For Democrats and Republicans, the biggest issue dredged up by ever-increasing number of sexual harassment accusations against Hollywood, media and political celebrities is whether the scandals will morph from Teachable Moment to Impeachable.

But maybe a better way to look it pertains to what you might call “the demarcation problem”: the thing we need to know, of any particular accusation — apart from its factuality, its truth-value — is the nature of the behavior:

Creepy or Criminal?

According to the exact wording of Donald Trump’s infamous recorded boasts, his offenses were, if true,* merely creepy. But, if his boasted-of grabby hands were not always met with assent, then in those non-consensual instances his offenses were likely criminal.

Indeed, the reason so many people think Trump has confessed to sexual assault is that no one really believes that all the women he has hit on consented to grabbing of them “by the pussy.”

With Senate candidate Roy Moore, on the other hand, we have quite a number of very specific allegations, of which we learn more every day. Moore apparently liked very young women, and we have heard the most about a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old, both of whom he had “courted” when he was much, much older.

That may indeed be creepy. (Most people seem to think so.) But not illegal, since Alabama’s age of consent is 16.

It gets worse for Moore, however, since he is also accused of inappropriate relations with a 14-year-old, and outright sexual assault, too. Those would be criminal.

rat-styleAnd Moore, as Jacob Sullum sagely notes at Reason, has made matters worse for his own cause, putting out conflicting stories about his relations with his older inappropriate inamorata. This undermines his defenses regarding the truly more serious allegations.

Meanwhile, Republicans are rallying around Moore — as if their complaints about the creepy-and-criminal Clintons were just a matter of partisan convenience.

And that is creepy.

What is missing, here? Our attention has been called, once again, away from substantive crimes of the federal government. Like in the Wag the Dog days, the criminal aspects of our government receive scant attention. All the fuss is over the sex stuff — the sloppy kisses, blue dresses, unwanted ass-grabs, and worse.**

The creeps and criminals have distracted us from the true enormities.


* But remember — the boastful are notorious liars.

** Note that what is missing from a lot of this is any consideration of the appropriate level at which creepy or merely unwanted advances (or even mere ribaldry) might be distinguished from those very few grave affronts requiring a full warlock hunt (as I put it a few weeks ago, and as Claire Berlinsky dubbed the mania more recently) and those crimes that deserve prosecution. (And then there is the technical difficulty of coming to the truth, especially after decades’ long lags, and the horrific institutionalization of enabling mere accusations to ruin lives. Warlock hunt, indeed — what is being established is the cultural totalitarianism of Ms. Grundy.) Most of what we are dealing with, here, are not rapes or sexual assaults, but, instead, faux pas best handled at the level of manners, and not made the federal cases or national outrages that the great Paul Jacob judges with more approbation than I can muster.