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Dec 08 2017

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.