The people of Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District deserved far more than they’re getting from Representative Elizabeth Esty, but not for the reasons you might think. In announcing her decision not to seek re-election in November, she knuckled under to pressure from a well-organized mob. It is hardly a profile in courage.
The new prudery sweeping the nation claimed Esty as its latest victim. Her crime? She didn’t act quickly and vigorously enough to condemn an aide accused of harassing a female colleague.
The allegations against Tony Baker, her former chief of staff, are ugly. He apparently got romantically involved with a staffer, and then went to pieces when the relationship ended, calling the beleaguered colleague and subordinate some 50 times one day in May 2016. When the colleague wouldn’t respond, he left a voicemail. “You better f-----g reply to me or I will f-----g kill you,” according to The Washington Post.
Mr. Baker, it appears, has issues with rejection. (Baker apparently denies some, but not all, of the allegations. But who needs a trial in this over-heated environment? It is enough to be accused these days.)
Esty sent Baker packing, providing him severance pay and a favorable recommendation. She did not act quickly or forcefully enough to suit the new moral censors peeking between as many sheets as they can rustle.
Baker’s alleged misconduct took place in the days before the #MeToo movement made #IBelieveHer the new national mantra. We must believe the accuser, you see. We must punish the accused, you understand – the more severely the better.
To Hell with due process. Accusers are victims merely because they say so.
Calls for Esty to resign have flooded in from coast to coast. Last week, the representative stood firm: she was not resigning. This week she’s rethought things. She’s not seeking re-election.
What a coward.
Why not give the people of the 5th Congressional District a choice in the matter? They elected her. She is in her third term. What gives a self-righteous mob the right to drive an elected official from office.
I would have loved to see a candidate with the moxie to stand her ground. Esty could have been a national proving ground for the new politics of pathos.
“Yes, I erred,” she could have said while standing in any number of distressed communities in her district. “I should have, and could have, done better. But the people of this district elected me to create jobs, improve the infrastructure, and attend to the concerns of ordinary working people here in Connecticut. I’m not taking my marching orders from anyone else.”
She could also have reminded people about civility and the rule of law, about orderly process, and the dangers of mass hysteria and leaping to conclusions.
We have laws to punish people who transgress. The criminal code makes it a crime to threaten or harass someone. Mr. Baker may well have broken those laws.
On the civil side, a person who claims to have been injured can pursue money damages. Presumably, the target of Mr. Baker’s rage can do that.
Both the criminal and civil remedies for transgression are measured and proportionate. We don’t execute a man for flirting; and no one should lose their professional livelihood for isolated acts of bad judgment.
But that doesn’t satisfy our new taste for righteous bloodlust. We’ve driven one public figure after another from the stage because they couldn’t keep their libidinal house in order. Think Matt Lauer, or Garrison Keiler, or Charlie Rose.
Private employers are free to chart whatever course they like. If they want to bend to every hysteric wind that passes, their employees are on notice to be wary.
But we elect public official in time-honored and time-tested processes. No self-righteous mob ought to possess the power to bully a person out of office. It is chilling to see a public official driven from office in such a manner.
What next, public lynchings?
I hope Esty reads this. I hope she digs in and submits the question of whether she should be elected to the people in her district, not to the pundits seeking platforms on talk shows.
Esty’s a loser in this tawdry affair. So, too, are the people of the 5th District.