Two separate Washington Post columnists have come to the aid of embattled Senator Al Franken, offering arguments in favor of keeping him in the Senate rather than kicking him out and establishing a precedent whereby other “right-voting” Democrats could be ensnared.
Kate Harding, “Feminasty” podcast co-host and co-editor of “Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America,” wrote an eye-popping op-ed calling for Franken, D-Minn., to stay in office despite multiple accusations of sexual assault.
Harding begins her piece by calling the allegations against Franken “disgusting” and insisting that “he should suffer social and professional consequences for it,” but as to whether the Minnesota senator should resign, well, that’s a whole different story.
After all, Franken’s misdeeds aside, the man IS a Democrat and Democrats are way woke.
“I am a Democrat because I am a feminist who lives under a two-party system,” Harding writes, “where one party consistently votes against the interests of women while the other sometimes does not. I am not a true believer in the party itself nor in any politician. I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices, and Democrats are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race toward Atwoodian dystopia.”
Harding then discusses the political consequences of forcing Franken to resign when there are likely other Democrats, some (gasp) living in Republican governed states, that could likely be found guilty too.
It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.
The last thing Harding wants to do is “drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms” and give “old white Republican men” more power.
“But if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women,” Harding writes, “I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing. I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.”
Instead of resigning, Harding suggests that Franken do “penance” for his misdeeds, decline to run again in 2020, and groom a “progressive woman” to take his spot.
She concludes her article by referencing the Senate controversy in Alabama involving allegations of misconduct by Roy Moore, saying her argument “dissolves” if “Republicans actually do start holding their own accountable for sexual misconduct.”
“But in a sharply divided political climate where toxic masculinity knows no party, yet is only ever acknowledged by one, we must think about how to minimize harm to women. One more empty apology and resignation, one more head on a pike, will not make American women safer or better off. Powerful men lifting up women’s concerns and supporting progressive women candidates, however, could be a real step toward changing the culture that makes victims of so many of us.”
Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus echoed Harding’s sentiments in her own editorial, insisting that “ignoring sexual abuse and assault is far worse than punishing its perpetrators too severely.” Marcus puts Franken on the opposite end of impropriety from “predatory” behavior coming from Roy Moore and even Bill Clinton to more along the lines of “boorish.”
Fair points, but what should the consequences be?
Such context matters in the sentencing phase. This wasn’t a workplace, exactly, and Franken, while the tour headliner, wasn’t Tweeden’s boss. The atmosphere was sexualized; as Tweeden noted, “Like many USO shows before and since, the skits were full of sexual innuendo geared toward a young, male audience.” Comedy doesn’t justify assault or, as Louis C.K. taught, public masturbation, but it invites a more transgressive atmosphere than, say, the U.S. Senate.
So what should happen to Franken et al.? The notion of the cleansing purge has its satisfactions, and for Democrats in Franken’s case, the added appeal of excising a political liability. No one wants to keep seeing that picture.
Yet I recoil at the employment equivalent of a mass death sentence for all sexual harassers. For some offenders — Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Moore — I have no sympathy. Their alleged conduct is close to, if not across, the line of criminality.
Others pose a harder case. Must they remain forever pariahs? Is rehabilitation possible? The focus is, and should be, on victims.
While their points aren’t entirely without merit – there is a marked difference between Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton, and the Franken misdeeds – one does wonder if these columnists would be penning similar op-eds had a Republican been accused of doing exactly what Franken did.
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