The Purity Problem of American Democrats
Do we believe in growth and change or not?
The American Democrat Party keeps holding itself to higher standards than the opposition and because of that is actually hurting the party.
A few years back, a Republican woman accused Senator Al Franken of molesting her during a comedy show in the 1990s when he was a comedian. The photographic evidence suggests that Franken did touch the woman in an inappropriate manner as part of that comedy show.
However, Franken apologized for the incident, noted that it had happened a different time in his life and when the world as a whole accepted things differently and assured that it had not happened since leaving his comedy career and would not happen again. The women who worked with the senator agreed that the behavior was not indicative of who he was at the time of the revelation.
But because the Democrat Party wanted to be above reproach, it encouraged Franken to resign, cutting short a promising career.
A few years later when an Alabama senator was accused of molesting multiple women including two who were teens at the time of the alleged molestation, the Republican Party stood behind him. He denied it, even after it was proven that he knew at least two of the women.
Donald Trump had multiple credible accusations of sexual assault against him but was still elected president.
So why do Democrats subject themselves to a purity standard that the other party flaunts?
Sure, it’s partially because we actually believe that sexual assault is wrong. But it’s also a sign of Democrat hypocrisy.
The Hypocrisy of Purity Versus Rehabilitation
The hypocrisy of the Democrat Party is that we say we believe in rehabilitation. We claim to believe that people can grow and learn and change. We tout the Maya Angelou quote that says learn better and then do better.
But we don’t actually apply that.
Franken had clearly learned better and wasn’t behaving in that manner any more. Additionally, we could argue that Franken was making jokes, not actually sexually interested in the women he assaulted, but that might be too fine a line for most to see.
The bottom line was he apologized for the behavior and then changed it, the two things we say are required for forgiveness and change. But we forced him out of his job anyway.
So why am I thinking about this now?
The Pennsylvania primary election is May 17. The frontrunner for the democratic nomination for Senate is Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. This week, one of his opponents, former Rep. Connor Lamb, brought up (again) Fetterman’s sins.
It is also expected to be a Republican talking point if Fetterman gets the nomination.
In 2013, while mayor of the city of Braddock, Fetterman chased a Black jogger and held him at gun point, with a shotgun, until police arrived. Fetterman’s version of the story is that he was unaware of the jogger’s race, only knowing that he had heard gun shots and then someone ran past his home.
Fetterman took gun violence seriously as mayor, going so far as to tattoo the dates that people died to gun violence in Braddock under his watch on his arm. The reminder, he says, is that gun violence costs real lives.
So Lamb, and others, say that Fetterman cannot hope to represent Black Pennsylvanians because of his racist action.
Christopher Miyares, the man Fetterman chased, was not guilty of a crime that day. Fetterman’s attempt at a citizen’s arrest was likely based in an unconscious racist bias. Miyares, in a 2021 letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, said he had a different recollection of the day than Fetterman did, but that he wanted Fetterman to be elected to the Senate.
Additionally, Fetterman has actively tried to do better. Many of the victims of gun violence who are represented in his tattoos are Black people. He has been an outspoken proponent of gun control laws and speaks out against violence against Black people, most recently including the shootings this weekend in Buffalo.
But Lamb and others continued to say that he has no right to speak about violence against Black people when he has been the perpetrator of such.
So my question to Connor Lamb and the others making those claims is, “Do we believe people can change and get better or not?”
My own purity failures
Personally, I believe the primary person who gets to judge whether Fetterman’s actions disqualify him for the Senate race is Miyares. Had the victim said this guy is a piece of shit and shouldn’t hold elected office, I would have thought twice about voting for him.
But I also know that I need forgiveness and belief in change, personally.
When Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police, I was an idiot. I told police to wait and see what the police investigation showed. I told them that Ferguson was a violent place and it was unsafe. I quoted a Missouri state police officer who once told me that he didn’t go to Jack in the Box in Ferguson, even while on duty and carrying a gun.
I bought into the idea that it might have been one bad cop.
I learned better. I know now that my impressions of Ferguson were colored by a cop, who intentionally or not, is part of a racist, fascist organization. I learned that Black people, especially Black men, are more likely to be victims of police violence. I learned that all cops are bastards. The mythical good cops? They’re the ones who left the force.
But the crap I spewed about Ferguson at the time is likely still out there somewhere and could, if I were subjected to the type of purity test Democrats subject candidates to, come back to haunt me.
Even earlier in my life, when I was young and naive, I met my first trans friend. Al was in counseling, working toward surgical transition.
It was the early 1990s and I sure as hell didn’t ask her about preferred pronouns. I did ask about her name, so I guess that’s a good thing.
But I also told her that until she actually transitioned, she would not understand the fears that women have. I differentiated between those assigned female at birth and other women. I was so wrong.
My intention was to educate, to show her that things she did not fear pre-transition would be different. For example, I pointed out that men did not fear going to do their laundry at 3 a.m. at the all night laundromat, no matter where it was or how well lit or if there were cameras or other people nearby.
Women, I announced as though I knew everything, had to act differently to protect themselves.
The advice I gave her about her safety wasn’t wrong, but the assumptions I made and the way I treated her were. If you see this, Alice, I am so sorry. I learned to do better and I try every day to do so.
My intention didn’t matter. The way I made you feel does. I’m sorry.
And because of these incidents, and probably more I don’t even remember, I couldn’t pass a Democrat Party purity test. I don’t intent to run for office, so that’s okay I guess.
But as long as we keep holding our candidates to impossible standards instead of believing in rehabilitation and growth, we are going to lose the cultural war to the Republicans. Too much is at stake to keep bleeding ourselves.