite having graduated and just started her first full-time job. “I tried to follow through with the process, until I started feeling frustrated beyond belief with Columbia’s incompetence: they kept doing things like calling me in the middle of the day at work to talk about a sexual assault,” she writes. “Eventually, I withdrew from the process. Why should I trust a system that had given my assailant another chance? Without any of my previous testimony allowed to be used at the trial, he won. I wasn’t surprised.” Since then, she’s tried to avoid publicity, to “decline interviews and stay small and quiet,” she writes.
It is sad that she realizes that having been “small and quiet” will bolster her credibility. But she is right. Sexual-assault victims are in a double bind. If they try to remain anonymous and put the incident behind them, their attackers escape with impunity. If they demand that the world recognize what happened, they’re tarred as liars, drama queens, or hysterics. There will be something in their past, something in their behavior that can be used to call whatever they say into question. The inevitable vagaries of real life, the way it always resists conforming to pat dramatic convention, will be used against them.
“If you’re reading this and doubting Emma—if you’re reading this and doubting me—please ask yourself why I’m taking the time to write this,” writes the Jezebel author. “Ask yourself why I filed a complaint against someone I had considered a friendly acquaintance (before my assault). Ask yourself why four unrelated people have taken the time and energy to come forward and file complaints against him. Read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula. Get outside what happened on Columbia’s campus. Try to realize that our stories are everywhere, on every campus, and we’re not all activists like Emma or unreliable sources like Jackie. Some of us are quiet about our stories even if we’re completely sure.”
Absent physical evidence, the rest of us can’t be completely sure of anything. But for me, at least, it’s sobering to see, even in myself, who gets the benefit of the doubt, and what I should expect if I should ever need it.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on what happens when you slash funding for public universities
For a movement that so often disdains identity politics, conservatives sure love to deploy them. In 2008, Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination was a risible, tone-deaf attempt to capture women voters disappointed by Hillary Clinton’s primary loss. After Barack Obama became president, the GOP attempted to shed its overwhelmingly white image by putting the clownish Michael Steele in charge of the party. And now, Carly Fiorina is counting on conservatives’ desire to counter excitement over Clinton’s renewed ascendency with a lady candidate of their own.
Fiorina, a failed CEO who has never held any sort of elective office and rarely even voted before her entrance into politics, is clearly not going to be the Republican nominee for president. She probably knows that—my guess is that she’s running for vice president, and, failing that, a Fox News gig. It’s a clever move for a political opportunist, because there’s a vacancy on the right for a female anti-feminist. With so-called women’s issues poised to play an unprecedented role in the upcoming election, Republicans need someone who can troll Hillary Clinton without seeming sexist. Michele Bachmann and Palin aren’t in politics anymore, and anyway, they’ve turned themselves into national jokes. Fiorina is stepping into the breach.
Indeed, Fiorina is explicitly pitching herself as a distaff human shield. “”If Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won’t be able to talk about,” she told reporters a few weeks ago. “She won’t be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won’t be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won’t be able to play the gender card.” (As Amanda Marcotte pointed out at Slate, she’s essentially promising to stop the playing of said card by playing it first.)
Because women are not, as a gender, deeply stupid, this probably won’t work, just as it didn’t work during Fiorina’s failed campaign against Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010. (A campaign in which she was caught on an open mic snarking about Boxer’s hair). Fiorina, after all, is as bad as any of the male candidates on issues of unique concern to women. She’s implacably anti-abortion: “Liberals believe that flies are worth protecting, but the life of an unborn child is not,” she told the Iowa Freedom Summit earlier this year. She opposes raising the federal minimum wage—an issue of especial salience to women, who make up the majority of minimum-wage workers—and is against equal pay laws.
The question, then, isn’t whether Fiorina will appeal to women, but whether Republicans are blinkered enough to think that she will. If there is a Fiorina boomlet, it will suggest that the GOP has learned very little in the last eight years about why women reject it, and is thus at a disadvantage going in to 2016. A couple of weeks ago, John Fund wrote a National Review piece headlined, “Fiorina Has Hillary Defenders Worried.” It’s hard to believe that Republicans actually believe this, but then again, they did put Palin on a presidential ticket, so fingers crossed.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly identified the former head of the RNC as Michael Brown, not Michael Steele. The piece has been corrected.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on the Clinton scandal rabbit hole
The phrase “Clinton rules” has two very distinct meanings. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s enemies use it to mean that the couple flout rules that apply to everyone else. (See, for example, the recent anti-Clinton Wall Street Journal editorial “The Clinton Rules.”) In the early years of the blogosphere, however, liberals used “Clinton rules” as shorthand for the way journalists regularly abandoned ordinary standards of evidence to breathlessly pursue Clinton pseudo-scandals, often cooked up by right-wing operatives. As the Daily Howler wrote in 2007, “Under ‘the Clinton rules of journalism,’ you can say any goddamn thing you want—as long as you say it about the Clintons.”
Both versions of ‘Clinton rules’ describe real phenomena, and with any given Clinton story, it can be extremely difficult to figure out which Clinton rules are at work. Things are easier if you start off with a strong stance on the couple, always assuming the worst of either the Clintons or of anyone who criticizes them. But if you believe, as I do, that the Clintons have been demonized and persecuted to a preposterous degree and that they have cut ethical corners, if you delight in the idea of a female president but dread the return of the Clinton circus, it’s not easy to sort out who the real wrongdoers are in each new Clinton investigation. You find yourself plunged into rabbit holes, arguing about minutia, wishing for some sort of ideological heuristic to make sense of it all.
Take today’s New York Times investigation, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation as Russians Pressed for Control of Uranium Company.” The story implies—but does not clearly allege—that money funneled to the Clinton Foundation greased the wheels for a deal that left Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, in charge of 20 percent of American uranium reserves. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was part of a committee of cabinet officials that had the power to accept or reject the deal.
The origin of the piece is suspicious. On Monday, Times reporter Amy Chozick wrote about a forthcoming book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, by the right-winger Peter Schweizer. (Among Schweizer’s other books is Makers and Takers: Why conservatives work harder, feel happier, have closer families, take fewer drugs, give more generously, value honesty more, are less materialistic and envious, whine less…and even hug their children more than liberals.) According to Chozick, Clinton Cash is potentially more threatening to the Clintons than other right-wing hit jobs, “both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.”
This last line caught many up short. Why on earth would The New York Times enter into an “exclusive agreement” with a right-wing hack like Schweizer? After all, there’s nothing to stop the paper from following up on Schweizer’s reporting on its own. Why make a deal with him? What did it entail? Chozick didn’t say, and a piece today by Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor, only clarified things a bit. “Any agreement limiting journalistic inquiry is unacceptable; the wording in the original story certainly suggested that,” wrote Sullivan. “I believe…that such a thing didn’t happen here; that, rather, The Times merely pursued the angle it was most interested in, with no restrictions. But I still don’t like the way it looked.” Indeed, it looks terrible—a clear example of the second sort of Clinton rules.
The uranium piece is the first fruit of this exclusive agreement, which is reason to approach it skeptically. Yet when you read it, it appears pretty damning. Maybe, you might start thinking, the Clintons really have bent the rules in shocking ways.
The story begins in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the mining magnate Frank Giustra, a generous Clinton donor, is negotiating a deal for stakes in three mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency. There is a strong suggestion that Bill Clinton made the deal happen:
The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator. Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom.
After that, Giustra’s company, UrAsia, merged with the South African concern Uranium One. The new company was then gradually taken over by Russia’s Rosatom. “[S]hortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock,” the story says.
Even if no quid pro quo is substantiated, it all sounds pretty sketchy. But not so fast! There are reasons to doubt that the Times account is entirely accurate. Take that 2005 trip to Kazakhstan by Clinton and Giustra. The Times first reported on it in 2008, but shortly after, Forbes writer Robert Lenzer found that the two men had not in fact traveled together, citing the flight manifest of Giustra’s plane to prove it. “Clinton arrived in Kazakhstan late in the afternoon Sept. 6, 2005, on billionaire Ron Burkle’s plane, four days after Giustra,” wrote Lenzer. “By then Giustra was well on the road to finalizing a memorandum of understanding to acquire a 30% interest in the Kharassan project for $75 million; the state owned the other 70%.”
From the Times story, there’s no way to tell whether the paper is simply repeating an old mistake, or whether Forbes’s debunking has itself been debunked. It’s hard to imagine that the Times could have been so sloppy about facts that have already been aired. But Clinton rules—the second kind—mean there’s a lower standard where attacks on the Clintons are concerned.
So if the Times is building on the work of a right-wing smear merchant, and is in fact wrong about Clinton traveling with Giustra, does that mean we can dismiss the piece? Well, not unless someone in the Clinton camp can explain away this paragraph:
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
Beneath all the allegations about influence-peddling, this is the single clearest charge in the whole Times story. There is, as of yet, no evidence that Bill Clinton intervened with Kazakhstan’s dictator on behalf of Giustra. And there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton did anything inappropriate as secretary of state to enable Russia to take over the company that Giustra helped build. But this failure of disclosure by the Clinton Foundation is itself a minor scandal, whether or not Hillary Clinton bears any direct responsibility for it. For now, the broader story remains murky, but here, at least, is one rule that seems to have clearly been broken.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Hillary Clinton’s feminist family values
Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement on Sunday may mark the moment that the Democrats officially became the party of family values. Throughout the late 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s, conservatives were remarkably successful at pummeling Democrats as foes of ordinary parents and their children. Progressives occasionally tried to argue that families are protected by economic justice and a stronger social safety net, not abortion bans and anti-gay demagoguery, but while this happens to be true, it often failed to resonate. Too many Americans blamed feminism and the sexual revolution—and, by extension, the left—for social and economic upheavals that had left them reeling. Ozzie and Harriet’s America was always a brief, half-imaginary historical anomaly, but a lot of people longed for it, and the right was able to weaponize that longing.
For a long time, Democrats flailed about trying to respond. Indeed, some of Bill Clinton’s most depressing acts of triangulation—firing Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders for her remarks on masturbation, signing the Defense of Marriage Act, ending Aid to Families With Dependent Children—involved trying to conform to a Republican definition of wholesomeness.
Now, though, we have finally moved past that. The surprisingly moving video announcing Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency shows that Democrats have finally found an authentic version of pro-family politics. Titled “Getting Started,” it features ordinary families preparing for milestones—a woman moving so her daughter can be in a better school district for kindergarten, a couple getting ready for a baby, a stay-at-home mom about to return to work, two men engaged to be married. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” Clinton says.
The campaign announcement suggests that this will be a very different sort of Clinton campaign than we saw in 2008, one that emphasizes gender and so-called women’s issues instead of running from them. And whatever you think of Clinton, it’s a triumph of feminism—or, at least, a certain kind of feminism—that issues like family leave and childcare are about to be at the center of a presidential contest.
There is both historical irony and historical continuity in Hillary Clinton emerging as the standard-bearer for a family-focused progressivism. It’s ironic because throughout the 1990s, Clinton was demonized as a cookie-hating enemy of home and hearth. “When Bill and Hillary Clinton talk about family values, they are not talking about either families or values,” said Pat Robertson at the 1992 Republican National Convention. “They are talking about a radical plan to destroy the traditional family.”
At that convention, Republicans went out of their way to laud Marilyn Quayle, the vice president’s wife, for being what the Times called the “Un-Hillary,” a woman who’d given up her own legal career to serve her family. “Marguerite Sullivan, Mrs. Quayle’s chief of staff, was asked to draw distinctions between her boss and Mrs. Clinton,” said the Times. “’Marilyn Quayle is absolutely committed to her family,’ she replied. ‘She makes time for the children; she’s always home for dinner at 7 P.M.’”
In reality, however, Clinton was never any sort of family-scorning radical feminist. Indeed, however chameleon-like her public persona, concern for mothers and children has been a constant of her career, from her early work with the Children’s Defense Fund to her book It Takes a Village to her work in the State Department on maternal mortality. Contrary to the right’s caricature, Clinton’s feminism always had a distinctly maternalist bent.
And now her campaign will, too. This is a sign that her team has changed. Gone, thankfully, is the odious Mark Penn, who advised Clinton in 2008 that voters see presidents as father figures and did “not want someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world.” More than that, though, it’s a sign that the country has changed. The rapid public embrace of gay marriage has turned it from a Republican wedge issue into a Democratic one, casting conservatives as the scowling enemies of loving couples who want to join the most bourgeois of all institutions. The rise of female breadwinners, and of women in the workforce more generally, has eroded the idea that “family” means a working father and a stay-at-home mother; family values thus no longer signifies retrograde social arrangements. Today, it’s more obvious than ever that it’s liberals who are fighting for women (and men) to be able to make time for their children and get home for dinner at a decent hour. It’s encouraging that Clinton is making this her banner, because it’s long been her cause.
On Sunday night, the Columbia Journalism School released the results of its forensic investigation into “A Rape on Campus,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s discredited Rolling Stone story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia. At more than 12,000 words, the report is longer than the article that sparked it. Two of its three authors, J-School Dean Steve Coll and Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel, elaborated on it at an hour-long press conference on Monday afternoon. After all this, it’s still not clear whether Jackie, the woman at the center of the Rolling Stone story, is a complete fabulist or a true rape victim who confused and exaggerated some elements of her story. What is clear, though, is that Rolling Stone is throwing her under a bus to cover up its own journalistic malpractice.
The day’s most surprising revelation is that nobody will lose his or her job in this whole fiasco. On the one hand, there’s something to be said for loyalty, for not robbing people of their livelihoods over a single screw-up, even one as sustained as this. As Coll pointed out, there is no evidence that Erdely deliberately lied or invented anything, as in the case of infamous journalistic malefactors like Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair. Nevertheless, she and her editors failed to perform the most elementary due diligence, and as a result, they’ve exacerbated the routine skepticism faced by rape victims. The vast majority of women who say they’ve been raped are telling the truth, but because of Rolling Stone, they are even less likely than they were before to be believed. The magazine has done rapists everywhere a big favor.
Yet Rolling Stone still seems to think its problem was being too nice. “[T]he editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault,” says the report. But the investigation doesn’t bear this out. As Coll, Coronel and Kravitz write, the “explanation that Rolling Stone failed because it deferred to a victim cannot adequately account for what went wrong. Erdely’s reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie had made no request that they refrain. The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie’s position.”
In fact, Rolling Stone’s chief error lay in not trying harder to talk to the three friends whom Jackie spoke to on the night in question. In the original Rolling Stone story, they are presented under pseudonyms and shown acting with shocking callousness in the wake of the attack: “The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood behind them, mute in her bloody dress.” The trio, Ryan Duffin, Kathryn Hendley and Alex Stock, later came forward to correct the record, saying that Rolling Stone’s story was wrong in most of its particulars, and that Erdely had never even attempted to contact them to get their versions. Further, the Columbia report finds that “Jackie never requested—then or later—that Rolling Stone refrain from contacting Ryan, Kathryn or Alex independently.” She bears no responsibility for Erdely’s failure here.
Even after Columbia’s extensive review, it’s not clear what if anything really happened to Jackie. Duffin told the AP that on the night of the alleged assault, he got a call from Jackie and went to meet her outside a dorm building. When he arrived, she “was shaking and ‘it looked like she had been crying,’ Duffin said. ‘Her lip was quivering, her eyes were darting around. And right then, I put two and two together. I knew she had been on this date and people don’t usually look like that after a date.’ Jackie eventually told Duffin and Stock her version of what happened that night: that she was forced to perform oral sex on five men at the frat house.”
Columbia’s report has very little to say about whether this story is credible, beyond noting that the police have found no evidence that Jackie was attacked. It could be that Jackie was indeed raped, but then exaggerated the scope of it. Or it could be that she made the whole thing up. “The police interviewed seventy people and they say what happened to Jackie that night is a mystery,” Coronel said at the press conference. The Columbia investigators, Coll said, haven’t gotten any closer to the truth.
In either case, though, Jackie is likely a young woman with serious emotional scars. And even if she lied to Erdely and to her friends on campus, Rolling Stone is to blame for thrusting her into the national spotlight. “This failure was not the subject or the source’s fault,” said Coll. “It was the product of a failed methodology.” Nevertheless, it looks like Jackie is the only one who is going to pay any sort of price.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Trevor Noah’s tweets
It is a depressing but inevitable contemporary ritual: A person achieves some new level of success and visibility, and their Twitter feed is immediately picked over for discrediting morsels. Yesterday came the surprise announcement that the mixed-race South African comedian Trevor Noah would succeed Jon Stewart as host of "The Daily Show." Naturally, then, today he's facing a backlash over his terrible tweets.
His tweets, it should be said, are indeed pretty bad. At first, I rolled my eyes to see that he was being accused of anti-Semitism for tweeting, “South Africans know how to recycle like israel knows how to be peaceful.” (This might be unfair to South Africans.) Others seem, at first, to be legitimately anti-Jewish: “Behind every successful Rap Billionaire is a double as rich Jewish man. #BeatsByDreidel.” It turns out, though, that Noah’s mother is half-Jewish, which puts the jokes in a different light, since everyone knows that you can say things about your own people that you can’t say about others. (That, after all, is the reason he mostly gets away with his jokes about black Americans.)
Noah’s sexist squibs, though, are harder to dismiss. “’Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I'm sexy!’ - fat chicks everywhere,” said one. “Originally when men proposed they went down on one knee so if the woman said no they were in the perfect uppercut position,” said another. “In Thailand hookers are so cheap, even cheaper than food. Tough choice between Big Mac and Quarter Pounder Deluxe,” said a third. There is a particular sting in seeing Stewart being replaced by a misogynist when so many hoped his job would go to a woman.
Still, I find myself hoping that Comedy Central doesn’t get scared and ditch Noah. Partly, this is because he’s often really funny, with an international perspective that might make "The Daily Show" a little less provincial. At a time when many of us are getting weary of the bullshit minutia of American politics—Stewart’s basic fodder—widening the lens to the rest of the world can make the satirical news format feel fresh again, as John Oliver is demonstrating at HBO.
More than that, though, these Twitter trials have a chilling effect on creativity. At the end of his new book about social media witch-hunts, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson quotes a journalist friend who says he’s stopped posting anything potentially controversial online. “I suddenly feel with social media like I’m tiptoeing around an unpredictable, angry, unbalanced parent who might strike out at any moment,” he says. “It’s horrible.” It really is—more horrible than Noah’s tweets. We desperately need a new set of social norms in which people aren’t defined by their dumbest tossed-off remarks, frozen in amber as their very worst selves.
That said, Comedy Central should respond to all "The Daily Show" fans who are disappointed by Noah’s retrograde attitude towards women. The single best way to do that would be to get a lot more women into the writers’ room, where much of the show is shaped. In the upcoming presidential campaign, the presence of Hillary Clinton will almost certainly lead to a new explosion of misogyny in our politics, just as Barack Obama’s presidency made the right more shameless in its racism. We’re going to need women there to make sure that "The Daily Show" pillories sexism rather than participates in it.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on Purvi Patel's 20-year prison sentence
Indiana’s law allowing discrimination against gay people is not the only reason that the state deserves our opprobrium. It’s also about to become the first state to imprison a woman for what it says is the death of a baby born after an attempted abortion.
On Monday, 33-year-old Purvi Patel, an unmarried woman from a conservative Hindu family who bought abortion drugs online, was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the crimes of feticide and neglect of a dependent. It was not the first time that feticide laws, passed under the guise of protecting pregnant women from attack, have been turned against pregnant women themselves. Indiana, after all, was also the state that jailed Bei Bei Shuai, an immigrant who tried to commit suicide by poisoning herself while pregnant, and whose baby later died. But the Patel case is still a disturbing landmark. “Yes, the feticide laws in other states have been used to arrest and sometimes punish the pregnant women herself,” says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which advised Patel’s defense. “This is the first time it’s being used to punish what they say is an attempted self-abortion.”
Some of the facts in the case are murky. Prosecutors contend that towards the end of her second trimester, Patel took the drugs she’d bought online, but ended up giving birth to a live fetus that she abandoned in a dumpster. As Slate reported, however, the test that the forensic pathologist used to determine that the baby was born alive—the so-called “lung float test”—is widely considered unreliable. Further, the inclusion of feticide charges suggests that the crime lay as much in what Patel was accused of doing while she was pregnant as in what she did afterwards. Killing a live baby, after all, isn’t feticide—it’s homicide.
Indiana strengthened its feticide law in 2009, after a pregnant woman who was shot during a bank robbery lost the twins she was carrying. Under the statute, feticide applies in cases where a “person…knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” There is an exemption for legal abortion, but no explicit one for self-abortion. Reproductive rights activists like Paltrow have long contended that such laws, championed by conservatives, are a sneaky way of eroding abortion rights, and the Patel case shows that they are right. We’ve reached a point where desperate women who end their pregnancies before viability are going to prison.
Anti-abortion activists often deny that this is what they want. “Women Shouldn’t Face Prison Time For Abortion; They’re Victims Too,” is the headline of a 2012 column on LifeNews.com. The author, Calvin Freiburger, argues that pro-choice concerns about jailing women are a red herring, and that the anti-abortion movement has “largely reached consensus that punishment for abortion should rest predominantly with the one who performs the act: the abortionist.” Eventually, he allows, once pro-choice “indoctrination” has been uprooted so that the evil of abortion is more widely understood, “a future generation might decide that abortion-seeking women should be presumed to fully understand what they’re destroying, and they may choose to punish them accordingly. But that’s not where we are today. Pro-lifers recognize how the abortion movement victimizes mother and child alike, so we’re dedicated to saving both.”
Well, Patel, whose conviction will certainly be appealed, could use some saving. If this isn’t how the promoters of feticide laws intended them to be used, now would be a good time for them to say so.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on the Laura Kipnis melodrama