Writing at the website for New York Magazine, liberal journalist Jonathan Chait slammed another top progressive thinker for penning a recent article that embraced a “conception of justice totally removed from the liberal tradition.”
The topic was campus sexual assault, and Chait’s criticism was aimed at Ezra Klein, the editor in chief of Vox, a website created as an outlet for “explanatory journalism.”
On Monday, Klein wrote in support of a bill recently passed in California called “Yes Means Yes.”
What seemed to irk Chait — and many others across the political spectrum — was that even though Klein admitted that the bill would infringe on the rights of innocent people, he supported it nonetheless.
“SB 697, California’s ‘Yes Means Yes’ law, is a terrible bill,” Klein wrote. “But it’s a necessary one.”
The bill, which is being considered by other states to fight the problem of campus sexual assault, applies affirmative consent — a relatively new doctrine — to all sexual encounters that take place at institutions of higher learning that receive federal support. In order for consensual sex to have occurred, the bill requires that both parties must affirm their willingness to have sex. This can be done verbally, with a smile, or with a nod of the head. Further, consent cannot be granted if either party is inebriated.
Anything less than that can lead to a sexual assault rap and land the alleged assailant in front of a university tribunal with the burden of proof placed squarely on his shoulders.
The “brute legislative force,” as Klein called it, is needed to change the “most private and intimate of adult acts.”
In Klein’s utopia, affirmative consent will “change a culture of sexual entitlement.” It is an improvement of the traditional doctrine regarding sexual assault — dubbed “No Means No.”
But “No Means No” has fallen out of favor with feminists and progressives, as Klein indicated in his article.
“‘No Means No’ has created a world where women are afraid,” wrote Klein. “To work, ‘Yes Means Yes’ needs to create a world where men are afraid.”
Klein acknowledged critics of the new doctrine who may fear “that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations.”
“Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success,” he admitted.
“Men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter,” Klein argued, citing a common statistic that one in five female college students experience an attempted or completed rape as students.
But the wide net cast by Klein is troubling, Chait wrote, pointing out the potential for students to become victims of “kangaroo courts.”
“He concedes that it will result in more innocent people being prosecuted by universities as rapists, and that the miscarriages of justice it yields are not merely an acceptable price, but actually a positive result,” wrote Chait.
“He is arguing for false convictions as a conscious strategy in order to strike fear into the innocent,” Chait continued. “This is a conception of justice totally removed from the liberal tradition.”
Particularly troubling for Chait is that Klein is not crazy.
“Ezra Klein is not a nut; he is the polar opposite of one, which is what makes it so important that he is arguing in such expressly illiberal terms.”