Will Forcing Franken’s Resignation Backfire.

Should Senator Al Franken (D-MN) have resigned? I’m no sure. I have very mixed feelings about this. Part of me say, yes, he should have resigned but another part thinks the Democrats should have let the process play out with an ethics committee hearing, which Franken, himself advocated and with he said he would fully cooperate. I know the thought is Democrats are by taking the high ground showing up the Republican lack of standards for moral character. But did they, once again cave too soon? A man who bragged about sexually assaulting women is still in the White House and a accused child molester is running for a Senate seat.

What Franken did, and is accused of doing, is wrong but does it come to the same level of taking off your clothes in front of a fourteen year old and stalking underage girls in the mall? Or grabbing a woman by her crotch?

What about the people Franken represents? How do they feel about this? Has anyone asked? The Republicans are saying that the people of Alabama will decide who represents them. Shouldn’t the people of Minnesota have the same opportunity?

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick angry article notes that the two parties play on an “uneven playing field” where “the game Republicans are forcing everyone to play insists that morality is for losers.”

Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve. [..]

Who knows why the GOP has lost its last ethical moorings? But this is a perfectly transactional moment in governance, and what we get in exchange for being good and moral right now is nothing. I’m not saying we should hit pause on #MeToo, or direct any less fury at sexual predators in their every manifestation. But we should understand that while we know that our good faith and reasonableness are virtues, we currently live in a world where it’s also a handicap.

Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to arming the other side. That may be a trade worth making in some cases. But it’s worth at least acknowledging that this is the current calculus. It’s no longer that when they go low, we get to go high. They are permanently living underground. How long can we afford to keep living in the clouds?

Michael Tomasky, a contributor at “The Daily Beast,” has similar thoughts:

A part of me does wonder, though, what exactly would have been wrong in this case with letting the ethics process play out, seeing what the committee found, and determining his fate then? Liberals are supposed to love and respect process, which they sometimes do to a fault. So why short-circuit it here?

This is where I see some opportunism at work, in two ways. First, let’s cut to the chase: Do you think we’d have heard all these calls for his resignation from his Democratic colleagues if Minnesota had a Republican governor? No way. Maybe a couple senators would, but as a group they wouldn’t be nearly so cavalier about dumping him if they knew a Republican was going to replace him. And that’s fine; that’s politics. Newsflash: Politics is political. But it does make me take these high-moral-ground statements of his colleagues with a few grains of salt.

Now Governor Mark Dayton is throwing a wrench in the works by evidently appointing a caretaker on the condition she not seek to keep the seat, which opens the seat up to the real possibility of Republican capture in 2018 (maybe by Norm Coleman, the Republican Franken defeated in 2008). I wonder how many Senate Democrats calling for Franken’s head would have thought twice if they’d known Dayton was going to pull that boneheaded move, instead of appointing a younger star like state Attorney General Lori Swanson who could build a real Senate career.

Second, obviously, the Democrats are hoping to present to America a contrast between them and the Republicans. And that contrast is real. But it, too, is not really about morality. It’s because rank-and-file Democrats take sexually inappropriate behavior a lot more seriously than rank-and-file Republicans do. This week, Quinnipiac polled about 1,700 people and asked them whether an elected official accused (and only accused) of sexual harassment or assault “by multiple people” should resign. Among Democrats it was 77 percent yes to 14 percent no. Among Republicans it was 51-37.

Good for rank-and-file Democrats. They’re in the right place on this question, and Republicans are in the wrong one. I’m just positing that if the polls weren’t coming out like this, maybe many of these moral high horses we’ve seen mounted in the last 48 hours would have been kept in the barn.

The Democrats want to be able to say: See, when Al Franken and John Conyers are discovered to have done wrong, we don’t equivocate. We take care of it. Meanwhile, look at those Republicans. They’re all-in behind Roy Moore, whose alleged attacks on women make Franken’s look awfully tame. They have a congressman, Blake Farenthold of Texas, who reached a $84,000 settlement of his sexual harassment charge—paying it with taxpayer money—and still holds his seat with no one batting an eye. And of course, they have Donald Trump. When’s he going to be filing those lawsuits against those 16 women, by the way?

It’s a contrast, and maybe it will impress some female swing voters in Alabama. But it seems more likely that the Republican way of handling these things is going to win. Deny, deny, deny. Lie, lie, lie. Pushback, pushback, pushback. Be so outrageous—the Republican National Committee officially supporting an accused child molester!—that people can barely wrap their heads around it. Sad to say, it wins.

I’m not saying the Democrats should reduce themselves to that level. As I said, Franken should go. But I’m not sure what the Democrats are getting out of it. They’re losing one of their best and smartest senators, somebody who would have been a quite plausible presidential contender in 2020; and failing that would have been a great and important lifetime senator.

But there’s more. They’ve circumvented process and the principle of hearing from both sides. They’ve completely ignored the possibility that a person can reform himself (maybe Franken used to be a sexist jerk but has genuinely changed; aren’t liberals supposed to welcome that?) And they’ve blurred the line, which I think should exist, between different categories of sexual crimes, some of which are obviously worse than others. The day will almost surely come when they’ll regret having established these precedents.

Since Franken left the entertainment part of his life behind, he became a serious force in the Senate. He carefully checked his wry humor at the door and dove into learning his new craft. Most of the accusations against him came before he decided to enter politics. He has apologized to Leeann Tweenden and to the others who claim that they were groped by him. Although he claimed to not remembering doing it or remembering the incident differently, until the last accuser, he did apologize and said that he would be more aware of his actions with women in the future. This is not to say that Franken’s behavior back then was not demeaning, or that his apologies could have been a more sincere, but should the Democrats have been so hasty in forcing his resignation?

Another glaring problem the Democrats have is New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez who was recently tried for accepting gifts from a friend for favors that ended in a mistrial.Where were all the senators who were clamoring for Franken’s resignation? It’s very obvious why his resignation wasn’t demanded New Jersey has a Republican governor. Although calls for Menendez’s resignation were discussed but only if he was convicted and after Governor Chris Christie left office. So much for the high ground.

Another question that Tomansky raised, but only lightly touch on, is have the Democrats left themselves open to some fraudster, like pro-Trump activist and noted rape apologist Mike Cernovich or video prankster James O’Keefe, making up a false claim about a Democrat in a vulnerable seat. Consider the case of the Washington Post whose editors, though careful diligence, exposed O’Keefe’s latest scam to undermine the Post‘s reporting on Roy Moore. Even MSNBC has back tracked, apologized and reinstated contributor Sam Seder after the fake accusation by Cernovich about a satirical tweet Seder made eight years ago.

Right now, Republicans controls the field. They control the referees and change the rule to suit their agenda. As Ms. Lithwick points out we live in a world where while good faith and reasonableness are a virtues, they are also a handicap.

Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to arming the other side. That may be a trade worth making in some cases. But it’s worth at least acknowledging that this is the current calculus. It’s no longer that when they go low, we get to go high. They are permanently living underground. How long can we afford to keep living in the clouds?

I’ll miss Sen. Franken’s eloquent voice on the Senate floor and his holding witnesses feet to the fire in the Judiciary Committee hearings. I’m sure Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is relieved. I just hope the Democrats don’t regret their decision.

2 comments

  1. thanks TMC. There are too few voices of reason right now.

    I’d like to see a discussion of what offenses, criminal or non, that should justify banning someone from public life. A real court recognizes different grades of offense, but in the court of public opinion, this week, ass-grabbing is the same as rape or telling someone “fuck me or you don’t get the job”.

    if you still read dkos you know it’s in one of its periodic barking frenzies over this. If self-righteousness could be monetized there’d be dozens of kossacks richer than Soros.

    dammit, this is POLITICS. Al Franken was one of the best Democratic Senators, and no one but Republicans will benefit from hounding him out of office over accusations that wouldn’t be criminal even if true. And the same people going after Franken are silent about Menendez who really is a crook, because POLITICS. And because Menendez is the kind of unrepentently corrupt asshole that Jerseyans vote for and he’d tell his critics to go fuck themselves.

    • TMC on December 12, 2017 at 2:24 am
      Author

    I thought long and hard before I posted this. I am not alone in my opinion that Franken should not have resigned so quickly. There are men and woman of both parties that agree the Democrats were too hasty in their judgement. A former GOP governor of Minnesota, Arne Carlson, believes that justice was not served and the Democrats rushed to judgement.

    https://govarnecarlson.blogspot.com/2017/12/and-justice-for-all.html?spref=fb

    ” I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process.

    Now reports are surfacing that Leeann Tweeden, Franken’s prime accuser, may have been coached by Roger Stone, a major Trump operator. Since there was no vetting, we only heard her story. But there has been no explanation as to why she attended a USO event in 2009 honoring Franken and was captured on tape joking around with him. This is three years after she claimed to be traumatized by Franken.

    She continued in 2011 with a tweet containing a photo of her and Franken together.

    This is all very troubling. A rush to judgment is, unfortunately, all too human. But a rush to punishment is totally unacceptable.

    Perhaps this is a time for reconsideration. We now know that the right wing attempted to plant a false accusation with the Washington Post. On the other side, we also know that an accuser against Roy Moore of Alabama fudged the truth in her allegations.

    Further, we know that Senate Democrats who asked for Franken’s resignation may have been motivated more by the politics of the Alabama Senate race than the seriousness of the allegations.

    And now we have the supreme insult of New York Senator Schumer “advising” Governor Dayton on how to pick a successor. That is a certainty for GOP advertising in 2018.

    It is time for all of us to sober up. Our nation is in peril with Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans yielding to his demands. We are increasingly moving towards authoritarianism and continued GOP subservience could possibly lead to the dissolution of the Mueller investigation.

    While I am not always in agreement with Senator Al Franken, I firmly believe in due process which is a cornerstone of our democratic way of living. Whenever in history we abandoned it, we severely damaged ourselves. Just think about the lynching of Blacks in the South, the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War II, or the era of McCarthyism when lives were destroyed based solely on allegations.

    The simple fact is that Al Franken has been the Senate’s most effective challenge to Trump and his subordinates. The possibility of any rigging by Roger Stone and his associates should cause all of us to call for a rescinding of the Franken resignation and a prompt and thorough review of all allegations by the Senate Ethics Committee.

    He was elected by we, the people, and he should continue to serve until a legal determination has been made.”

    Gov. Carlson prefaced that with a recollection of being wrongfully accused from his childhood.

    The there is Democrat and Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout in the New York Times wrote that she’s not convinced Franken should have quit: (it’s behind a paywall so I’l post it all for you)

    “I care passionately about #MeToo. Women are routinely demeaned, dismissed, discouraged and assaulted. Too many women’s careers are stymied or ended because of harassment and abuse. In politics, where I have worked much of my adult life, this behavior is rampant.

    I also believe in zero tolerance. And yet, a lot of women I know — myself included — were left with a sense that something went wrong last week with the effective ouster of Al Franken from the United States Senate. He resigned after a groundswell of his own Democratic colleagues called for him to step down.

    Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality. As citizens, we need a way to make sense of accusations that does not depend only on what we read or see in the news or on social media.

    Due process means a fair, full investigation, with a chance for the accused to respond. And proportionality means that while all forms of inappropriate sexual behavior should be addressed, the response should be based on the nature of the transgressions.

    Both were missing in the hasty call for Senator Franken’s resignation. Some might point out, rightly, that Congress doesn’t have good procedures for dealing with harassment accusations. In fact, the congressional process to date has gone something like this: Lift up the rug and sweep the accusations underneath. It’s delay, deny, pay hush money and avoid the consequences.

    Instead, here’s what a fair system might look like: Congress should empower an independent arbiter to investigate complaints — like a Government Accountability Office, with trained experts in the field. Clearly understood mechanisms for reporting should be established. A timetable should be set that ensures complaints receive a prompt response. Both the accuser and the accused could submit questions and would have access to trained advocates and free legal consultation.

    The independent arbiter would then make a nonbinding proposal addressing what happened and what should be done. It could include a call to resign or for censure, or a range of other responses tailored to the findings.

    This isn’t just about Senator Franken. Other lawmakers have also been accused of harassment. We need a system to deal with that messy reality, and the current one of investigating those complaints is opaque, takes too long and has not worked to protect vulnerable women and men from harassment. And the current alternative — off with the head of the accused, regardless of the accusation — is too quick, too easily subject to political manipulation and too vulnerable to the passions of the moment.

    We don’t have the system I’m suggesting. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on process. On Nov. 30, a Senate ethics panel announced the beginning of an investigation into the allegations against Senator Franken. It should run its course, and we should see the results. Then we’ll know whether his planned resignation was warranted.

    With time, and the existing ethics procedures, things are likely to emerge that will surprise us all. New facts may put Senator Franken in a better light, or a far worse one, and we should be open to both.

    Elections are different. Voters have a responsibility to make a judgment with whatever facts are available on Election Day. In the case of Roy Moore, voters in Alabama ought take the very serious accusations into account. But if Mr. Moore is elected to the Senate, he should immediately be subject to the same kind of ethics inquiry that I am recommending for Senator Franken.

    Finally, the nature of the behaviors matter, too. Proportionality means that after investigating, Congress should fully consider the best response to the revealed conduct.

    My first job out of law school was representing people on death row in North Carolina, where I often saw the impact of hasty prosecutions. I represented a man on death row whose lawyers had spent all of eight hours looking into his claim of innocence. I met men whose lawyers had never looked into their backgrounds. I also lived in the legal environment that produced the Duke University lacrosse case, in which three students were falsely accused of rape by the prosecutor in the case, who was later disbarred for his conduct. The quick rush to public condemnation of the players, fueled by the media, ended up hurting the accuser and the accused.

    As citizens, we should all be willing to stay ambivalent while the facts are gathered and we collect our thoughts. While the choice to fire the television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were the choices of private companies, condemning a sitting lawmaker is a public choice and one our representatives should make judiciously.”

    I am truly pissed with my senators, Schumer and Gillabrand, as well as, he other so called Democrats who pushed him to resign.

    I campaigned and raised money for Al Franken. I have written him encouraging him to rethink his resignation and reach out to the people who elected him and not listen to those who a seeking “the high ground” for political expediency
    .
    I was banned from DKos and have not been back since.

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