Last week saw not one but two disturbing scandals involving powerful men and sex. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a major force in Democratic Party fundraising and activism, has been fired from the company he co-founded in the wake of reports that he serially harassed actresses for decades. Rep. Tim Murphy, a married, eight-term, pro-life Republican from Pennsylvania, resigned after it came out that he wanted his mistress to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare.
Each situation underscores the massive hypocrisy liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, traffic in. Each also helps explain why Americans are right to want the government out of our lives as much as possible. When the people who fund politicians and the politicians themselves are so full of awfulness, who in their right mind would give such figures the right to dictate any part of our lives? It's no wonder that support for a "major third party" is higher than ever, according to Gallup.
Weinstein has a long and phenomenal clip reel as a movie man before being fired yesterday from The Weinstein Company. Founded in 1979 with his brother Bob in Buffalo, New York, of all places, Miramax, his original movie company, set out to produce and distribute independent movies at the very moment that Hollywood had seemingly turned all of its attention to blockbusters and tent-pole pictures. Among its offerings were movies that helped create the indie boom of the 1980s and '90s: Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Pulp Fiction; and Clerks. As distributor of Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line and 1990s's Paris Is Burning, Miramax helped revive theatrical-release documentaries. It didn't stint on Oscar bait either, as films such as Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, and The Crying Game attest.
The mix of critical praise and boffo box office gave Weinstein an immense amount of power in the entertainment industry and, despite a reputation of being a total asshole, he also bought his way into the highest circles of Democratic Party fundraising and access to glamour pols such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Franken, Kristen Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren. Even his threatening to "rip" future Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's balls off couldn't hurt his standing as long as the green was flowing. As Jezebel puts it,
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he's shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and has also donated to state Democratic parties; in total, his political donations amount to over $1.4 million….
During Obama's 2012 campaign, Weinstein was noted as a top "bundler" from the entertainment industry as Hollywood money swept in to fill the donation gap left by a newly-regulated Wall Street. Shortly before that year's election, Republicans were infuriated by news that the film Seal Team Six: the Raid on Osama bin Laden, premiering just days before the election, was tweaked by Weinstein himself to expand Obama's role. Malia Obama interned for Weinstein this past spring, two years after Weinstein was publicly accused of groping Italian model Ambra Battilana.
"Across the years and continents," reports The New York Times, "accounts of Mr. Weinstein's conduct share a common narrative: Women reported to a hotel for what they thought were work reasons, only to discover that Mr. Weinstein, who has been married for most of three decades, sometimes seemed to have different interests." Multiple women said that Weinstein, often clad only in a robe or pajamas, would ask them to massage him or watch him shower. Among the women were actresses such as Ashley Judd, then starting her career, and he paid settlements to others, such as actress Rose McGowan, after an incident in 1997.
If Weinstein's behavior calls to mind the worst sort of casting-couch scenarios of Hollywood's supposed golden age, his response to the accusations in the Times' story is literally unbelievable. In the past, he had chalked up his behavior to blood-sugar problems (seriously). This time around, he has simultaneously denied the allegations, threatened to sue the Times for defamation, and blamed it all on a being a leading-edge baby boomer.
In a statement to the Times, he said:
I came of age in the 60's and 70's, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.
More bizarrely, he ended his statement to the Times by trying to change the topic to…gun control:
I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I've decided that I'm going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I'm going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I'm making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom and I won't disappoint her.
The only thing more pathetic than such an impotent rhetorical gesture is the non-response of Hollywood liberals who have largely either stayed silent so far or, like director Rob Reiner, tried to blame shift even further by turning to Fox News' sexual harassment scandals. Then there's Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels, who explained his show's lack of jokes at Weinstein's expense over the weekend by gnomically claiming, "It's a New York thing."
Which brings us perhaps to Tim Murphy, whose Republican Party is headed by a president from Queens who was caught on tape bragging that because he was famous he could "grab [women] by the pussy." Murphy's relationship with a married psychologist named Susan Edwards came to light last month when her husband sought to depose the congressman as part of a divorce proceeding. While that was difficult enough for a 65-year-old family values conservative to withstand, Politico reports that it was only when messages about a possible abortion between Murphy and Edwards came to light that the representative's career definitely tanked.
"And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options," Edwards texted to Murphy in late January, according to the Post-Gazette.
Edwards was responding to a Facebook post by Murphy, touting his anti-abortion position in Congress. Murphy is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and voted this week for legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Murphy's resignation, which came just a day after he had originally announced plans to retire at the end of his term in 2018, produced a bland thank-you note from Speaker Paul Ryan:
"It was Dr. Murphy's decision to move on to the next chapter of his life, and I support it," Ryan said in a statement. "We thank him for his many years of tireless work on mental health issues here in Congress and his service to the country as a naval reserve officer."
If Harvey Weinstein wielded near-absolute power in Hollywood, Murphy had created a personal fiefdom in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, winning 100 percent of the vote in 2014 and 2016. A former psychologist focusing on child development, he was a power player among pro-life groups but, like Weinstein, was known for treating support staff in abusive, angry ways. His chief of staff wrote a memo noting "unprecedented" 100 percent turnover in staff due to his fits and calling him out for his "inability to communicate without expressions of rage, criticisms or insults."
Far more important that personal comportment, though, is that someone like Murphy is in a position not simply to make laws about his own life, but about all of ours. Republican hypocrisy about abortion is nothing new—in 1992, pro-life advocates attacked Vice President Dan Quayle when he said he'd support his daughter's hypothetical choice to get an abortion and in 2014 it came out that Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais had counseled both an ex-wife and a mistress to get abortions—but it still rightly shocks.
Gallup reports that even though self-identified political independents dipped below 40 percent for the first time in five years, Republicans and Democrats are struggling to gain and keep voters. Self-identified GOP members come in at just 28 percent of voters and Democrats pull 31 percent, well below either party's historical highs. And fully 61 percent of voters believe that a major third party is needed to better represent our views in national politics.
That's a new high and given the revelations of the past week and, doubtless, weeks to come, that figure will only climb.