Does anyone understand the Katie Hill “scandal”? I had trouble sleeping last night, so I used an article about the scandal as a sleep aid–which worked like a charm–but then I woke up wondering what it was about. So I looked into it. As far as I can tell, this is the whole scandal:
- A woman has a three-some with someone plus her husband.
- The woman’s marriage goes south, so she ditches her husband and starts up with the someone (or maybe a couple of people).
- Somewhere in there, she gets naked, brushes the someone’s hair, and is photographed doing it.
- She gets elected to Congress, where some of the preceding breaks some newly-passed rule.
I’m sorry to get all analytic about this, but what’s the scandal-producing property here? Here are some candidates:
- You’re not supposed to have three-somes.
- You’re not supposed to have three-somes when you’re married.
- You’re not supposed to be in a marriage that goes south.
- If your marriage goes south, you’re not supposed to split up.
- If you do split up, you can’t start up with anyone (or: with the person you had a three-some with).
- Women are not supposed to be bisexual.
- You should never, ever brush anyone’s hair if you’re naked.
- Congressional rules are deontic absolutes such that if you break one, it’s a scandal.
OK, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and rule out candidates (1)-(7), or even any combination of them. So is the issue really (8)?
Apparently it is. Here is Vox, getting all serious about it:
Last year, the House adopted new ethics rules barring members from having sexual relationships with staffers. The rules don’t explicitly apply to campaign staffers like the one involved in a previous relationship with Hill and Heslep, but, Lee reports, the House Ethics Committee has determined it has jurisdiction over “misconduct relating to a successful campaign for election to the House.”
In general, “it is best practice for organizations to prohibit romantic relationships within either a direct or indirect reporting relationship,” said Coll, who co-founded the Purple Campaign after speaking out about her own experience being groped by a senator when she was an 18-year-old intern. A relationship with a boss can put pressure on the subordinate to consent, Coll said, as well as creating an “appearance of impropriety or favoritism” that affects others in the workplace.
And when the employer is a politician, allegations of sexual misconduct — and how they’re handled — matter to voters, Coll said. “Research shows that more than half of voters say that they would not vote for somebody who is accused of sexual harassment, or, more importantly, somebody who did not make addressing sexual harassment a priority,” she explained. “People, myself included, want to see lawmakers lead by example, and I think that starts with taking responsibility for their own offices and their own campaigns.”
So the rule doesn’t quite apply, but the House Ethics Committee is going to stretch things so that it does. Because rules. And I mean, we’re talking “best practices” here, so who’s going to argue with that? And, yeah, the point of the rule was to protect young or vulnerable people from abuse, and there aren’t any involved here, but the point of the rule is really not the point. Plus, the optics are bad. And I forgot to mention that she lied about being in the relationship (because it broke the rule, but she might not have if there hadn’t been one). And then there’s research.
The only thing that’s not just laughter-provoking here is the possibility that if you’re the boss, and you’re sleeping with X, you might show favoritism toward X, which could be bad. So maybe the boss shouldn’t be in a supervisory position over someone she’s sleeping with, and if she is, it’s bad.
That said, no one seems to have a problem with the idea that the President is a boss, and in some sense supervises the First Lady–and may well sleep with her, at least sometimes. She may not literally be an employee of his, but in a pretty literal sense, she serves as a member of his administration. Believe it or not, there have, over the years, occasionally been whisperings of “favoritism” with respect to various First Ladies. And yet the practice of allowing them into the White House continues, and the Republic has endured. So if the problem doesn’t seem incapacitating in that case, why is it such a “scandal” here?
Even if there is some impropriety involved, it doesn’t really seem that deep: it’s based on a series of counter-factual suppositions that may or may not obtain. And the problem is easily (relatively easily) resolved: find the guy Hill is (allegedly) currently dating another job. How hard could that be in a place like Washington, D.C. for people with credentials like these? Maybe there’s a mild practical problem here, but a scandal? Just an FYI: these sorts of romantic entanglements happen all the time at job sites; assuming that all involved are adults, potential problems are acknowledged, and accommodations are reached. Not exactly the stuff of “scandal.”
Oh, but there’s that rule. Yeah. I get why the rule is there, but what I don’t get is why it’s necessary to take so Pharisaical an approach to its application. Couldn’t one just as easily see this case as impugning a rigid application of the rule as take the rule to impugn Hill’s conduct? I mean, coming from a job site where people have no compunction breaking into and entering a supposedly secure room while depositions are being taken, how did this infraction of the rules become the big deal it’s become?
Honestly, I’d be more offended if Katie Hill had gotten a parking ticket. At least with a parking ticket, there’s a clear victim: the person who wanted that spot and was entitled to it, but couldn’t get it. But who is the victim here? The guy Hill was (alleged to be) having sex with doesn’t seem to be complaining. The lady whose hair she was brushing doesn’t seem to be complaining. Maybe her husband is complaining, but then she’s got complaints against him, too. As far as I can tell, the only people complaining are a bunch of freaks at RedState and The Daily Mail. Isn’t the real scandal that we’ve gotten to the point where they matter so much?