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Opinion: When partisan loyalty trumps moral clarity

Harvey Weinstein should’ve run for president, or at least Congress. Let me explain.

Weinstein is the Hollywood mogul accused by a slew of women of using his position of power to sexually harass or assault them. After years of getting away with it, he has met with immediate consequences since the New York Times last month published the stories of some of his accusers, followed by other media outlets’ reporting of similar claims. Others in the entertainment industry, most notably the actor Kevin Spacey, have fallen with similar swiftness.

It is a swiftness we are not accustomed to seeing when it comes to those who want to run the government.

Bill Clinton served two terms as president despite accusations not just of mere extramarital affairs but, in the case of Juanita Broaddrick, of rape. The left demonized Broaddrick and Clinton’s other accusers as hired liars, most memorably in James Carville’s (in)famous phrasing: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” Leading feminists were apparently too worried about losing on some other issues dear to them, and to most Democrats, to take a stand against an accused sexual predator and for his victims. On the contrary, they joined in the smear campaign against those women. Now, 25 years after Clinton won the presidency and a year after his behavior was raised as an issue in his wife’s campaign, some liberals are apologizing for not taking his accusers seriously when it mattered.

Yet also today, we see too many Republicans who criticized Clinton now defending their own accused candidate. Roy Moore, the longtime religious conservative and twice-defrocked judge, is on the verge of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. Or he was, until last week’s Washington Post story in which four women now in their 50s said that some four decades ago — when they were teenagers as young as 14, and Moore was in his 30s — Moore sought and in some cases had romantic relationships with them.

There was no moral confusion about this sort of thing on the right until now. But now, you see, Moore is a Republican; if voters abandon him for violating their moral standards, they might elect someone who in Congress would help weaken their moral standards. Or something.

It is a measure of progress, I guess, that far more Republican leaders today have spoken out against Moore than Democrats did against Clinton in the 1990s. But the ultimate measure is the ballot box, and opinion polls indicate many, perhaps most, Alabama Republicans will back Moore anyway, because the alternative is to vote for a Democrat.

Not that Moore is the first Republican to put the party’s voters in such a bind. Just last year, Donald Trump was nearing the end of his campaign against Hillary Clinton when he was accused of speaking about women in a degrading way (“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the” — well, you remember) and, soon afterward, of acting on what he had dismissed as “locker room talk.” Like Clinton before him and Moore after him, Trump denied the accusations and his supporters vilified his accusers.

It was around then that we were given a devious phrase to explain why it had to be this way: “binary choice.”

You have to stand with a lout who makes you uncomfortable sometimes because, under this explanation, it’s a “binary choice.” It doesn’t matter if the lout is a sexual predator, if he’ll protect abortion rights. Or a local prosecutor who trolls the mall for high-school girls, as long as he insists the Ten Commandments belong in courtrooms. If he’s on your team, you’re told, there’s nothing you can do; it’s a “binary choice.”

And that’s why Harvey Weinstein would’ve served himself well to run for office. He can’t offer his friends, or former friends, a “binary choice” as just another rich businessman.

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