Op-ed: John Conyers is the albatross that Democrats deserve

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Thursday, November 30, 2017 12:42pm
  • Opinion

There are sexual harassers, and then there is John Conyers, the Democrat from Detroit who made his congressional office an adjunct of his libido.

The evidence suggests that Conyers believed that as a 27-term congressman, he was entitled to the Washington, D.C., equivalent of the Ottoman imperial harem.

He routinely hit on his female staffers, and his office was a den of sexual intrigue — allegedly featuring a jealous wife and a vindictive mistress — that properly belongs in a Bravo reality show if the network ever extends its franchise to Capitol Hill.

A political party is rarely provided an easier test case for its bona fides. Conyers is an 88-year-old man who finds it increasingly difficult to carry out his duties. He holds an exceedingly safe seat that, should he resign, will be taken over by another reliably progressive Democrat. In this case, the political cost to the party of showing that it’s serious about “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment is almost nil.

Yet House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, when asked about Conyers on “Meet the Press,” mumbled and looked at her shoes. She wasn’t able to summon any dudgeon, let alone high dudgeon, about Conyers. The harshest thing she said is that “as John reviews his case — which he knows, which I don’t — I believe he will do the right thing.”

Oh, really? Conyers did step down as the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. Otherwise, his careful review of his own case has produced categorical denials that even Pelosi must find incredible.

It is true that Conyers hasn’t had his day in front of the House Ethics Committee. But neither has Roy Moore. That hasn’t kept Pelosi from denouncing him.

The multiple allegations against Conyers are specific and consistent. He reached a settlement agreement with one accuser, whose account is backed by affidavits from other employees.

One women said in an affidavit that one of her duties was “to keep a list of women I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources.” Not having to bother with the logistics of your own mistresses is evidently one of the privileges of being a public servant.

Another accuser, a former Conyers scheduler, filed a lawsuit that she eventually dropped when a court refused her request to keep it sealed. In the suit, she says she complained to Conyers’ chief of staff about his unwelcome advances. The chief of staff told her to write them all down. She couldn’t “due to the extreme amount of time it would require to adequately chronicle these advances and behaviors and manage her work load.”

At one point, the wife of the congressman accused the scheduler of having an affair with Conyers and threatened to get her fired. Just another day at the office of the congressman from Michigan’s 13th District.

Pelosi offers two justifications for going easy on Conyers. One is that the congressman is a civil-rights “icon.” By this logic, being a legend is a little like being a celebrity as described by Donald Trump in the “Access Hollywood” tape — it’s a free pass for gross behavior.

The other Pelosi rationale is that Conyers “has done a great deal to protect women.” This makes ideology rather than personal conduct the standard.

The controversy over Conyers arrives as some liberal Democrats now say that Bill Clinton should have resigned as president for his sexual misconduct. Of course, they could have said that 20 years ago, or even one year ago. The evasion over John Conyers makes it clear that if the Clintons had any political juice left, it would be a very different story.

Whatever Democrats say about sexual harassment should be affixed with a giant asterisk — if it doesn’t suit their political and ideological interests, generous exceptions can and will apply.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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