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Originally written by Dahleen Glanton for the Chicago Tribune.
Three women have accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of making lewd sexual advances. If the allegations are true, it makes him a disgusting human being.
But like most sexual misconduct scandals involving prominent men, the actual harassment ends up taking a back seat to partisan politics. The loathsome act often is relegated to a supporting role in the familiar storyline of Democrats vs. Republicans and their quest for power.
Meanwhile, reports of sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace, have remained constant over the last five years, despite the #MeToo movement that seeks to empower people to stand up and hold their abusers accountable.
Despite high-profile sexual misconduct reports involving two sitting presidents, two U.S. Supreme Court justices, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and TV personalities such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly and Tavis Smiley, the cultural shift that advocates are seeking has not yet materialized.
Sexual misconduct has become the political “gotcha phrase” of the 21st century. It can knock a man off his perch quicker than he can say, “She’s lying.” But he won’t stay on the ground very long without a boost from partisan politics.
Before we can fully digest what Cuomo allegedly did, his accusers likely will be reduced to political pawns, used by Republicans hoping to bring down a Democratic governor and damage the Democratic Party in the process.
With Cuomo’s reelection hanging in the balance, even some Democrats are jumping on the bandwagon, calling for his resignation.
We can’t pretend as though all the voices espousing disdain for Cuomo are genuinely concerned about the issue of sexual misconduct, particularly in the workplace. Some are political opportunists trying to score political points.
If the investigation underway by the New York attorney general finds that Cuomo is guilty, then he no longer deserves to hold public office. One of his accusers, however, fears that the governor “wields his power to avoid justice.”
Partisan politics shouldn’t be used to shield him, nor should politics solely be the thing that brings him down. We’ve seen this happen many times.
Republicans insisted that President Bill Clinton be removed from office on obstruction charges related to sexual misconduct with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The House vote to impeach him in 1998 fell largely along party lines. Yet Republicans continue to stand behind former President Donald Trump, who is accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to assault, by multiple women.
Clinton’s supporters argued that his impeachment was nothing more than a political vendetta. It was the excuse many Democrats needed to overlook the clear evidence that his behavior with a 22-year-old subordinate was inappropriate.
Similarly, most prominent Democrats have been silent on Cuomo. But to their credit, they forced the resignation of fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken in 2018 for allegedly sexually harassing or groping several women nearly two decades earlier.
More than 50 political figures, including President Joe Biden, have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1990, some consensual but most of it not.
Two Supreme Court justices — both appointed by Republican presidents — won seats on the bench despite credible allegations of sexual harassment.
Forty-one Republicans and 11 Democrats voted to confirm Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, ignoring compelling testimony from attorney Anita Hill that he harassed her when he was her supervisor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
GOP senators decided in 2018 that Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s word was more credible than that of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her while in college.
Most politicians tend to side with whatever position aligns with their political agenda. All too often, the public does the same.
Whether Cuomo remains in office or is forced out, the passage of time will be kind. He will be remembered as just another of those powerful men who got caught up in a sexual scandal so jaded by politics that no one really knows the truth.
No one will recall exactly what he was accused of doing or whom he did it to, except for the survivors of the sexual misconduct who are left to carry the burden.
That’s the tragic ending to nearly every story.