Any and all men who’ve ever engaged in sexual harassment or assault should absolutely be held accountable, and no amount of saintly deeds is enough to give a man a pass. That’s always been a part of the problem: men of power and prestige leveraging that power to use and get what they want from women — an evil of a most insidious nature, and now we’re seeing a great many heroes come forward to share their stories and further upend this unjust social hierarchy. It is far time our system of sexism, misogyny, and the subjugation of women be upended. We’re starting to see that happen at a speed faster than we’ve seen in the past, and I’d like to see it keep going.
That said, I’m admittedly torn on the Franken situation, not in regards to culpability but to the punitive reaction. Clearly, there’s a distinction to be made between Franken’s case and, say, a case like Roy Moore’s or Harvey Weinstein’s, or even Louis C.K.’s for that matter, but is it a distinction without a difference? Should the consequences be the same?
It’s not that I like Al Franken that I would come to his defense, although it’s true Franken seems to be a generally likable guy. I’ve never had a problem, or so I’d like to think, with setting aside my biases when it comes to making a moral judgment. (My philosophy professors taught me better than that.) Rather, my defense of Franken comes from a place of strategic awareness.
Before I get into that argument, I want to reiterate that I strongly believe men should absolutely always be held accountable for sexual assault and harassment. My question is whether, in the realm of politics and holding public office, the differences in various cases should matter.
On the one hand, a message of zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment, assault, or history thereof sends a clear message to men everywhere: it will not be tolerated. Period. In holding such a view, it definitely demonstrates a greater degree of moral consistency and helps to set a precedent that if you engage in any sort of sexual harassment or assault, you are not qualified to hold public office. Such a view implies Senator Franken should probably resign.
However, by not acknowledging the differences in individual cases (again, for example, pointing to the difference between a case such as Franken’s and a case such as Moore’s), we set ourselves up for some pretty painful and uncompromising situations, though maybe such pains are necessary in an ever evolving moral zeitgeist. And maybe are such pains not only necessary but desired in order to demonstrate our moral commitment as a society.
If Senator Franken resigns, as I’ve seen some call for, we (Democrats, liberals, and progressives) lose a stalwart and competent champion in the fight against Trump and Republicans, a fight in which Democrats barely hold any power to stop an extremist Republican agenda, particularly in the Senate.
One could argue strongly we’re only a few senate seats away from Republicans running completely roughshod over the Constitution and scaling back the rights of every minority that has made gains over the past few years, including women, not to mention the ability to take action in the event Mueller’s investigation bears fruit.
If we lose Franken, I assume that means his seat will be open to a special election in Minnesota, unless I’m mistaken (not certain on this). Minnesota tends to vote Democrat, but it’s worrisome to leave such things to chance in the current political landscape when the stakes are so high.
On the other hand, if Democrats allow Senator Franken to go unpunished, it may be Republicans’ golden opportunity to take an example of sexual harassment by a high-profile Democrat and accuse Democrats of being no better than Republicans on this issue, and—with Republicans’ seemingly inconsistent, perverse system of values—build a stronger case for why any criticism of Republicans such as Roy Moore shouldn’t be taken seriously. Such a scenario would therefore diminish the seriousness with which future allegations made against members of either party are taken and do all women a tremendous disservice.
Regardless, news of sexual harassment having been committed by Franken might already be enough to mire him in enough controversy to severely damage his political capital, if that is ultimately how Republicans choose to spin this, and I’m guessing they will. Franken has been one of few elected Democrats (of note) with any credibility on both sides or, indeed, an elected Democrat with enough influence for which progressives can place at least a tiny slither of hope.
He’s been an integral part in drilling Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other administration officials on the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin, as well as strongly taking to task any of Trump’s nominees for appointed positions. But if his effectiveness in this regard is eroded due to scandal, he may become more of a liability for women and Democrats anyway. In this case, it might be better for him to fall on his own sword.
In any case, whether news of Franken’s sexual harassment has a major impact in the game that is US politics, progressives are still left with deciding how to handle situations such as these in the future when the stakes are so very high.