Sunday, January 28, 2018

NYT coverage on Burns Strider inspires Megan Garber at The Atlantic to write about the gap between stated ideals and practice

WASHINGTON — A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young subordinate was kept on the campaign at Mrs. Clinton’s request, according to four people familiar with what took place.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager at the time recommended that she fire the adviser, Burns Strider. But Mrs. Clinton did not. Instead, Mr. Strider was docked several weeks of pay and ordered to undergo counseling, and the young woman was moved to a new job.
Mr. Strider, who was Mrs. Clinton’s faith adviser, was a founder of the American Values Network and sent the candidate scripture readings every morning for months during the campaign, was hired five years later to lead an independent group that supported Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, Correct the Record, which was created by a close Clinton ally, David Brock.
He was fired after several months for workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide, according to three people close to Correct the Record’s management.
Those familiar with the accounts said that, over the years, a number of advisers urged Mrs. Clinton to sever ties with Mr. Strider, and people familiar with what took place did not want to see Mrs. Clinton blamed for the misconduct of men she was close to.
The complaint from the young woman was initially brought to Jess O’Connell, who was the national director of operations for the Clinton campaign.
Ms. O’Connell, who is currently the chief executive officer of the Democratic National Committee, handled the investigation and advised the Clinton campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, that Mr. Strider should be fired, according to three people familiar with the events.
Ms. O’Connell told colleagues that she was concerned that the young woman making the allegations should not be demoted when she was moved from Mr. Strider’s supervision. The woman requested to have no more interactions with Mr. Strider, and she was moved to a different job within the campaign, reporting directly to Mike Henry, the deputy campaign manager.
The investigation into Mr. Strider’s conduct was described as brief, but it included a review of a number of emails he sent the young woman, who had shared an office with him.
For those already familiar with the news, Megan Garber wrote the following (with additional material) over at The Atlantic:

But Mrs. Clinton did not. Instead, The Times reports: Clinton kept the man who had been accused of sexual harassment—Strider, the co-founder of the American Values Network—on her staff, and in the role of her faith advisor; the woman who had made the accusation stayed on the campaign, as well, but she lost the role she had had before. (“Moved to a new job,” The Times puts it, euphemistically.) The man who, the young woman said, “rubbed her shoulders inappropriately, kissed her on the forehead, and sent her a string of suggestive emails,” remained in his place; the woman who had reported the wrongdoing was the one who was made to move. The circumstances outlined in the Times report, taking place as they did within the context of a historic campaign for the American presidency, are exceptional; the contours of it, however, are extremely familiar.
Here, though, in the story the Times is telling, is another extension of the Clintonian disconnect—one that is as much about the current #MeToo moment as it is about Clinton herself. Here is Hillary, the advocate of women in general, colliding awkwardly with Hillary, the advocate of women in particular. Here is the woman who, in 2008 and again in 2016, proposed to fight for all women—through political policy, and also through the more broadly symbolic fact of her own power—seemingly failing to fight for one of the women who was right in front of her, and directly under her management. Many observers have attributed the force and speed of this #MeToo moment, in a backhanded way, to Clinton herself: #MeToo, that logic goes, came about in part because of the outrage that simmered in many women who had watched the way Clinton, as both a soaring symbol and a vulnerable person, had been treated by Donald Trump. The way he mocked her appearance in his speeches. The way he hulked over her in debates. The way he defeated her in the election itself, grab ‘em by the pussy and all.
And yet. The Times story paints a picture of a Hillary Clinton who is, given her history, both a recipient of harassment and a passive enabler of it. A manager, in other words, like so many of the others who have been revealed in the journalism of the post-Weinstein months: one who learns of an accusation of harassment and addresses it by disrupting the life of the alleged victim, rather than the life of the alleged perpetrator. The boss who found enough evidence of Burns Strider’s wrongdoing to dock his pay and put him in counseling … but who kept him on staff—with all its many other young women—nonetheless. Here is Clinton serving, yet again, as a rich metaphor—this time, though, for complacency and complicity. For powerful people who are concerned, but not concerned enough.
So while it was Clinton, the manager, the Times report goes, who made the decision to keep Strider on her team, Clinton, the manager, is notably absent from today’s explanation of things. She has outsourced her own decision-making, it seems, to discussions of process and policies—the same anonymous structures that so many other managers have relied on for legal, and moral, insulation. What were the “processes” that kept Strider in his job and his accuser out of hers? You are not supposed to ask. “Processes” are meant to be the answers to their own questions. So are “policies.” Corporations-as-people, if you’d like, but the framework falls apart when organizations are able to deny that humanity as soon as it becomes a liability.
Presidential campaigns are, certainly, exceptional settings. They are simultaneously highly organized and ad-hoc; they are entrepreneurial efforts that are selling not products, but a single person as filtered through a set of ideas. And they revolve around that person, centrifugally, not just as the subject of their collective efforts, but also as a kind of CEO of the enterprise at large. In that sense, there’s a certain institutional logic to the “processes” here getting overridden, seemingly, by Clinton herself—by Clinton’s reported decision not to take her staff’s advice to dismiss Strider. And there’s a certain feminist logic, too: The woman at the top of the ticket should be in charge of her campaign’s staffing, and decision-making, just as a male candidate should be. The buck should stop with her. Even though—another sad irony of Hillary Clinton’s public life—that executive authority can put her in the position, once again, to be answering for the misbehavior of the men in her orbit.  
The choice Clinton ultimately made, however, in the sharpness of retrospect, was remarkably in line with many of the precise institutional biases #MeToo is attempting to fight against. Whatever Clinton’s reasons for the decision she made in 2008, the result of it today—the blunt, brute optics of it—amounted to the same thing: power protecting itself. The man keeping his job. The woman losing hers. The woman, too, muted through a nondisclosure agreement; the man silent because he chooses to make no comment. The powerful person prioritized; the less powerful one made to accommodate. And the presidential candidate who had embraced women’s humanity—the leader who had declared that “women’s rights are human rights,” in an age when the obvious still needed stating—doubling as a candidate who had also, in her own small way, compromised it. Here, in the person of Hillary Clinton—the rule-breaker, the ceiling-shatterer, the grandmother clad proudly in suffragette white—was, also, the specter of every boss who has heard a complaint and done nothing. Who has looked the other way, and turned the other cheek. Who has seen something, but chosen not to say anything.
And here, too, is another reminder of the challenges #MeToo will face as it struggles to transition from a “moment” to a “movement”: the human difficulties of marrying rhetoric and action, words and deeds. It’s easy—so easy, perhaps too easy—to talk about progress, and justice, and empowerment. It’s easy to say that we need “structural change.” It’s so much harder to live the words, to internalize them, to make them personal and actionable and real. Hillary Clinton has fought, for much of her life and for most of her career, for many of the ideas and ideals that #MeToo is talking about. Even she, though, hasn’t always lived up to her own soaring rhetoric. Even she, it seems, all those years ago, faced with a woman who said, “me too,” found a way to look away.

As the weight of allegations, let alone actions, go, last year's election was a choice between a perpetrator and an enabler of sexual harassment. 

That this was apparently the best we could get on offer wouldn't be the part that seems depressing, the part that seems depressing is that the partisans for the two respective candidates made it out as if voting for the one was voting for justice and voting for the other was voting for injustice.  Sometimes I've seen macabre jokes to the effect that we got to pick between Two-Face and the Joker, at other times between a bad head cold and cancer, or at other times between gonnorhea and syphilis.  Being the sort of downbeat temperament that I am about politics, the official show pony isn't the same as the implementing cabinet as it stands, and my pessimism about the status of the empire is more along the lines of suggesting that it's not a choice between gonnorhea and syphilis but simply between middle and late stage of the latter.  There is no point in attempting to make America great again, but neither is there much cause to believe that "America is already great" amounted to much, either.

As more stories come to light some blogging John Halle has done about the distinction between Clinton and Sanders supporters came to mind.

I couldn't find much to like or admire about either of last year's candidates.  I wasn't with him but "I'm with her" was also a trainwreck, mistakenly assuming that saying that America is already great was enough to make an argument against a push to make America great again.  I don't see that America needs to be made great again or that it is already great.  That greatness is probably the overarching problem.  Every empire dies at some point. 

Thirty some years ago when Alan Moore was putting out Watchmen and James Cameron was putting out The Terminator and Carpenter was putting out They Live! it wasn't hard to see people of a broadly liberal persuasion arguing that an addled show business president was going to get us all killed by way of nuclear annihilation or Skynet or something and that drastic measures needed to be taken.  Now my own interpretation of Moore's legendary comic book was that Ozymandias was a genocidal elitist who didn't realize he was the real villain or the story, partly because Moore didn't exactly want to concede that Veidt was entirely the real villain.  An alternate American history where Nixon was still President already weakened the plausibility of the dystopia, but at another level it seemed Moore could just barely detach himself from his own political ideals enough to establish that within the "current" timeline of Watchmen the only people who get killed were those killed by ... superheroes.  Whether it was Veidt or Kovacs or others the bulk of the murder and mayhem was being perpetrated within the story by the self-designated superheroes who were out to save the world.  Noah Berlatsky made what I thought was a compelling case that Rorschach ripping off his mask at the hour of his death showed that he was the only one of those costumed vigilantes who, at last ,never forgot that the reason he was doing these things was, in principle, to save innocent lives.  He died because he refused to endorse what the other superheroes were ultimately okay with, the slaughter of millions to give Veidt a pretext to save the world.  Of course the ending was ambiguous enough to suggest, for alert readers, that all that bloodshed and scheming and deceit didn't change anything at all in the long run. 

Proving the Comedian wrong didn't necessarily make anything Ozymandias said or did right. 

In Moore's story it's possible to make a case that Ozymandias' efforts made the world a more unstable place ... but ... thanks to comic book reader reasoning, which is as motivated as any other kind, there's a tapestry of foolishness in which it is asserted that if Veidt had not massacred all those people in New York the world was going to end up in nuclear war because ... Nixon, basically.

Except that Reagan was not Nixon and everyone knows that, especially thirty years on.  It's possible to propose that Moore, by making the POTUS in Watchmen Nixon, knew perfectly well this was not ultimately ever going to correspond to the real world.  It was a dehydrated satire of the kinds of moral reasoning that can be acceptable within the confines of a superhero genre but that come across as bloodthirsty and ruthless in the world we live in.  But Ozymandias was interesting because he highlighted how once someone believes only they can save the day what things can they excuse in themselves and others close to them on the basis of that belief.  When an Adrian Veidt considers it paramount that a Comedian be taken out even though it was arguable that there was nothing Blake really could have done to have stopped him, it invites a question as to what the effort was for.  After all, despite killing the Comedian, Ozymandias ends up bragging about his master plan (if after the fact) like any serialized villain does, the irony of his quips withstanding, indeed, underlining the ironic point.  Only Kovacs is able to immediately grasp what the others can't quite accept and then accept altogether too readily, that Veidt has been the villainous mastermind all along, ever since Blake made him into a punchline.

As we all know, Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 nomination to Obama two terms ago.  Last year she lost the electoral vote to Trump.  It's been strange to consider how over the last year so much only came to light about men like Weinstein and editors and others who, for decades, were allowed to operate fairly freely.  Whether the industries truly change going forward may depend upon what the reasons really have been that so many of these stories have come to light. 

Had Clinton secured an electoral victory would we even have gotten a "Weinstein moment"? 

We might have to ask whether the gap between ideals and actions hasn't shown us that the actions still speak louder than words, even when those actions can take the form of inaction.  If the Religious Right seems hypocritical for giving Trump a proverbial mulligan the Clintonian mainstream set an example over the last twenty-five years for the Religious Right to emulate.  The pot can certainly call the kettle black, but at this point it seems dubious to attempt to regard either of the teams as operating out of principle, unless the principle is blunt realpolitik and a quest for power. 

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