After news of Harvey Weinstein’s years of predatory and abusive behavior broke last week, its impact on the political discourse was immediate and very, very dumb. Conservatives practically wet themselves with glee at the opportunity to attack Hillary Clinton for taking Weinstein’s money, to paint her as an “enabler” and, best of all, to bring up Bill Clinton’s alleged rape of Juanita Broaddrick. They love to talk about that; it’s the only time they care about rape.
The familiar Clinton Scandal dynamic played out in the media. Some outlets made fair points (why hasn’t she returned the donations?), conservatives made the fucking stupidest versions possible of those points (WHY DID SHE, PERSONALLY, LET HARVEY DO THIS?), and then Clinton’s most stalwart defenders responded that The Media is being unfair to her, The Media is making her the story when she isn’t.
Some argued the media was falling prey to the same “Clinton derangement syndrome” that led the media to over-cover her private email server scandal:
The whole discussion is deeply unsatisfying. As the Post’s Aaron Blake said:
I’ll admit right here that this whole returning-tarnished-money exercise can be tiresome. It becomes one giant exercise in comparing what Democrats are doing now to what Republicans did way back when, and vice versa. A lot of times we’re talking about a few thousand dollars out of millions raised. And in this particular case, you have a Republican president who has been accused by multiple women of unwanted sexual advances. The GOP taking the moral high ground here is, well, fraught.
This is correct. Any Republican using Weinstein to score political points is ridiculous and repulsive, not least the GOB Bluth of the first family, Donald Trump Jr.
But it’s not exactly unfair to expect answers of Democrats, including but not limited to Clinton, who took money from Weinstein and attended fundraisers he held for her. Clinton released a statement condemning Weinstein yesterday afternoon, but didn’t address the possibility of returning the $5,400 that he donated to her presidential committee (which still has nearly a million dollars in cash on hand) or the $25,000 that he donated to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the DNC.
Later, she added that she gives “10 percent of my income to charity every year” and that Weinstein’s donations “will be part of that.” Which, again, is confusing—money in her campaign account isn’t her “income,” but whatever! The DNC, meanwhile, said it would send Weinstein’s donations to EMILY’s List, a group that works to elect female Democrats—a dumb cop-out, if you ask me.
But finding the thousands of dollars Weinstein donated over the many years he has spent as a major Democratic donor, and dutifully Doing Something with it, does not solve The Harvey Problem. The problem does not go away along with his money. Instead, the Weinstein story—and the collateral damage it has caused Democrats—should provoke a moment of reflection: As long as they keep taking money from the super-rich—as long as sustaining the party depends on huge sums of money from people like Harvey Weinstein—things like this will happen. It’s not that every super-rich guy is a predator, though wow, a ton of them are; it’s that when you run your campaigns largely on the donations of rich people, you tie yourselves to them, whether you like it or not, whether you mean to or not.
The rich don’t just donate to presidential campaigns spontaneously, out of the blue, when suddenly seized by attacks of patriotism or party fervor. Candidates spend hours calling these people, thanking them, asking them how their kids are or whether they’re still getting a chance to play golf. It’s especially bad for members of Congress, up for election every two years, who spend much of their time in Washington calling up every pastel-shirted country club fuck who can give their campaign the legal maximum. Eventually the donors and pols play golf with each other, and attend each others’ birthday parties. Eventually they temporarily swap college-age children in a gilded class ritual known as “internships.”
Clinton’s State Department emails reveal a pretty gross two-way fawning relationship between her and Weinstein. It’s not just the donation. It’s the closeness that comes with it, the hours spent at fundraisers at their houses, the fact that top donors have direct lines to candidates that the average person doesn’t. It’s also a product of having a party, and really a political system, run by and for elites: people who go to parties with Donald Trump’s kids, for example, or fly on the private jets of billionaire pedophiles.
The Clinton campaign struggled with the campaign finance question during the primaries, when Bernie Sanders made attacking big money in politics, and thereby Clinton’s unparalleled big money machine, a central point of his campaign. That’s how Clinton ended up bizarrely defending her donations from Wall Street by invoking 9/11. Powerful Democrats cannot conceive of themselves as being compromised, morally or ethically, by the groveling that our campaign finance system requires of them, or by the eventual intermingling with the elite that it inevitably leads to.
But that money didn’t just buy policies that benefit the wealthy economically. It has helped to purchase an environment in which the wealthy believe (often justifiably) that they can get away with anything.
One of the prerequisites for being a man with a long history of abusing his power is having power in the first place. Power, in modern American life, is frequently conterminous with money. As long as there are men with too much money and power, Harvey Weinstein will happen again. If Democrats want to avoid the stink of abusers and untouchable criminals following them to Washington, they’ve got to find a way to get there without their rancid cash.