Thursday Reads: Al Franken Steps Down from the SenatePosted: December 7, 2017
This morning Al Franken announced that he will be resigning from the Senate “in the coming weeks.” He suggested that the ethics committee investigation would continue. He said that he is not admitting to every allegation that has been made against him, but he feels that he cannot both fight for his good name and fully serve the people of Minnesota. He noted that
“I am aware of the irony that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has preyed on underage girls is running for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
Franken several times quoted his mentor, the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. He said he will continue to be a political activist and fight for what he believes in. Here is the full speech.
I am truly sad to see Franken go, but I was very impressed with his speech. A number of writers are claiming that by taking the high ground in this case, Democrats will have an advantage over republicans in upcoming elections–especiall the one in Alabama on Dec. 12. I’m not convinced of that. The media always gives Republicans the benefit of doubt while punishing Democrats no matter what they do. I hope I’m proven wrong.
Here are four points of view on the Franken situation.
Amanda Marcotte at Salon: Al Franken must go: It’s the right way to help women and protect Democrats.
As sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, consumed Thursday’s news cycle — pushing far more serious allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore out of the headlines — many people started to smell Republican skulduggery.
Before the allegations became public, notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone sent out a tweet saying, “Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of ‘grabby’ behavior.” Franken’s accuser, a radio host named Leeann Tweeden, is a conservative who been a frequent guest commentator on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. Tweeden hit the interview circuit in a polished manner that felt more like a promotional tour for a book or a movie, rather than the raw and amateurish interviews you usually get with women bringing forward these kinds of accusations.
If there weren’t photographic evidence to back Tweeden’s claims, it would be easy to dismiss this whole thing as a stunt designed to distract the media from allegations against Moore and to give cover to Republicans who want to continue supporting him. Now any Republican who is asked about Moore can simply deflect the question by invoking Franken and suggesting that both sides do it. Donald Trump, in particular, is a fan of this what-about-ism technique, which is also favored by Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately, it’s extremely effective.
This is one of those rare situations where two apparently contradictory things could be true. This may well be a Stone-style political stunt and Tweeden may be telling the truth about Al Franken’s sleazy behavior. That’s why I haven’t wavered in my belief that the right move, both morally and politically, is for Franken to resign his Senate seat immediately and for Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to replace him with one of the many fine progressive politicians from his state, such as Rep. Keith Ellison or state Attorney General Lori Swanson.
More on Marcotte’s reasoning:
But Franken has basically admitted the photo of him “jokingly” groping Tweeden while she was asleep on an airplane is real. In that light, his best move is to take one for the team and resign. Finding gainful employment, somewhere in the crossover zone between politics and entertainment, should not be a problem.
If this is a political stunt, then the people behind it surely want Franken to stay. Tweeden made a big public show of forgiving Franken and asking him to remain in the Senate. That could be sincere, or it could be that Tweeden and her friends in conservative media believe that Republicans will reap maximum benefit from Franken staying put.
If so, it’s hard to deny that they’re being crafty. Every day Franken remains in the Senate as a visible symbol of liberal hypocrisy, Republicans get a free pass to grope, harass and abuse women. Any effort by journalists or Democrats to hold them accountable will be met with, “What about him?” Even misogynist legislation, which Republicans love more than dogs love their owners, will prosper under the Al Franken shield. If Sen. Kristen Gillibrand tries to pass more anti-rape legislation, too bad! Why? Al Franken!
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: The Uneven Playing Field.
Al Franken, many argue, should now resign. He should resign immediately because there are credible accusers (another emerged Wednesday), and because the behavior alleged is sufficiently abhorrent that there is simply no basis to defend him. In this parade of unilateral disarmament, Trump stays, Conyers goes, Moore stays, Franken goes.
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.
To see the double standard in action, watch Mike Huckabee making the case that Roy Moore should be welcomed into the Senate because Franken has stayed. Then keep watching and realize that in the next breath, he adds that Moore has “denied the charges against him vehemently and categorically” so they must be false. Franken and Conyers are deployed by the right to say Moore should stay, and then they are dismissed as suckers for crediting their accusers.
Sexual predation is bad and grotesque and disqualifying for national office and positions of power. Stipulated. Victim-shaming and claiming that “the people should decide” is contemptible avoidance of responsibility. But the question that remains is whether the analysis stops right there. I, too, would like to live in a world where the debate begins and ends with that proposition. But I don’t think any of us live in that world anymore. And this may not be the moment in which to try to resurrect it.
A bit more:
When Al Franken, who has been a champion for women’s rights in his tenure in the Senate, leaves, what rushes in to fill the space may well be a true feminist. But it may also be another Roy Moore. And there is something deeply naïve, in a game of asymmetrical warfare, and in a moment of unparalleled public misogyny, in assuming that the feminist gets the seat before it happens.
This isn’t a call to become tolerant of awful behavior. It is a call for understanding that Democrats honored the blue slip, and Republicans didn’t. Democrats had hearings over the Affordable Care Act; Republicans had none over the tax bill. Democrats decry predators in the media; Republicans give them their own networks. And what do Democrats have to show for it? There is something almost eerily self-regarding in the notion that the only thing that matters is what Democrats do, without considering what the systemic consequences are for everyone.
I hope you’ll take the time to read both of those excellent articles
Here’s another opinion from MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. Raw Story: Stephanie Ruhle explains why booting Franken could lead to Trump’s impeachment.
“We can talk all day long about how unpopular President Trump is, he is a political svengali,” Ruhle said. “An unpopular, completely unqualified, morally reprehensible person became president of the United States. I cannot believe — lightning’s going to strike me, I’m saying this — I want to share what Laura Ingraham had to say.”
The Fox News host claimed Democrats had “come down with a sudden case of feverish morality,” and she insisted the calls for Franken to step down were nothing but a “political calculation.”
“It sets the precedent for the Democrats to try to drive Roy Moore from office should he win the Alabama Senate (seat), and, two, this is the next step in the quest to impeach President Trump,” Ingraham said on her own program….
“I feel like lightning is going to strike me,” Ruhle said. “Does Laura Ingraham have a point here? Democrats are going — Al Franken could be the sacrificial lamb and say, look at the moral high ground we found.”
She said that could give Republicans an opening to turn the discussion back to Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct, but she and her guests agreed there were too many current examples of GOP wrongdoers to ignore.
“Is this not the year of the ultimate age of hypocrisy?” Ruhle said. “For Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, to come out and call for Al Franken to resign, does Lisa Murkowski not remember that her, our president of the United States, Donald Trump, who she stands behind, has more accusers than Al Franken and have accused him of worse. How does Lisa Murkowski stand up and say I think Al Franken need to step down and stand silent when it comes to our president, our Republican president?”
Finally, at Bloomberg, Johnathan Bernstein explores the notion that Democrats wanted to get rid of Franken because it’s politically expedient.
There’s one theory floating around that Franken’s fate was sealed not because of what Democrats believed about his actions but for pure electoral self-interest. Getting Franken and disgraced Representative John Conyers out of the way supposedly allows them to campaign against Roy Moore and, presumably, Donald Trump without being called out as hypocrites. For what it’s worth, I doubt that was the reasoning involved here, in part because I think it’s foolish. It’s hard to imagine any voter in Alabama who would have voted for Moore without the revelations about his behavior who then pulls back from supporting Democrat Doug Jones because Democrats weren’t tough enough on Franken. And it’s not as if Democrats haven’t blasted Moore over the last two weeks.
So why did Democrats act? Largely because women and men who care deeply about these issues are important players within the Democratic coalition. That means a lot of Democratic party actors were going to push the party to take a hard line, and others who perhaps care less about the issue nevertheless value their alliance with those who do. That’s how parties (and democracy) work.
That said: Yes, it’s an easier call for Democrats because if Franken resigns, the governor of Minnesota, a Democrat, will name his replacement, although it will mean a special election in November 2018 to serve out the last two years of Franken’s term. The same was true for Conyers, who represented a safe Democratic House seat. Republicans in Alabama really do not have any good choice in that Senate race. It’s easy for Democrats to say that everyone should be against a candidate with strong evidence of sexual assault and chasing after teenagers against him, but it’s not wrong for Republicans to care about losing a vote in the Senate. I’m not saying Republicans should back Moore — just that it’s a legitimately awful decision for them.
Bernstein brings up another interesting question involving sexual harassment and political expediency:
One interesting question is what will happen to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who had serious accusations of sexual harassment lodged against him during his confirmation process. Republicans at this point defend him against their political interests; if he were to retire from the court, Trump would be able to nominate a much younger replacement who is at least as reliable a vote for Republican priorities. Of course, Thomas is far more insulated from calls for resignation than Franken or any other politician is, so even if Republicans want him to leave, there’s no guarantee they’ll get their way. But it will certainly be interesting to see how that one develops.
There is much more news out there to discuss in the comment thread, but this is certainly the most important story of today. It is also an important day in history, Pearl Harbor Day.
So . . . what stories are you following?