Fans of Jon Stewart are familiar with the faux newsman’s reaction to political developments that beg to be lampooned. Usually, the late-night comedian offers an ostentatious prayer of thanksgiving when some public figure makes Stewart’s job as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
When Clint Eastwood babbled at an empty chair during the Republican convention, Stewart exulted the following night: “This is the most joy I’ve gotten from an old man since Dick Cheney non-fatally shot one in the face!”
Such was my first reaction when, returning from vacation, an item in my email inbox alerted me to the latest developments in the Harris County race for district attorney.
In previous columns, I’ve delineated how Democratic nominee Lloyd Oliver, a perennial candidate with a subpar career as an attorney, falls grievously short of the qualifications for such an important office. But while I was away, Oliver made a public joke of himself:
On public radio station KUHF, Oliver declared that he wouldn’t pursue domestic violence cases if the victim were reluctant to prosecute.
Then, asked to clarify his views on Houston PBS’ “Red, White and Blue” program, Oliver stated: “There are some people – I don’t understand it – but part of their making love is beat up one another first.”
Not since gubernatorial candidate Claytie Williams made a joke about rape and rain (“If it’s inevitable, you might as well lay back and enjoy it!”) has a Texas candidate so fully disqualified himself with his own words. So outrageous, it’s laughable! Or is it?
“That’s not funny,” Houston City Council member Ellen Cohen said when I read her Oliver’s quotes. “It’s hard to believe there are people still walking the Earth that still believe things like this.” As someone who has spent her life combating domestic violence, Cohen was more disheartened than amused that Oliver would espouse a philosophy that should have died in the last century.
For 18 years, Cohen served as CEO of the Houston Women’s Center, helping victims of domestic violence recover and restart their lives. Ironically, Tuesday she sponsored a city proclamation declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness Month – which recognizes much work remains in educating the public about a pervasive social problem with a costly impact to our community.
Kids indirect victims
Consider these statistics, from the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council: An estimated 6,935 women will be sexually assaulted and 52,560 domestic violence incidents will be reported in Harris County this year.
Nationally, experts estimate that the cost of domestic violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, with $4.1 billion spent on direct medical and mental health services.
We also know that children are the indirect victims. Children are traumatized by witnessing violence and living in shelters – and domestic violence is a chief cause of child homelessness.
Cohen remembers a time when two mythologies existed: “One, that if a woman was beaten, she must have said something to deserve it. Two, if she was raped, she must have been wearing something that provoked it. That was the prevailing attitude.”
We’ve come a long way since audiences guffawed when Ralph Kramden promised to send Alice “to the moon” by slugging her, “Pow! Right in the kisser!”
But Cohen says young people still must be taught to recognize dating violence, which often begins with a boyfriend controlling a young woman’s activities, and escalates to pushing and shoving. “Love doesn’t hurt,” Cohen said. And contrary to Oliver’s opinion, she added, “beating each other up is not foreplay.”
‘Go get in the ring’
In his radio comments, Oliver opined that domestic violence wasn’t a government concern and suggested that if two “idiots” choose to fight, they should “go get in the ring somewhere and leave us taxpayers out of it.”
His Republican opponent, Mike Anderson, made it clear he didn’t agree that prosecuting domestic violence cases was a misuse of taxpayer money. “It’s about public safety, folks,” was his sensible reply.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Oliver suggested his comments were taken out of context, and assured me that “if someone doubles up their fists” and strikes another person, they should be jailed. But he also said he believed that family violence was being extended to “pushing and shoving” situations that do not require government involvement. “That’s their lifestyle,” he said. “We can’t dictate their culture.” Bottom line? He believes more “common sense” should be applied to family violence prosecutions.
To Cohen, who was elected as a Democrat to the Texas Legislature, Oliver “doesn’t represent the Democratic Party and doesn’t represent the thinking on domestic or sexual violence in this city today.”
Recently, Harris County Democrats received a mailer with a quote from former President Bill Clinton urging them to vote a straight Democratic ticket. I’m guessing that he’d change his mind if he knew of Oliver’s statements. As Cohen put it, “you’ve got to look at what somebody says” before giving them your vote.
It’s no laughing matter.