With quavering voice and a tinge of stubborn denial, Sen. Al Franken announced that he would resign from office.
The Minnesota Democrat’s remarks on Thursday marked the culmination of exactly three weeks during which eight women – half of them anonymous – alleged sexual misconduct by the former “Saturday Night Live” star. By the seventh allegation, 33 of his Democratic colleagues, including 13 female senators, plus Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had urged him to step down. Franken doubtless felt he had no choice.
While men and women may have found his alleged behavior unbecoming a U.S. senator, it is transparently obvious that Democrats needed Franken to leave as a political matter. Even as other officials similarly charged will face investigation by an ethics committee rather than necessarily forfeit their jobs, Franken clearly was a sacrificial symbol for the party that stands, when convenient, for women.
After the seventh strike, but not the fifth or sixth, it became clear that Franken’s job was to fall on his sword so that Democrats could seize the high ground surrendered by Republicans when they turned their support to Alabama’s Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.
Franken’s alleged actions, including one that was captured on film, were certainly objectionable. But they were nowhere near as repugnant as the charges leveled at Moore and other men of prominence. These include Donald Trump, who, as Franken noted with irony, had bragged on a recording about his having forcibly kissed and grabbed women.
Franken, himself, is alleged to have kissed women without their permission and let his hand wander during photo ops. Anyone who follows the news has seen the photo of him during a USO tour in which he apes at the camera while preparing to grab one of his accuser’s breasts while she’s sleeping. Whether he actually did grab her isn’t clear, but the image was enough to remind people that Franken’s silly prankster days aren’t so far in his past. One can be a senator or a clown, but you can’t be both – for long.
Moore, far from being a comedian, is known for his affection for the Ten Commandments. Clearly, there should have been an amendment to the commandment that thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife: or his little girl, either. The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is alleged to have fondled or otherwise behaved in sexual ways with teenaged girls when he was an adult in his 30s.
If these charges are true – and Moore denies them – then Franken’s sins, by comparison, were on a par with yanking ponytails. Which is a metaphor and not an excuse.
But clearly, the accusations against Franken and Moore are in no way similar. Patting a grown woman’s tush during a photo op may be crude, rude and inexcusable, but this act alone probably hasn’t caused anyone lasting harm. What a jerk! she might have said and walked away. A teenager being seduced by an older man of some repute, however, is a victim, who, indeed, may suffer emotional or psychological harm.
In all other ways, Franken did everything right in the wake of the accusations. Though he denies some of the claims, he has apologized for others. The sleeping woman publicly accepted his apology. Franken also had sworn to cooperate with ethics investigators and to work toward changing the culture that has kept women abused and silent.
But none of this was enough in the current climate. Moreover, Democrats couldn’t very well let Franken stay when Rep. John Conyers, the civil rights icon, was shown the door.
If Franken was set ablaze on the pyre of political expediency, Republicans busied themselves constructing monuments to denial and political self-mockery. No tortures of conscience for those who found Moore morally reprehensible but support him, anyway.
Meanwhile, at least one Republican member of Congress accused of misconduct has been granted due process through an ethics investigation: Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, who spent taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit. Another Republican, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who admitted to discussing surrogacy with two former staffers, resigned Friday.
In the game of righteous indignation, it would seem that Democrats are leading. Many of them may rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican, but Republicans would seemingly rather vote for an accused child molester than let a Democrat enter the Senate chamber.
Come Tuesday, we’ll see where Alabama voters stand. Chances are better than good he’ll win. But Bible Belters know – and Roy Moore would tell you – that the Lord works in mysterious ways.
When an alleged child molester becomes a U.S. senator, beware the boll weevil.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.
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