Is this thing on?

Apologies for my (unfortunately characteristic) absence. This time it's because I got an almost-full-time job for a company that forbids me from identifying myself as their employee online. They're apparently very sensitive about who knows who touches their flowers.

I've been out of my parents' house for about three months now, which has done wonders for my sanity. Not doing wonders for my sanity is the fact that John Ensign may never go to jail.

If you only give a shit about one political sex scandal this year, please make it this one.

Usually what makes these stories relevant to the political discussion is the extent to which the politician in question gained their status by pimping their morals. Hence the entirely justified disgust at the revelation that at the same time that Arnold Schwarzenegger was decrying the scourge of single-parent minority households, he may have already helped to create one.

But seriously, I don't care. The possibility that the Governator's misadventures may suck up what ink may have otherwise been alloted to Ensign's rankles me. Because Ensign is more than your garden-variety Republican hypocrite. He was a made man. Groomed for a future run at the Presidency by a theocratic fundamentalist cult known as The Family that has its hands up more Washington asses than a cross between Vishnu and Jack Abramoff. So in his capacity as a deacon and a gynecologist (or at least, claiming those capacities in order to claim privileged information), Senator Tom Coburn recommended a 1.2 million dollar payout to the Hampton family (wound up being less), and an illegal lobbying gig for the cuckolded husband.

That's what we already knew.  What has become clear since the report by the Senate Ethics Committee is that Ensign tricked his parents into committing perjury on his behalf. It has also become clear that at least at first, his advances toward Cindy Hampton were unwanted. Ensign continued them anyway, pressing his leverage over her as her boss and as the man footing the bill for her kids' pricey education.

And this is where it's hard for me to continue, because when I describe this behavior I'm not quite sure whether I should be referring to it as sexual harassment or as rape.

We haven't come to expect a whole lot out of our politicians lately, and frankly we've come to expect far less from those with an R in front of their name. But this shit is beyond the pale.  And there's an explanation for it. From Jeff Sharlet's reporting on the support system in place for John Ensign at the Family's C Street house:

David Coe, Doug Coe's son and heir apparent, calls himself simply a friend to men such as John Ensign, whom he guided through the coverup of his affair. I met the younger Coe when I lived for several weeks as a member of the Family. He's a surprising source of counsel, spiritual or otherwise. Attempting to explain what it means to be chosen for leadership like King David was -- or Mark Sanford, according to his own estimate -- he asked a young man who'd put himself, body and soul, under the Family's authority, "Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.

It was David Coe who rang Ensign's cell phone at the hotel room where he and Cindy were meeting for what would be the last time and said "I know what you're doing. Put your pants on and go home."

He wasn't calling because Ensign's pursuit of Cindy Hampton was an abuse of his power, both as her boss and as someone upon whom her family depended on for a great deal. He wasn't calling because it was high-octane hypocrisy. He was calling because as the future head of the elite fundamentalist movement and all its sinister clout, he really wanted his John Ensign project to yeild a "god-controlled" presidency.

The Family protects far worse men (and they're all men) than John Ensign on the global stage--indeed the anti-gay legislation written by their Ugandan protege David Bahati may any day now put the death penalty on the books for "aggravated homosexuality"-- but he's the high water mark for this side of the Atlantic, at least since the Nixon era.

Whether or not rape is an accurate descriptor for John Ensign's actions couldn't have mattered for his groomers. Their former pet "new chosen," Siad Barre used it as an interrogation tactic when he ruled Somalia. In all cases, their status as important people; "key men" in the struggle against socialists like Castro or FDR or Obama, exempts them from normal morality.

I've been involved in a lot of arguments on the Internet where the phrase "rape culture" has been invoked and I've at times been critical of the circumstances in which it's applied, but Jesus fucking Christ the fact that neither John Ensign nor his co-conspirator Tom Coburn are currently facing indictment for their actions is prima facie evidence of the persistence of rape culture.

As is the paternal bullshit of the Toronto cop who declared, before a group of law students, that if one wanted to avoid being raped, the best thing to do is not to dress like a slut.

Thus began the Slutwalks. First in Toronto, and in several cities since, including, on May 7, Boston. Thousands turned out dressed, well, however the fuck they felt like dressing.

Many carried signs that said things like "Sluts Say Yes," and "My Thong is Not an Invitation." There were a few unfortunate assholes dressed as pimps who told reporters that were there looking to get numbers, who mistook my glaring at them as wondering if they were hollering at me, and conveyed, crudely, that they were not.

Like they were ever going to get any of this even if they begged.

Taken after the event, but this is totally what I looked like at the time. 
It was a rowdy, sexy, meaningful good time that ended in Boston Common (or at least the one in Boston did) with speeches.  Here's the one that stuck out for me

There’s a word for all of this. And that word is bullshit. But there’s also a phrase for it: social license to operate. What that means is this: we know that a huge majority of rapes are perpetrated by a small minority of guys who do it again and again. You know why they’re able to rape an average of 6 times each? Because they have social license to operate. In other words: because we let them. Because as a society, we say “oh well, what did she expect would happen if she went back to his room? What did she expect would happen walking around by herself in that neighborhood? What did she expect would happen dressed like a slut?”  
Jaclyn Friedman.  Full transcript here 

There's the key phrase. Social license to operate. John Ensign is not in jail. Tom Coburn is still in the Senate, and may have been granted immunity from prosecution. Because their cabal and our society has given them social license to operate.This is the defining feature of rape culture.

It's a sickness that crosses ideological lines. Whether or not the facts will show him to be guilty of rape, the angry reaction by many on the Left to the mere suggestion that something might be wrong with Julian Assange was appalling, as was Assange's dismissal of the accusations as being "just about a broken condom." Say even that in a comment on the Huffington Post and you're bound to get smeared. What, pray tell, makes Assange so credible that people will believe that the Swedish government collaborating with the CIA to take him down was a more likely proposition than the accusations leveled against him being true?


Who knows if the Senate holds anyone with a secret quite so felonious as John Ensign's. Being a United States Senator confers upon one a sense of privilege that's hard to properly describe. When you have the power to single-handedly cripple an economy by placing a hold on unemployment extensions over a beef regarding earmarks going to your state, you have the power to get away with a whole lot of shit. The Senate Ethics Committee is a small deterrent, but at least it represents a potential downside to foul play-- Indeed, without their investigation, Ensign would likely have wound up going unpunished, as the deceptions the Committee uncovered had previously fooled both the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission. But if Tom Coburn goes unpunished, and if the new information made public by the Ethics Committee doesn't result in an indictment of John Ensign and possibly Senator Coburn, then there will be that much less to persuade a future John Ensign not to sexually harass his employee. Or to persuade a future Tom Coburn not to help his friend cover it up.

And it's bad enough in the United States Senate as it is.


  1. Welcome back.  Will read the post in more depth later :)

  2. I'm sensitve about letting the public know who touches my flowers too.Great piece. They are reopening that investigation I think, though admittedly I'm not as up on this as I should be butI'mproveked to follow it now.Tgat kik doesn't work.Glad to have you back....again.When I comment here for some reason the commet are is white so I can't see my writing.

  3. anna romer11:35 PM

    every time i read your pieces all i have to say is how much i love you.

  4. Erin Nathan6:33 PM

    Thanks for the thoughtful post and for being an ally to
    women/womyn, Mr. Wombat! I know I’m a little late to the party but I want to
    add a few thoughts on rape culture and victim blaming.


    For anyone who doubts that a rape culture exists I submit
    the fact that on the very first day I wore a tank top this summer (and I put it
    on with trepidation about the cat-calls and street harassment I knew I would receive
    but it was effing hot outside) I went out and within 15 minutes was subjected
    to extremely obscene comments from one man. I also submit that I have been
    cat-called and honked at while wearing a parka (full disclosure: I did grow up
    in North Dakota).


    As for victim blaming, I simply point to how we address rape
    prevention as a culture. As a woman I have heard a whole lot about what I can
    do to prevent rape. It has been made the responsibility of women to prevent
    rape and I am certainly not advocating against taking reasonable precautions to
    make oneself safer – I lock my doors and whatnot – but there has to be a limit
    and at some point we have to acknowledge that we are just trying to make women
    scared and kind of letting guys off the hook. Here is a sampling of what I have
    been told I need to do if I want to not feel responsible if I am attacked:


    -Don’t wear skirts/dresses because they provide easy access

    -Don’t wear overall’s (quick snip w/scissors and then easy

    -Don’t go anywhere alone

    -Don’t stay out too late

    -Don’t get drunk/leave a drink unattended/accept a drink
    from someone

    -Don’t wear my hair in a pony-tail (rape-handle)

    -Don’t wear key lanyard around my neck

    -Don’t take shortcuts through alleys or poorly lit side

    -Don’t wear flip-flops or high heels (the #1 thing rapists
    look at when choosing a victim is her shoes to see how hard it will be for her
    to run away)

    - Don’t forget to look underneath your car as you approach
    it at night to make sure no one is underneath waiting to slice your achilles
    tendon and then rape you)


    So I am curious what you have been taught you can do as a
    dude to prevent rape, Mr. Wombat? Are we using hours upon hours of
    instructional time in high school and college to teach men not to put ghb in
    women’s drinks and that if she’s hammered to just get her a glass of water and
    some toast and hold back her hair while she pukes? Or are we just engaging in a
    lot of pre-victim blaming?

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