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December 16, 2017

Will Al Franken Pay the Price for Bill Clinton?


The recent revelations about the sexual misconduct of Harvey Weinstein have, for all intents and purposes, served as the catalyst for a litany of women to come forward and tell their stories. Over the last couple of weeks, men from the entertainment industry to the media to both major political parties have been implicated in one scandal after another.

The latest of these scandals involves Minnesota senator Al Franken, who, while on a USO tour in 2006, was accused by Leeann Tweeden of sticking his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a comedy skit. Later on in the tour he posed for a picture in which he mock groped her breasts while she was asleep on a plane. The former is sexual assault; the latter a sick and juvenile stunt. Both acts have triggered an ethics investigation that at its worst could lead to Franken’s expulsion from the Senate and at the very least could seriously damage his career.

As a man, I am sickened by Franken’s actions. No, they do not rise even remotely to the level of the atrocities of Roy Moore or actor Kevin Spacey. Ivanka Trump is right: there IS a special place in hell for people who prey on children and Moore and Spacey are headed there. But Franken is hardly a choir boy here, and his defenders must stop trying to rationalize his conduct. And, while we’re at it, they should also stop “slut-shaming” Tweeden. She is the victim here, not the perpetrator.

It does not matter what she did for a living, what type of clothing she wore or didn’t wear, or how long it took her to come forward. If you’ll recall, Moore’s accusers waited in some instances almost 40 years before breaking their silence. You can’t have it both ways, people. Victims of sexual abuse face a myriad of obstacles when disclosing their accounts, from the shame they feel over what happened to the flack they often face from their peers. The tactics being employed by Moore’s lawyer underscore just how difficult it is and why so many women choose to remain silent. As progressives, we should be championing these women, not humiliating them. I personally don’t give a damn whether you’re a fan of Franken or not, whether you agree with his policies or not. He does not get preferential treatment simply because of his political views or affiliations. He is accountable for his actions whether there is a D next to his name or an R.

And that leads me to a sensitive topic for Dems: Bill Clinton. I voted for the man twice and, on balance, he was a very effective president who did a lot for women’s rights. But there’s no way to dance around this anymore: he was a sexual predator. No, he was not nearly as hideous as the groper in chief currently occupying the Oval Office, but to exempt him from the same accountability that we demand from Trump and Moore is part of the problem.

I give Kirsten Gillibrand a lot of credit for having the courage to speak out. Whether you agree with her or not that Clinton should’ve resigned after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, the point is that Democrats chose politics over principles when it suited them in ’98. While Clinton did get impeached, as his supporters point out, he was impeached for lying about the affair, not having it. The inability of Democrats to do the right thing back then – particularly the feminist movement which went to the mat for him – indirectly set the stage for Trump’s eventual rise to power. When you blur the lines of decency for self-preservation, you deserve what you get.

And that’s why it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Al Franken ends up being a sacrificial lamb here. Nineteen years ago Democrats swept their president’s shortcomings under the carpet. There was always going to be a day of reckoning for that lapse in judgment. With the prospects of Moore getting elected despite the charges against him and the likelihood he will be expelled by his own party from the Senate, Democrats will be hard-pressed to make sure their side of the aisle is as clean as possible. Whether it’s fair or not, Franken will pay the price Bill Clinton didn’t. He will either be forced to resign or he will be expelled. And his colleagues will not lift a finger to help him.

The good news for Dems is that doing the right thing here, unlike back in ’98, won’t cost them anything. The governor of Minnesota is a Democrat and will undoubtedly appoint a Democrat to fill the vacancy until a special election is held. And since a Democrat would be favored in that election, the Party would not lose any seats in the Senate. And even more importantly, Franken’s removal would allow Democrats to run as a zero tolerance party in 2018, a stark contrast to the Party of Trump and Moore.

Don’t think that thought hasn’t crossed Chuck Schumer’s mind once or twice since Tweeden went public. With the recent successes in Virginia and the Philly burbs, Dems have some momentum going into the midterms. The last thing he needs is a distraction that can derail his plans to retake the Senate, or at least keep the GOP from adding to its majority. If jettisoning Franken helps him reach his goal, it’ll be the easiest call of his political career.

To those who would say this is yet another example of false equivalence run amok, I would say two things: One, I agree; two, it’s irrelevant. You don’t tell the cop that pulls you over for speeding that you were only going 15 miles over the limit. When you’re best argument begins and ends with “But he’s not Roy Moore or Harvey Weinstein,” you know you’re swimming up stream. Franken’s biggest crime may have been poor timing, but timing is everything, especially in the age of Trump.

Look, does Al Franken deserve a better fate? Yes. Will he get one? Probably not.

Postscript:

Since this piece was put to bed another woman has come forward charging that Franken groped her. The alleged incident took place during a photo shoot at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. If true, this would be the second incident of sexual misconduct Franken has been involved in, this one while a sitting senator.

While we still don’t have all the details – there’s a chance this claim might not be legit – this much we do know: Franken is a marked man. With the revelation that now Charlie Rose has been accused of sexual misconduct and suspended indefinitely by CBS, we can expect more of these allegations to surface over the next few weeks and months. I suspect that by the time the dust settles, a lot of men are going to fall by the wayside, victims of their own perverted sense of power.

One thing is for sure: there’s no way in hell Bill Clinton would’ve survived this were he president today.

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Peter Fegan

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