Following Al Franken’s emotional announcement on Thursday that he would resign in the coming weeks, we are all left to contemplate the aftermath and the implications going forward. Does it really seem fair that Franken resigned even before any ethics committee investigation? Franken, one of our most effective, eloquent, and insightful champions for justice for American citizens in the U.S. Senate?
“I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a Senator –nothing– that has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the ethics committee would agree,” said Franken in his resignation speech.
The incredible momentum triggered by the Harvey Weinstein story created a thunderous wave that swept up the Al Franken story and spit it out from its churning vortex. As woman after woman (6 in all) stepped up to accuse the Senator, the Democratic party’s reaction grew from shock and confusion to a united call for his resignation. Ultimately, 35 Democrats demanded that Franken step down. With humility but not so much apology, Franken resigned. He denied some of the allegations but said, “This decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota. It’s become clear that I can’t both pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective Senator for them.”
The people of Minnesota agreed with Franken’s assessment. Senator Klobuchar, Governor Mark Dayton, Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Representatives Betty McCollum, Collin Peterson, and Tim Walz all made statements that acknowledged Franken’s exemplary service while agreeing that the choice to resign was the right thing to do. It has to be noted, however, that the Governor tasked with replacing Franken is a Democrat. Would the rush to take action in Franken’s case have been the same if the state had a Republican Governor?
Senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, “As he and I discussed yesterday, this is the right decision.”
“Sen. Franken’s decision to resign shows a strength of character that other elected officials haven’t,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Though the issue of sexual misconduct is pervasive at every level in America, the Democrats thought they should rush to claim the moral high ground, while Republicans confirm they have no problem stooping to the gutter level to hold on to power. Even today, Trump heads to Pensacola, Florida for a rally to boost the campaign for an accused child molester, Roy Moore. Where is the justice in that? The clear answer: There is none to be found when you shift your gaze to the Republican party. They will do almost anything to hang on to one vote, as unethical and, well, deplorable as that is. They will exploit any chance to gain one vote against the Democrats.
Lawrence O’Donnell examined the story about Franken, noting first that “politics isn’t fair.” You can say that again.
For generations, politicians faced no scrutiny at all into sexual misconduct, until 1988, when a Democratic presidential candidate, Gary Hart dropped out of the race over allegations of an extramarital affair. Senators had been getting away with misconduct all along, but “what happens to one is not necessarily what happens to another,” said O’Donnell.
In a case decades ago in the early 1990s involving Senator Bob Packwood, it took a three year long Senate ethics committee investigation before he would be compelled to resign.
Today, post-Weinstein, and after a “multi-decade bumpy ride of inconsistent reactions,” polls show Americans are feeling differently about sexual misconduct, and people of both parties aren’t satisfied with how their party handles the issue. The Democrats have arrived at a policy of zero tolerance, but for the Republicans, it’s an abysmally different story as far as Republican representatives go.
“Democrats are no longer in the business of minimizing such accusations, or criticizing the accusers, as many Democrats did in the 1990s,” said O’Donnell.
He noted the stark contrast to a short time ago.
“Of the 35 Senators who called on Al Franken to resign today, at least 9 of them defended Bill Clinton in the 1990s, even when it was proven he had sex with a white house intern and committed perjury,” noted O’Donnell.
Even while claiming the high ground in Franken’s case, Democrats are called out for hypocrisy for supporting Democratic Senator, Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Menendez faced serious allegations, indicted two and a half years ago on charges of bribery and public corruption. As soon as the judge declared a mistrial, key Democrats endorsed him for re-election in 2018. This, only hours after they jumped on Franken to immediately resign.
The fact that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, an unpopular Republican, would be charged with replacing a Senator in New Jersey were Menendez to resign vs. Minnesota, where there is a Democratic Governor, Mark Dayton, doesn’t go unnoticed.
The Democrats judged Senator Franken swiftly and politically – hoping to prove their righteous disgust for all sexually inappropriate and threatening behavior. Sadly, moral indignation could lead to the long-term result of reinforcing the power of Republicans, even if the risk is slightly lower in a state with a Democratic Governor. After a year of Trump, we know without a doubt that Republicans’ complicity with Trump and Roy Moore work against equality for minorities and women. We can’t afford to let them make things even worse.
The moral high ground has a price, especially when the opposition has no problem at abandoning principles, ethics, or morality to retain and gain power. We want to play fair. They want to throw out the rules and will do anything to win. It isn’t fair, and really, it endangers democracy when it becomes this disparate.
The Franken story will set a precedent that will affect the balance of power for the foreseeable future. Let’s all hope that the power shifts to empower women, but it may not unless the momentum for women’s equality drives people from all walks of life to the polls in the coming years.
In the long-term, allowing Republicans to gain more power will only prove disastrous in the fight for equality.
See Lawrence O’Donnell discuss the Franken case in the video below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube