On Thursday, Al Franken announced plans to resign from his Senate seat. The process for replacing him will depend on when exactly he chooses to resign – here’s a summary of scenarios.
In almost any event, though, the Republicans and especially Donald Trump just got stronger. The actions of Donald Trump and Roy Moore are almost certainly more reprehensible than anything Al Franken ever dreamed of, and with the additional loss of John Conyers this week the left is reeling from self-inflicted wounds caused by an irrational desire to appear cleaner than clean, holier than holy.
Arguably this round of hysteria started with Bill Cosby, who drugged and raped multiple women during the height of his fame. Very few have argued that he doesn’t deserve jail time, although the statute of limitations has run out on all but one woman who was underage at the time (for which there is no statute of limitations). The backlash to Trump’s obvious chauvinism has resulted in a swell of #metoo declarations of harassment, most of which are hair-raising – actresses invited to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room only to find him naked upon arrival (a questionable move for even a good-looking guy), the infamous door-locking button under Matt Lauer’s desk (although apparently, this wasn’t an uncommon executive perk).
But along the way, the wave of accusations has swept up some good men. Good men who, perhaps induced by alcohol, perhaps hypnotized by their own power, acted in a way that at another time would have just been called “creepy” or “weird”. Louis CK liked to masturbate in front of women. He talked about it in his act, he asked for permission from women before proceeding. Not everyone’s cup of tea but just seems like a giant jump from Cosby or Weinstein. Yes, of course, Louis CK was more famous than most of the women he invited to watch – but I struggle to think of female comics who were more famous than he was at that time. And as he admitted, he was putting them in a “predicament” – but in the most famous case, they were two adult women who willingly went to his hotel room late at night and could have left at any time. I think it’s fair to say: if you’re not open to a sexual experience with a man, don’t go to his hotel room late at night. The fact that Louis CK apologized for his boorish behaviour should have been seen as a positive thing – a man struggling with an internal demon, harmless as it might be. Remember David Letterman had a whole bedroom next to his office, and with a simple mea culpa he went on to finish out a gloriously successful career.
As a younger man, Al Franken liked to kiss women who didn’t want to be kissed and grab butts and breasts that he had no business grabbing. For sure someone should have disabused him of this behaviour – reprimanded him, slapped him, even filed a complaint.
But instead, the brilliant right-wing machine whipped up an effective frenzy. On November 16th, Leann Tweeden, a conservative radio host and Fox News commentator, tweeted a photo from 11 years ago in which then-comedian Al Franken posed pretending to grab her breasts while she slept. Tweeden, a former Playboy model and Hooters girl whose USO act with Franken typically included a level of ribaldry and sexual innuendo, was apparently genuinely pissed off about the photo at the time (as well as a forced kiss during the same tour). But according to Tom Arnold, “her partner at KABC John Phillips is a Roger Stone pal & they coached her for weeks to bring Al Franken down.” No one’s saying that her accusations are untrue, or those other women who claim that Al Franken kissed or groped them are lying. But beginning with that photo – it’s all been massively overblown, and the resulting damage to the left may be a huge blow to women’s rights.
The lesson for politicians has been simple: just deny it. Trump, of course, leads in this – now even claiming that his “grab them by the pussy” recording with Billy Bush was a fake (which was news to Billy Bush, who was fired for… well I guess for not expressing sufficient outrage at the time during a private conversation in an empty bus).
We used to judge our leaders by their public actions – laws passed, treaties signed, economic progress. And for sure too many leaders got away with too much for too long – slavery, rape, even murder.
Powerful people aren’t put in positions of power overnight. It takes an oversized personality and giant ego, someone willing to take risks and banish self-doubt. It should come as no surprise that those who are able to rise to the top have had episodes of sharp elbows, sharper tongues, and colleagues and associates who were hurt by their behaviour. I know of no major figure in business or politics who is universally admired and adored, whose actions are uniformly above reproach.
On the left and on the right, politicians and leaders make mistakes. The difference appears to be that on the left, your erstwhile friends dig a grave at the first Tweet.
And that’s a step backwards for all of us.