[UPDATE: I wrote and posted this opinion piece on 11/18. As of 11/24, three more women have come forward, claiming Sen. Al Franken groped them during photo ops at various events after he'd been elected to his current office. Franken responded to these allegations by apologizing for making these women "feel badly" while vowing to regain the public trust.]
And, now, Senator Al Franken.
(I’d insert the word “sigh” here, but it doesn’t adequately capture the sound of blood retching in my throat.)
#YouToo, Al? Really?
This is where Democrats, long bearers of the secular high ground (protected elephants, clean air and water, gender equity, civil rights, Nazi trampling, more) must resist the urge to slide into moral relativism.
In the past few days some prominent feminists and students of rape culture are outright excusing the Minnesota lawmaker’s gross mauling (actual and photographic) of a Playboy Playmate because Republicans don’t play fair! And ousting him will hurt more women in the long run! Why should WE do what THEY refuse to do? Or so the foot-stomping calculation goes. This argument sounds rather like a strategic war game, with far-removed generals in Washington knowingly giving up a few grunt soldiers on the bloody front to make winning inroads into enemy territory. A tactic that is not only cynical but ice cold to the female victim who seethed in silence for more than decade, and who chose to share her story during a profound social moment/movement when she actually thought she might be heard, and believed.
So much for girl power and rallying behind the truth-tellers. Lena Dunham wrote not long ago about how women might lie about what they ate for lunch, but would never, ever lie about rape—unless, of course, when it's one of her groovy male friends being accused. Then they do lie, she now backpedals, granting herself and her pal special exemption. [UPDATE: Dunham, facing a furious and near instantaneous backlash from women, backpedaled her backpedal and apologized.]
And what of environmental activist, Hollywood gal-about-town Laurie David, who just begged this offensive question on Twitter:
Here’s where I must ask Ms. David: Are you seriously scolding women for their REactions to men sticking their tongues down our throats uninvited, rather than men’s despicable ACTIONS for doing so? Demanding we women properly, prophylactically prepare to police guys’ bad behavior in the name of a liberal lawmaker whose clay feet have suddenly, painstakingly been revealed?
No. Just: no.
I have long admired Al Franken, both for his droll wit and fierce championing of Democratic causes, so I deeply understand the urge to rise to his defense. But the senator chose to talk the talk, publicly and with conviction. Now we must demand he walk the walk, disheartening as it is.
How else can we also demand justice for the teenaged victims of Roy Moore? And accountability from our lecherous president, who at last count has either 12 or 13 (depending on which cable news network you follow) women openly accusing him of groping, nonconsensual kissing, even sexual assault, and who has bragged on tape about grabbing women by their pussies? I’m not including in this list the anonymous shadow victim who reportedly pulled her legal case in the days running up to the 2016 election against Donald Trump, claiming the real estate mogul tied her to a bed and raped her in 1994 when she was a 13-year-old aspiring model attending a party at the home of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, now a registered sex offender. After receiving death threats and fearing for her life she retreated once again into the shadows, or so her lawyer Lisa Bloom says.
Bill Maher—another hero of mine for his defense of free speech and his skewering of hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle— argues we should not lump Franken in the same category as these other, egregious Republican offenders. Because what’s a little grope or forced French kiss of a grown woman compared to sexually touching a 14-year-old girl, am I right? (He seems to suggest.) While I might agree there IS a spectrum of assault, and levels of both penalty and forgiveness to be debated in some fields, we’re talking about the lauded U.S. Senate here. Yes, Franken admitted his transgression, begged forgiveness and an internal ethics probe, too, which is the absolute opposite response of Moore, et. al., who not only continue to deny but also defy with their refusal to go away.
Yet, standards are standards. Applying the same very low bar we set for kindergartners—keep your body parts (hands, mouth) off your neighbor—to 100 senators of both genders seems reasonable. Surely we can find 100 Americans to serve who have not thus transgressed as wholly formed adults?
Bottom line: We can’t scream about partisan GOP circling of the wagons, sneering down at so-called simple Alabamians who protect their hero, even as we do the very same thing. I’m all for ditching knives and bringing guns to a gun fight, but Democrats must consider the long game here. And the long game, like the arc of justice, bends toward truth and doing what’s unassailably right. And what’s right is not turning a blind eye to wrongdoing just because we like Franken, and his specific brand of politics.
"Applying the same very low bar we set
for kindergartners—keep your hands, mouth, and genitals off your neighbor—to 100 U.S. senators of both genders seems reasonable. Surely we can find
100 Americans to serve who have not thus
transgressed as wholly formed adults?"
We’ve already made this mistake once, with Bill Clinton. Ignoring the fallout of that man’s misdeeds—not only perjury under oath (impeached but pardoned) and the sullying of the highest office of the land, but the power imbalance of a president getting involved with a 22-year-old intern, a forbidden work relationship that would see any other Fortune 500 CEO fired, not to mention the many women Trump trotted out during last year’s debates to remind us all of Bill’s long list of female accusers who were then viciously sullied, too, and often by Democrats—while pretending it would not sink Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2016. The country remembers. Many folks—Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike—were deeply offended not only by this gross display but by how Hillary stood by her man, Tammy Wynette grinning in the background, whilst throwing a few of Bill’s female accusers under the bus as she did so. Her “vast, right-wing conspiracy” theory refused to examine the serious, perhaps even criminal failings of her husband, and her own complicity in covering up his seemingly uncontrollable appetites. As did Gloria Steinem and a cadre of vocal feminists at the time, who together went on record explaining why Bill should be forgiven, even as they trashed Monica Lewinsky for being just another frumpy, frivolous little tart.
Democrats, we can’t demand Republicans clean up their side of the fence if we refuse to look at the crap in our own backyards. It’s that simple.
You want to block Roy Moore’ senate bid? Trot out the Access Hollywood tape as irrefutable evidence the most powerful man in the world must be removed from office? Then don’t be a bunch of hypocrites. Yell louder. Demand justice. Stand for what’s right. Stand for women. And don’t excuse an assault simply because the perpetrator plays on your—our!—team, and the accuser is into target practice and has been known to pose in the nude on occasion.
I love you, Al Franken. I do! But you gotta’ go. And if you step down we can better make the case against the other men who abuse women, and their positions of power, too.