'I'd Do -Anything- For a Campaign Contribution'

"It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."
- Ronald Reagan

Reagan's joke occurred to me today as Senator Elizabeth Warren decided to engage a dispute between Senator Kathy Gillibrand and President Donald Trump. Trump said this:
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
Warren said this:
Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted. https://t.co/mYJtBZfxiu

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 12, 2017
Warren is not alone in reading this as a sexualized insult, although that is not explicit in Trump's remarks. However, even if you grant the sexualized reading, this becomes a version of Reagan's joke. Warren's complaint seems to be that you shouldn't call out a female Senator for doing what, you know, Senators do. 'Don't shame her for being a...' is another way of saying that 'being such is OK.'

Reagan was, of course, joking about politicians as a whole: his joke doesn't personalize the issue by pointing at a particular politician, let alone a female politician. Arguably the joke is fine in its asexual, universal form but offensive when pointed at a particular woman (if, again, we grant that Trump intended to do this). Of the two, I think it is really the female rather than the universal criterion that makes it offensive. You could make this joke about a particular male politician without it crossing a line.

That, though, raises the issue of whether women need special protections in order to engage public life -- and if so, to what degree they should be thought of as the political equals of men in public life. The idea is that women have less power, and therefore need the special protections in order to create a practical equality that does not otherwise exist. But right now we are in a moment in which that premise is surely in need of examination: a large number of powerful men have recently been stripped of their careers, and some of them stand in peril of losing their freedom, because women have merely raised accusations against them. Women are not powerless, if ever they were. Indeed, Sen. Gillibrand is trying to force Trump's resignation even now. That is how the dispute started. She is trying to do to him what has been successfully done to numerous others. She might even succeed at it, for all we know.

If the power differential has changed -- or was never quite what it was said to be to begin with -- then the argument that women need special protections to craft a practical equality needs to be re-examined. It is no insult to say that a woman is a prostitute if she is one; and if we are in the habit of analogizing politicians to prostitutes, then it is no special institute to include a female politician in the analogy. (It may be an insult, of course, but it is not a special insult: and I'm not convinced, where the Senate is concerned, that it isn't the prostitutes who should be insulted by the comparison.)

Of course we would all be better off if we had a respectable class of political leadership, such that respect flowed to them naturally because they deserved it. In fact for all I know Sen. Gillibrand is such a person; I don't follow the Senator from New York's career closely enough to say. Of the Senators I do follow, including especially my own, I'm not sure Reagan's joke isn't entirely on point. They happen to be men, both of them.

UPDATE: The Daily Caller points out that Trump made an attack on Mitt Romney that was of the same order: "Romney “would have dropped to his knees” to help with his campaign in 2016." So, good for the goose is good for the gander? Not that it's good, in the strict sense. But it's treating people equally, for whatever very little that is worth.


E Hines said...

That, though, raises the issue of whether women need special protections in order to engage public life....

As a judge of sorts said not so long ago, "the way to stop discrimination is to stop discriminating." No, women don't need special protection. It would help, though, if both sides of a certain question didn't insist on infantilizing women and insisting, as Woodrow Wilson did about blacks, that women would benefit from special treatment.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

You do not acknowledge the Elephant in the room.
First most of these men were "Democrats"
Second, most of "Democrat" men who were penalized were Jewish.

Thus this is problem of Democrats who are Jews.

and the rest of us will not accept new rules being drawn up Feminist. Period.

Let the Democrats make rules for Democrats, but leave the rest of us out of their asswipery.

- Mississippi

Grim said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the Jew thing is barking up the wrong tree again. Trump does have Jewish grandchildren, I guess.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I would not conclude that Warren actually thinks the sexualised interpretation is true. All that matters is that she can make it kindasortamaybe plausible that it might be true. The old line of "You claimed your opponent had sex with a pig. You can't prove that!" "I don't want to prove it. I want him to deny it."

E Hines said...

I would not conclude that Warren actually thinks the sexualised interpretation is true.

Of course she thinks that interpretation is true. She's a Progressive-Democrat. They don't lie. Mm, mm.

Eric Hines

Elise said...

No, women don't "need special protections to craft a practical equality." We never did. I'm so old I can remember at least one piece about women in the workplace that argued male supervisors who went out of their way to caution and cushion their female employees were actually undermining the women's self-confidence as well as making them appear "less than" to their male co-workers.

To me, the rule is simple: Insult women the same way you insult men and there's no problem. (And, yes, that probably does represent a new low in a definition of civil society.) Trump's tweet seems to me to satisfy that rule.

It is interesting that Warren focused on the "slut" aspect rather than on the overall honor aspect. That is, she seems to be arguing that Gillibrand would not perform sexual acts in exchange for campaign contributions rather than arguing Gillibrand has general principles that she would not compromise in order to raise money.

If I may be a bit pedantic: "slut" doesn't necessarily imply "prostitute". It more commonly implies a woman who has sex often and indiscriminately regardless of whether an exchange of money/goods is involved. So even if Trump intended a sexual connotation, Warren's use of "slut" was incorrect.

Grim said...

I suppose that the standard wouldn't necessarily imply an unprecedented degree of rudeness, if we also stopped insulting men. But the culture doesn't seem inclined to consider that possibility at all.