So I’ve been reading through the Twitter of Kate Harding, the author that awful “as a feminist, this is why we shouldn’t punish Al Franken” twitter essay that was later republished as a Washington Post op-ed.
I could probably write a lengthy blog post consisting entirely of reasons she sucks – and she does – but I don’t really want to pick on her. (Besides, she’s getting more than enough hate-mail at the moment.) No, what interests me more is the line of reasoning:
“Politicians who commit sexual assault suck, but it would be even worse to not get our agenda implemented.”
Kate’s twitter is, of course, filled with discussion of the Roy Moore statutory rape case. And this is, of course, the exact same line of reasoning that allows some people to vote for him (although not enough for him to win, probably):
“I’m torn between voting for a pedophile and voting for a person who believes in abortion.” – [src]
Is this line of reasoning wrong?
Intuitively, it seems monstrous. But from a utilitarian perspective, assuming you accept the premise that one political party is significantly better than the other in term of actual effects once elected, the case seems rather strong. A few lives ruined here and now, in exchange for hundreds, maybe millions of lives improved by the better policies of [insert party here].
My instinct is that “people won’t vote for a rapist” is an important safety mechanism – we have a justice system, sure, but social consequences and risk of being fired are supposed to operate at a level below that.
So it’s really more like: a few lives ruined here and now (although given the increased scrutiny once sexual misconduct has already been revealed, how many?) plus a slightly decreased incentive for elected officials not to sexually abuse people, versus the better policies of [insert party here].
Even so, does the math work out in favour of ousting abusers?
At the end of the day, it depends on how politically polarised you are. How terrible is the other tribe, how glorious our tribe in comparison to their evil?
That’s going to vary from person to person. And political polarization is on the rise.