Favreau Gropes Clinton (Cardboard Cutout)
Jon Favreau, the 27-year-old speechwriter to Barack Obama, was photographed with his hand on the, er, lower shoulder of a cardboard cutout of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton. Dee Dee Myers, for one, is not amused.
My friends from college and in the years just beyond can testify that I did some things then that I wouldn’t want to see on the Internet now. But I had a big job in the White House at a young age too; at 31—just a few years older than Favreau is now—I became White House press secretary. And I knew instantly that the rules had changed for me, that I could no longer go to all the parties of the people just a little younger than me, who had just a little less responsibility, and expect to be anonymous. Clearly, Favreau should have understood that too. If he’s old enough and wise enough and mature enough to write for the president of the United States—and not just any president but one who seems poised to take words more seriously than any since Abraham Lincoln—than he’s clearly old enough and wise enough and mature enough to avoid getting his picture taken behaving in a way that is embarrassing to him, his boss, the secretary of state—designate, his family, and, one hopes, a majority of 27-year-old males (though that may be too optimistic.) It’s indefensible. But that’s still not what’s bugging me.
What’s bugging me is his intention. He isn’t putting his hand on her “chest,” as most of the articles and conversations about the picture have euphemistically referred to it. Rather, his hand—cupped just so—is clearly intended to signal that he’s groping her breast. And why? Surely, not to signal he finds her attractive. Au contraire. It’s an act of deliberate humiliation. Of disempowerment. Of denigration.
At what point does sexist behavior get taken seriously? At what point do people get punished in ways that suggest this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking, is unacceptable? At what point do we insist there will be consequences?
I fully agree that Favreau is old enough and, more importantly, is in a position of sufficient prestige and responsibility to know better than this. The photo is clearly posed. He wasn’t caught on camera doing something stupid — the camera was reason he was doing what he was doing. Judging by his friend’s expression and accoutrement, I’m guessing alcohol was involved.
But it strikes me that Myer’s “disgust” over the symbolism here is grossly overblown. Not just because, as Bruce McQuain suggests, Myers gave Bill Clinton a pass for conduct far more offensive and demeaning to women (hint: Clinton will significantly outrank Favreau). Sometimes, behavior is impulsive rather than calculating. For 20-somethings in the company of other 20-somethings, especially when under the influence of intoxicants, “sometimes” can be upgraded to “usually.”
I don’t want to give Favreau too much of a pass for being a dumb kid. When I was 27, I was two years removed from leading soldiers in a combat zone and just back to graduate school. On the other hand, the World Wide Web was a year away from being a reality and Facebook and MySpace and other such venues were a decade or more into the future. People of his age seem to have far less compunction about being photographed behaving like idiots and sharing said evidence with the world.
If Obama wants to fire this guy for being a dumbass and embarrassing himself and his boss, that’s fine by me. If he doesn’t, though, it’s not a signal that he’s indifferent to sexism but rather that he doesn’t think groping a cardboard cutout is a hanging offense.
UPDATE: Discussion over this one is heating up. Stacy McCain is “tired of seeing careers in Washington destroyed by one ginned-up ‘incident.'” Moreover,
As a conservative, I am grateful to Jonathan Favreau for (unintentionally) exposing the partisan double standards of media outrage about “sexism” — the scare-quotes signifying that I don’t think Favreau is any more “sexist” than anyone else. And if someone out there has a Facebook photo of a Hillary Clinton staffer acting disrespectfully toward a cardboard cutout of Obama, please publish it, so that we can discuss “racism” in the same context.
Ed Morrissey, meanwhile, awards Myers the “Captain Louis Renault Award, with a special Irony Cluster for her article’s appearance on the pages of Vanity Fair with Kate Winslet’s naked butt and another pic of four women lying in a tableau that looks like a modern-day harem.”
At what point does sexist behavior get taken seriously? At about the point when the Ds change to Rs, which Myers concedes later in the piece. But seriously, is Myers kidding? For which administration did she work, anyway?
Not a commendable moment, perhaps, but it’s a joke. Really, have we become such pantywaists that we can’t tell the difference between a joke and “denigration”, “disempowerment”, and “humiliation”? I’d suggest that one bright line would be whether a live person was being fondled or a cardboard cutout.
A not unreasonable distinction, to be sure.