Treading Water in a Watershed: What to Do About Al Franken

Since the Harvey Weinstein moment we’ve been having a lot of other moments, while I’ve been hanging back and watching. Now we’re having an Al Franken moment, and the burning question on the Web is whether Franken should resign from the Senate.

First, whether anyone should be disqualified from serving in public office for moral (as opposed to criminal) shortcomings should be left to the voters. I would argue that if that odious Roy Moore is elected to the Senate next month, he should be seated. See Josh Marshall for an argument about not setting precedents based on political expediency.

Regarding Franken — this may be jaded, but it’s how I see it — the United States Congress is mostly a collection of older alpha males.  It’s highly unlikely any of those alpha males are innocent as far as “inappropriate behavior” is concerned. Some of their offenses may be minor, some of their offenses may be in the distant past, and I’m sure some of their offenses are pretty damn hideous and ongoing, and they are still getting away with it. This is how the world is. Singling just one out of the herd for punishment is pretty close to the textbook definition of scapegoating, even if he is guilty as charged.

Kate Harding writes at WaPo:

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.

In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.

Yeah, that’s kind of how it is. We’re being goaded into unilateral disarmament.

Whatever went on between Franken and Leeann Tweeden, he has apologized and she accepted his apology. His former female staffers have defended him. We may yet learn more about what happened that mitigates the accusations somewhat, or not. He’ll probably never hear the end of it.

I’d like to add that boorish objectification of women’s bodies must be the oldest shtick in comedy.

Kate Harding continues,

Then, when (okay, if, but like I said: I’m a realist) another Democratic politician’s sexual misconduct is revealed, we can ask the same of him. Don’t just apologize and drop out of sight. Do penance. Live the values you campaigned on. Be a selfless champion for women’s rights.

Sounds about right. I’d like to see us move beyond “gotcha” politics and instead make a serious commitment to changing our values. That includes our comedy routines.

Paul Waldman wrote,

I’m not arguing that liberal men are any less likely to be sexual harassers than conservative men. It has become more than clear that the abuse and objectification of women happens in every industry, every major institution, every religion, at every socioeconomic level and among people of every political orientation.

But we should all be asking ourselves some very hard questions, not only about the people now in positions of power but about how we’ve each thought about these issues in the past and what we want to change in the future. Democrats are doing that — perhaps imperfectly and arriving at different answers of varying quality, but at least they’re grappling with it. Republicans, by and large, are doing anything but.

You can read the remainder of Waldman’s column for examples.

Erin Gloria Ryan writes at Daily Beast:

Writing with almost creepy prescience at this week, Brian Beutler warned against the coming Breitbart-style weaponization of the “Believe Women” movement. “Unfolding against the backdrop of the post-Weinstein revolution, the Moore scandal exposes the conservative propaganda machine in the ugliest and most discrediting possible fashion,” Beutler writes. “But these cultural changes are all but destined to collide with one another in the opposite direction, in a way that exploits both the beneficence of the ‘believe women’ campaign, and the even-handedness of the mainstream media. It is a collision we as a political culture are not equipped to handle, the consequences of which are almost too awful to contemplate.”

That’s why Weinstein fallout could go up in smoke in a second. Because enough people believe that women are all liars, that one liar will fuck it up for all of us.

This Roy Moore Old Testament-Original Sin-Women Are Liars mindset is the worldview that needs to change in order for women to truly have access to the same opportunities that men have. But its opposite–the notion that women must be believed without any evidence whatsoever–will lead the worst among us to exploit the proof loophole and wreak as much damage as they can before their lies are discovered and skewered. At that point, the loophole irreversibly closes. And if that happens, we’re stuck in Roy Moore’s world, where men are the arbiters of morality and if women aren’t lying, they must have been asking for it.

This concerns me also (and do read Brian Buetler’s post, too). My sense of things is that we’ve reached Peak Watershed here, and it might be a good thing if we moved past #MeToo and the gotcha du jour and into a discussion of how to change our culture. At this point I’m less concerned about punishing people than I am about making changes. That’s why I’d rather have a contrite Franken in the Senate that some guy who hasn’t been caught yet.

See also: “The Unforgiving Minute” by Laurie Penny.

18 thoughts on “Treading Water in a Watershed: What to Do About Al Franken

  1. One other factor to consider: we can be certain that Steve Bannon is right now looking to recruit at least one woman who will come forward during the 2020 presidential election and accuse the Democratic candidate of having groped her at some point in the past where it can be proven that she and he were in the same city at the same time back in the 1980s. We have to think about what kind of standards we need to have in place  when that happens. Some Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham  type would be all to happy to oblige. We can bet on it.  

  2. Great post Maha.  This is why I find myself beyond upset at certain quarters of the Left that want to re-rake Bill Clinton over coals thoroughly and deeply litigated in a way most people never see or experience.  We have already witnessed the right weaponize allegations in ways that I feel we don't acknowledge enough.  Clinton had to have his genitals examined on the basis of salacious accusations that any human being would recognize as garbage now, if not deeply questionable (his genitals were not as the accuser claimed).  He was accused of rape but his accuser denied the incident happened in a friendly deposition to Paula Jones's attorneys, then denied it to federal investigators working for the Independent Counsel.  And, there is of course the problem that some of the tales about Clinton only came to light after rumors of payouts via the Arkansas Project began floating around the state in the 1990s too.  

    Bill Clinton was a dog who cheated on his wife, we know that.  We need to be cautious though about revising history (Vox had a terrible "explainer" story on Juanita Broadrick that ommitted key facts) and we need to be even more mindful of one-upping ourselves out of misplaced sanctimony in the present.  It could backfire if allegations turn out to be overrought, if not lies, while we demand the heads of individuals accused.  The Right certainly won't be shy about saying so, making it more difficult for the culture shift that needs to occur. 

  3. Ed beat me to it.

    "That’s why Weinstein fallout could go up in smoke in a second. Because enough people believe that women are all liars, that one liar will fuck it up for all of us."

    But I disagree with one point he made.

    It won't be a Democrat they'll do their "female false-flag" operation to.

    It'll be a Republican.

    That'll make it more impactful to their base.

    "Oh, that lying b*tch!  She was trying to frame an innocent conservative, God-fearing man, of sexual harassment!  All of them are like that.  But especially the Libtard ones!!!  They don't believe in a God who'll punish them."

    The woman who does that will insist on being paid a huge amount of money, because she will be a pariah in conservative circles for a period of time.

    Then, of course, some boastful GOP "MORAN!" will blow that cover by trying to show how clever their party was.  It FAKED a sexual harassment scandal, and got even MORE control of the local/state/national government.

    Then, the woman who did that can come out of hiding and claim her additional rewards.  She'll be revered for doing what she did, with either a great career in Wingnut Welfare media, or Republican politics.


  4. "Vox had a terrible "explainer" story on Juanita Broadrick that ommitted key facts."

    Please explain.

  5. Well, there are a couple things. First, her story, just like Willey's, was investigated by the FBI.  She only told it after being granted full immunity by Starr, but denied the allegations in a deposition under oath and, prior to that, in a sworn affidavite to Jones's attorneys (which she said was a lie).   She told Starr at the time she didn't feel pressure from the White House or the Clintons after being granted immunity, but later told the media an evolving tale of Hillary confronting her at a Democratic fundraiser.  Moreover, the witnesses to the allegation, like so many related to the Arkansas Project, seemed appear at the time of the project and not prior. Gene Lyons, a local reporter,  has written about some of the challeges with their accounts. 

    Obviously, we will never know the truth of this incident, fully.  It is a he-said she-said affair.  


  6. and it might be a good thing if we moved past #MeToo and the gotcha du jour and into a discussion of how to change our culture. 

    Well for one they can televise the Senate ethics committee hearings so the public gets to see who the moral arbiters are and what questions and understandings they bring to the national dialog.

    Who knows, maybe there'll be a giant among men among them, a pillar of morality who can stand on the shoulders of our forefathers to ask soul searching questions like the great men who have preceded them..You know, profound truth seeking questions like: "Are you a woman scorned?"

    I would guess that among the most painful of penance that will be required of Franken will be having to endure the moralizing taunts coming from Donald Trump.. I mean, WOW, that's gotta really hurt.

  7. TWe are getting jammed up around these revelations of wrongdoing.  Partly because we think we can control the forces of oppression and abuse.  That we can punish precisely and justly, forgive precisely, in a way that will usefully end the abuse of power.  We can't.
    What we can do.  We can bring abuse out in the open when we discover it. We can use voting and economic power to eject people who are abusive. And we can set up signposts for miscreants, which describe a pathway to redemption.
    It's silly to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Franken is of more use to women, now that he needs to redeem himself.  He's a powerful man with the many millions of dollars worth of publicity trained on him.  Encourage him to use it.  Whether he deserves it or not, he should accept his karma, namely that the issue of the abuse of women has landed in his lap.  He should welcome the opportunity.

    Spacey too.  What a powerful story this talented actor could produce. To speak up about how the disenfranchising of gays in this society leaves us without a social order, and how, in a hating culture, every homosexual activity feels lawless.  And how living with the feeling of being an outlaw or pariah leads to a blurring of boundaries which leads to abuse. To talk about young gay people who need guidance and don't get it.  So much he could do.

    Get these talented and resourceful people to perform a kind of community service, and if they do a good enough job, maybe we'll like some of them again.

  8. First, I agree it's a great post on a difficult subject. Far too many pundits only want to consider each incident separately and according to bias rather than as a larger issue of the standards we should apply in the future as a society who won't accept the transgressions previous leaders have displayed – including people like Jefferson, FDR & JFK. Not in the same way, at least. The US social conscience may be evolving on sexual abuse – where we were was neanderthal but what our ethics will become is uncertain. I don't condone predatory conduct, but I don't think we should demand our leaders be angels. (Jimmy Carter will always be one of my favorite people, but nt nescessarily my favorite president.)

    I think if this is a moment when social customs are in flux, women need to step up and make the new rules, with as little control from men as the ladies choose to allow -sice the reverse has been the norm for ages.

  9. I think its great that women (and men) who have been abused and have had to live with the pain of a forced silence of these incidents over the decades are being liberated of sorts by coming forward with what was done to them.  I am sure it is cathartic, and overall its a good thing, for them and for society.  Sexual abuse from positions of power (or at all) should not be tolerated.

    But I wonder if 20 years from now we'll look back on this period and see it in the rear view mirror in a similar way as we now see the incidents of child molestation that occurred in the 80s.  For example:

    "'Girls' creator and outspoken feminist Lena Dunham is being torn apart for defending a writer and producer on her HBO show after he was accused of raping an actress when she was 17."

    "'Jem and the Holograms' star Aurora Perrineau went public Friday with the sordid allegation against writer and producer Murray Miller, The Wrapreported."

    "But Dunham, citing 'insider knowledge' of the situation, called the accusation against her longtime colleague 'one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.'"

    Of course I don’t have any knowledge of what really went on, so far be it fm me to judge either way. But what if, as Dunham says, she does have inside knowledge of what really went on, and what it it is not like Miller’s accuser says? Then Dunham’s detractors are essentially saying that anyone accused of sexual abuse is automatically guilty, just by virtue of accusation.

    Dunham refers to that “3 percent of accusations” that turn out to be false, and its those accusations that will do more harm to holding abusers accountable than just allowing the status quo to continue.

  10. Here's another part of the problem..

    I can see a 16 year old keepin' score, but when you're a supposedly mature adult you would think that the exact figure of your scores wouldn't be something you'd hold foremost in your mind. But who knows?. Maybe instead of the proverbial counting of sheep as a sleep aid, this guy finds it more satisfying to count the women he's bagged. Quantity over quality makes for the foundation of poor relationships.

    He's gotta be a Repug. Even sounds like a good candidate for the Supreme Court. Move over Clarence!

  11. I don't want to beat a dead horse here….But… sometimes the GOP family values hypocrisy has to be highlighted. Every time you read a story about some staunch family values politician who gets caught with his pants down (so to speak) it's not like a box of chocolates where you never know what you're gonna get. Chances are you're gonna get a moralizing family values repuglican.

  12. I saw that, Maha. What surprised me was the fact the the boy's parents didn't go right to the police. Instead they went to Perkins (not the restaurant) expecting him to do something about it. It kinda says something about surrendering the parental responsibilities and moral obligations we have to protect our children to a religious charlatan. That kid's parents are just as morally deranged as Tony Perkins.

  13. I believe the women – well, most of them, most of the time – but I don't believe Hollywood, and I don't believe DC, and I especially do not believe the politics of shame and denial.

    The logic of shame-and-denial is inherently perverse. To it, no-one is innocent, only temporarily undetected; and in it, accusation is proof. It punishes honest confession of misdemeanors with silencing, and it rewards proud denial of felonies with exoneration. It has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with power. Shame and pride are not opposites; actually they are co-conspirators.

    The true opposite of shame is doubt; and yes, of course we should doubt Franken, along with all other Senators. What other prank photos will resurface at the most inconvenient time? And the true opposite of pride is faith; something that the voters of Alabama ought to remember soon.


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