If we learned anything from the left’s defense of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who made an uncorroborated allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, it’s that we are supposed to #BelieveAllWomen when they make an accusation. During the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, any calls for caution or a thorough vetting of the charges or even a common-sense demand for evidence to back up the allegation drew near-hysterical criticism that such calls constituted “blaming the victim” (who was called “a hero” by more than one sanctimonious commentator). After all, Ford’s defenders said, why would anyone make something like this up?
This week, after another professor from California, Vanessa Tyson, came forward with an accusation that Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention the response was. . . not quite so sanctimonious nor unanimous. No one has called her a hero. In fact, for nearly 24 hours, the response was surprisingly muted with the exception of the National Organization for Women, which issued a statement saying its members believed Tyson because “we always believe and support survivors.”
The muted response was likely because Fairfax, unlike Kavanaugh, is a Democrat, and the person viewed as an appealing replacement for current Democratic governor Ralph Northam, who is embroiled in a scandal of his own.
Fairfax denounced the charges and claims Tyson is talking about a consensual sexual encounter. Still, there were many Kavanaugh déjà vu moments in the way the story unfolded after that: the questioning of the accuser’s political motives (which Tyson rejected, stating, “I have no political motive. I am a proud Democrat”); Fairfax saying that Tyson didn’t complain at the time of the alleged encounter or for many years afterwards. Both sides also quickly lawyered up (ironically with the same legal teams that represented Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford—this time hired by Fairfax and Tyson, respectively).
The Kavanaugh hearings might prove to have been a brief moment of unity on the left with regard to sexual assault allegations merely because the accused was someone they could collectively despise. When the accused is on their side, as Fairfax is, it is far more difficult—and far less politically convenient—to maintain their zero-tolerance policy about sexual assault allegations.
There are hints that some on the left are trying to have it both ways. Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty argued “there probably will never be any way to know for sure what happened in Fairfax’s hotel room back in 2004,” an acknowledgement the paper she works for didn’t bother with when the accused was a Republican. But that’s where the tolerance for nuance ends. When an accused man defends himself, as Kavanaugh did and as Fairfax has, the result is still the same: his defense is taken as evidence of his unfitness for office (much hay has been made of the fact that Fairfax reportedly said of Tyson, “F— that b—-.”) “From what we have learned about the Virginia lieutenant governor over the past few days,” Tumulty concludes, “we should have real doubts about whether he has earned our trust, much less a promotion.”
Other Democrats are attempting to thread the needle with vague calls for “an investigation” of Fairfax—in stark contrast to their eagerness in calling on on Governor Ralph Northam to resign a few days earlier. Nearly all of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 have been far more circumspect about Fairfax than they were about Northam (or Kavanaugh), perhaps because they don’t want their identity politics commitments questioned in the run-up to a presidential primary season that will likely feature an epic amount of woke posturing on the left. Zero-tolerance identity politics, like most revolutions, is devouring some of its children.
But conservatives shouldn’t be celebrating this fact, however satisfying it might be to watch Democrats self-immolate. The Fairfax controversy is yet another example of the left’s Manichean approach to sexual assault allegations in the post-MeToo era—an approach that no one should want to see triumph because ultimately it’s bad for everyone.
If our collective cultural soul searching about consent, harassment, and assault in the post-MeToo era has taught us anything, it should be humility as we try to establish new ground rules and norms to regulate the complicated arena of relations between the sexes. These are some of the most fraught and difficult behaviors to talk about and to change, not to mention legislate. But if a single, uncorroborated allegation is enough to derail a person’s entire political career, we haven’t drawn the lines well enough yet. Live by the sword, die by the sword, the saying goes. But no one should want either side wielding this particular weapon.