Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before politicians took their whoring from the realm of figurative to literal. Even 2000 years ago, when the apostle John was huddled in a cave in the prison colony of Patmos scribbling down the book of Revelation, the metaphor for political corruption wasn’t exactly subtle: “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots.” With the recent revelation that a Virginia Democrat running for a statehouse seat has filmed sex acts online for money, you might be forgiven for seeing the total fusion of the world’s two oldest professions as a sign of the end times. I myself am not one for Left Behind-style mumbo jumbo, but let me tell you, the fact that Democrats are fundraising off of this and the media are out there defending this woman is not a harbinger of anything good.
To recap, control of the Virginia legislature is hotly contested – and one of the Democratic candidates in one of the most competitive races, Susanna Gibson, is a nurse practitioner and mother of two. Oh, and it turns out she’s also someone who performs sex acts with her husband online, in front of an audience, for money. A Republican operative tipped off the Washington Post about this, who confirmed that Gibson “streamed sex acts on Chaturbate, a platform that says it takes its name from “the act of masturbating while chatting online.” Well, there’s a portmanteau for the ages, but Gibson’s unseemly oeuvre can be seen on various places all over the internet because it turns out “Chaturbate videos are streamed live on that site and are often archived on other publicly available sites.”
Anyway, I’m already pretty cynical about the double standards involving Democratic politicians. Recall that Virginia’s previous governor, licensed pediatrician Ralph Northam, did a horrifying radio interview where he endorsed killing live babies in the name of abortion rights or something. He was subsequently exposed as either wearing blackface or KKK regalia (we’re not sure which one he was in the photo because no one wanted to know the answer). The Washington Post eventually wrote an editorial praising him for his growth in office because he mouthed some platitudes about “equity” in response to the scandal.
That doesn’t mean that the defenses of Gibson that have sprung up aren’t still enraging to read. The New York Times headline beggars belief: “State House Candidate in Virginia Condemns Leak of Sex Tapes: Susanna Gibson, a Democrat running in one of seven tossup House seats in the closely divided legislature, denounced the ‘illegal invasion of my privacy.’”
To start, the headline is either factually inaccurate or deliberately designed to confuse. The videos of her were easily available on the internet, so there was no “leak” of anything to the press, as is implied by the headline. In that respect, it’s the Times doing a more nuanced version of the dishonest “Republicans pounce” motif.
To the extent that the videos of her livestream were recorded without her approval and uploaded elsewhere, who’s fault is that? She was performing sex acts on the internet and didn’t think it might be an issue when she ran for office? “It’s illegal and it’s disgusting to disseminate this kind of material, and we’re working closely with the F.B.I. and local prosecutors to bring the wrongdoers to justice,” Gibson’s lawyer told the Times.
Did I mention Gibson had 5,700 “followers” on this Chaturbate site? Look, if you are streaming sex acts for money on the internet for thousands of people and you are shocked – shocked! – that those videos were recorded and disseminated, you’re either lying or too stupid to hold political office. But forget her lawyer, Ms. Gibson’s faux outrage is far more offensive. “My political opponents and their Republican allies have proven they’re willing to commit a sex crime to attack me and my family,” she said in a statement quoted by the Times. That the Times lets a woman who’s solely responsible for her own public humiliation accuse others of “sex crimes” for pointing out that she’s all over the internet having sex for money without any pushback – well, it says volumes about the Times’ own meretricious behavior.
But the real coup de grâce here is Gibson’s characterization of this thing that she did to herself as an attack on “my family.” If it’s so horrifying for her kids to see mom having sex on the internet, why would you risk it in the first place? Even if Gibson didn’t run for office, the odds of her kids finding out about this are far from nonexistent. I won’t begin to suggest that she’s not otherwise a good mother – I sincerely hope she is – but don’t dare dodge accountability by hiding behind your kids. Good luck selling voters on the notion that if this revenge porn tiger mom is elected, it won’t be the Virginia Whorehouse of Delegates, it will be the Virginia Whorehome of Delegates.
Like I said, I’m not surprised, but the expectation of abhorrent behavior doesn’t make it any less depressing. The idea that we’re in a “culture war” inherently implies that there’s a disagreement in values, and, at this point, the disagreement can be boiled down to the fact that one side doesn’t think we should have any.
If you think I’m exaggerating, Politico’s media columnist Jack Shafer is asking, “So What if a Candidate Livestreamed Sex Acts with Her Husband?” Much of the column is devoted to the precedent set by past politicians’ behavior – I confess I had forgotten Rep. Barney Frank’s boyfriend literally ran a prostitution service out of his D.C. apartment, and being reminded Frank suffered no real consequences for this does not make me more sympathetic to Gibson – followed by a lot of “to be sure” throat clearing. But then we get to the crux of it:
On one level — and spare me the reflexive scolding — what’s so appalling about what Gibson streamed? For one thing, as the Post notes, there’s nothing illegal about Gibson’s online adventure. It’s not even extramarital! Granted, her performances proved that she and her husband are exhibitionists of the highest order, but we accommodate exhibitionists all the time without clucking our tongues. According to the Daily Mail, not an always reliable source, one clip has Gibson offering her paying audience the chance to see her have a non-missionary sex position with her husband or witness a “golden shower.” Billions of such consensual videos like this reside on the internet, and plenty of couples engage in such acts daily.
What’s so appalling about getting naked and peeing on your spouse for cash in front of an audience of a few thousand people? Is that a real question we’re asking here? Wasn’t a video of a politician getting micturated on by prostitutes considered “kompromat” for foreign adversaries just a few years ago? And does anyone really think that broad toleration of this kind of perversity doesn’t mean encouraging very illusory ideas about “consensual” sex acts that result in women being exploited and abused?
Some of us very much want to stop accommodating corrupt exhibitionists, and a big reason why we can’t is that every time we try and enforce some basic decency, some bourgeois commentator pops out of the woodwork to insist very real concerns shared by tens of millions of Americans are “reflexive scolding.” Well, if this is scolding, sit down and pin your ears back, Jack, because there’s a lot more where that came from.
Of course, mounting this defense would be easier if the consensus surrounding basic notions of morality wasn’t crumbling from all sides. So just go ahead and insert all the “what about Trump?” ritual maledictions here. But did it occur to Democrats that one reason why none of the morality arguments they lobbed against Trump seemed to have any effect? To start, by the time Trump ran for president, almost two decades had passed since the entire Washington establishment decided they were nonplussed by Bill Clinton’s behavior. Time magazine’s White House reporter even waived off Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and declared, “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”
If you resent – and I hardly think I’m alone here – the fact that your choices at the ballot box are between one corrupt amoral exhibitionist and another corrupt amoral exhibitionist with slightly more enticing policy preferences, maybe it’s worth attempting to reclaim some semblance of agreement surrounding traditional morality. It shouldn’t be difficult to forge a consensus that Susanna Gibson’s nasty accusations and laughable attempts to blame others for her immoral behavior render her unfit for office – but here we are.