The Rennard affair sends an important message about politics - one which will be ignored.
So far, the allegations against him seem mild. We're not talking Jimmy Savile or Julian Assange here, but the sort of tiresome groper which any woman with a backbone has long learnt to cope with.
Except that is, for one thing. His main accuser, Susan, says:
I possibly could have knocked my chances of any future success within the party by having said no...
This is a man with an almighty amount of power. At the time he held the purse-strings for any winnable seat, and he could choose which were the starred seats and advise other federal bodies which should be the starred seats.So this was a man who could control your future.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.
This isn't always a wholly bad thing. One message of Lincoln is that even decent men must sometimes use unpleasant means to achieve worthy ends. But it does pose the question: wouldn't it be remarkable if the only way in which politicians abuse power is to try and get their leg over?
There's another question here. Why was Susan, and presumably women like her, at all surprised by this? It's surely astonishingly naive to think that power will be clean and decent.
One possibility is that they were prone to the optimism bias that afflicts most people entering politics. Another is that they were blinded by tribalism; the misuse of power is something "their side" does, not "ours". This fails to see that the division that matters is not between parties, but between the powerful and the powerless.
Herein, then, lies the big message of the Rennard affair. It's not just about how power can be subtly but insidiously abused, but about how people can try to enter politics whilst being oblivious to this.
I don't expect this message to be noticed, because real power consists in being able to disguise the fact that it is being exercised.The lesson of this affair will not be learned.