When the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker wrote an informative article on Mike Pence and his wife Karen, I wanted to send her a fruit basket for her excellent work. The piece was not only beautifully written, but it was neutral in tone, painted the reader a picture of the vice president and his wife’s daily life, and did not try to embed personal opinion or political bias in writing. It followed the key tenet of journalism, “Let the reader decide for themselves.”
There was still backlash because what a lot of the readers apparently decided was that Mike Pence is a sexist because they read that Pence, by choice, does not associate with women unless his wife with him.
For example, he never eats alone with a woman who is not his wife. If Pence is at a cocktail party, he has his wife on his arm, because he won’t attend any alcoholic event without his wife. Ms. Parker did not clarify in the piece, but I’m quite confident in asserting that Mrs. Pence was in the room whenever Ms. Parker communicated with her husband.
Following up on accusations of gender discrimination, Pence was also accused of being a “control freak,” because he and his wife are rarely apart. She is his near-constant companion and confidant. They even top TV’s super couple Paul and Jamie from, “Mad About You,” in time spent together.
In one frame, you can call it sweet, in another you can call it obsessive. All dependent on the individual’s point of view. But as we have officially entered the “Me Too” era, and more and more political figures are being exposed to have sexual skeletons in the cliché closet, there emerges a brilliant strategic method to the VP’s madness and it is founded in an uncomfortable politically incorrect reality.
The reality being that, today, it doesn’t matter if he’s guilty or innocent, any man who is publicly accused of inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature, they are instantly ruined politically. This has always been a truth to various degrees. The American people routinely use character as a tie-breaker when judging political figures, but in the digital and social media age, rumors and allegations spread like wildfire regardless of if they’re the truth, a half-truth, or a work of inspired fiction.
In the last few years, we’ve had several significant members of both parties become involved in a controversy and the partisan public has villainized them without any regards to their individual context.
Roy Moore, Eliot Spitzer,* Eric Schneiderman, Al Franken; it could be Dudley Freaking Do-Right for all it mattered. Any accusation destroys political aspirations unless you’re at a status like President Trump where the negative news can’t sway against you.
This isn’t a criticism of “Me Too,” movement. No, that has helped victims come out of the silence and that’s a wonderful thing. This is a criticism of a highly bipolar unstable political climate that doesn’t take the rational wait-and-see approach of evaluating one accused person at a time before the jury of public opinion gives its verdict.
There’s always been groups of people who will believe what they want to believe. The reason that it’s a bigger issue now is the groups have grown in size and as our political climate becomes more polar, the more irrational it gets. False allegations can easily be created and a significant number of people on the opposite political pole will believe them no matter what evidence disproves the claims.
Thus, regardless of the validity of the claims, the accused are vilified as sadistic and heinous beings that must be stopped. Whether it’s the right-winger who actually bought into that Reddit rumor that Hillary Clinton was part of a child-smuggling ring that became known as Pizzagate or it’s a left-winger who believes that President Trump sexually molested a teenager. It doesn’t matter whether logic and facts torpedo these allegations, a number of people still are naive and partisan enough to believe them.
In recent years, that number has grown seemingly exponentiously and has turned the court of public opinion into a Salem Witch trial where an accusation is a conviction and all that’s missing—beyond the presumption of innocence of course—is the option to make a written confession to avoid burning at the stake.
Reality: You burn whether you admit it or not if you’re an accused.
America has rejected the uncomfortable reality that not all victims are legitimate. There is often good reason to be skeptical. However, if you point that out on social media, you can be accused of “victim shaming,” and attempted to be silenced. There is no way out for any politician if they’re accused of sexual assault and there is even an appearance of guilt.
Vice President Pence understands this, so what can he do to prevent that? Well, he can’t be accused of anything wrong with a woman if he’s not alone with any of them. Whether it’s someone who would lie to sabotage his career or a social misunderstanding blown up out of context and exaggerated. Whatever the scenario, Pence knows that he must.
So, he and his wife have created the perfect alibi/shield against any potential scenario.
How can someone accuse Pence of any misconduct when Karen Pence is there to say, “He was most certainly with me and I know that didn’t happen.” And by staying with her, he avoids any scenario that could be taken out of context and blown up by the media as something scandalous.
Sure Pence is now a “control freak” sexist, but that doesn’t get the same amount of bad press as “rapist,” or “sexual assaulter.” So maybe as politicians adjust to this new uncomfortable reality there is no presumption of innocence in the “Me Too,” era, we’ll see some take a pointer from Mike Pence and have their wives with them at all times.
*To clarify, I don’t think Spitzer did anything morally wrong outside cheating on his spouse. Legally, prostitution is a crime, but I’m for legalizing it because consenting adults should be allowed to do what they want. I mentioned Spitzer because it was sex-related and it caused his resignation. But in no way do I view them in the same light. I think it’s a gross miscalculation to even think about lumping consensual sex acts with nonconsensual sex acts.