I've been wondering what the cost of a "waitress sandwich" is today. In 1985, there was no price for the powerful to pay for one.
One night three decades ago, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. D-Mass., and his admiring protege Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., reportedly took their dates to a fancy Washington, D.C., restaurant, La Brasserie. Plenty of alcohol had been consumed.
When the meal was coming to an end, the two women accompanying the senators repaired to the ladies' room. A waitress, Carla Gaviglio, was summoned to the private dining room by two members of the world's most deliberative body.
In a lightning strike, Kennedy allegedly picked up Gaviglio and threw her on the table, knocking plates and other items to the floor. He reportedly lifted her up again and put her on top of Dodd, who was seated in a chair. Kennedy then engaged in an attack that continued until another employee entered the room and joined Gaviglio in screaming, causing others to enter the room.
Oh, those high-spirited U.S. senators. They had gone out on the town in our nation's capital and created a new dish, the waitress sandwich. Why does anyone wonder why the victims of such attacks remain silent for so long? The power is all on one side. Few were inclined 30 years ago to call what happened that night an assault. Certainly no one was going to be punished. Instead, it was given a name to turn it into a joke.
Kennedy and Dodd would each be elected to four more terms in the Senate. They would be hailed as champions of liberal causes. Kennedy's informal title became Lion of the Senate. After Kennedy's 2009 death, the taxpayers were put on the hook for $32 million (inserted into a defense funding bill) to help fund the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston. There's a replica of the U.S. Senate chamber, but none of that private La Brasserie dining room.
Yes, there were always tales, depending on how close the next election was, that Kennedy was much better behaved now. But they probably meant little to Gaviglio. Dodd left the Senate after five terms, too unpopular in Connecticut to seek a sixth. He would find a new career as a lobbyist in show business, another center of the powerful inflicting themselves on the powerless.
Maybe allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Roy Moore, to name just three whose chilling actions victims have begun to bear witness to, will change the nature of power. It was a hopeful sign when MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski last month expressed support for NBC's decision to boot commentator Mark Halperin from the popular "Morning Joe" political smorgasbord after allegations about his trail of victims became public.
Brzezinski included a revealing equivocation in her statement (also delivered on behalf co-host and fiance, colorful former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough). She included the disclosure that the duo's hearts were breaking for Halperin and his family. Because he lost his book contract? HBO and Showtime canceled their deals with the lout whose alleged lurid conduct seems not to have been a secret to many?
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told NBC's Chuck Todd that the House of Representatives has paid about $15 million in secret sexual harassment settlements in the last 10 to 15 years. Opening those to public inspection ought be an easy and quick public policy change to make.
Wait until the next presidential campaign begins. Somewhere in Nebraska or another state in the heartland is a woman who went to Washington hoping to do some good while leading an eventful life. Then she came into the sights of some ambitious politician with a predatory sense of entitlement. Her brutal, disorienting experience sent her home. She and others like her will possess the power to upend the next presidential election.
This time, it will be enough to disqualify some wretched poser who talks about respect for women but leads a life that refutes the rhetoric. This time, thanks to the brave victims of Weinstein, Spacey, and Moore, et al., the noisy denials and diversions won't work. This time, the price of a waitress sandwich will be too high to pay.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.