Saturday, December 9, 2017

Franken Sense

He - Al Franken - just resigned from the Senate over charges of inappropriate behavior towards women.  
The junior Democratic senator from Minnesota was forced to step down after most of his female Democratic Senate colleagues called for his resignation.  His exit has divided the Democratic Party not over sexual misconduct itself but how to deal with it.  Many progressives are angry that a U.S. Senator with such a strong progressive record, particularly on women's issues, could be forced out for a few relatively harmless incidents of groping that had yet to go through the Senate Ethics Committee - many of which Franken has denied - when  there is clear evidence of far greater indiscretions against Donald Trump and Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore despite their own denials.  To them, this shows that Democratic lawmakers are unwilling to stand by their own colleagues when they are facing issues of sexual misconduct and let them fall because of Republican charges of double standards while the GOP brazenly stands by fellow Republicans who have done worse and are allowed to get away with it.  Like the Republicans say in regard to Moore,  these Democrats say that Franken's fate should be left up to the voters.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who was up front in getting Franken to quit, doesn't think so.  She says that there should be no distinction between groping and assault and that there should be zero tolerance for all forms of sexual impropriety, even an unwanted peck on the cheek.  She hopes that, by purging Democratic ranks of sex offenders of all sorts, Democrats will be able to claim a moral high ground and show that they will stand against any and all such behavior to shame the Republicans.
The pressure on Franken to resign couldn't have come at a more inconvenient time for congressional Democrats; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi stood by Michigan congressman John Conyers when he was found to have paid out a claim involving a sexual-harassment charge to avoid litigation, only to retreat from her support and urge his resignation once more charges arose.  Pelosi made herself look both insensitive to the women involved and noncommittal in her support of Conyers as a result, satisfying no one with her flip-flopping.  But by attempting to take the moral high ground and stay there once and for all, the Democrats don't appear to realize what a risk they're taking. Because the moral high ground doesn't matter to Republicans, who have won elections by going low and hitting below the belt.  And so far, the Democrats' high-ground game hasn't worked out as they might have liked.  Moore and Trump are shameless to the point that they now have each other's backs, even after Trump unsuccessfully supported Luther Strange in the Republican primary for Alabama's Senate seat.
Franken himself made a resignation speech that was so eerily reminiscent of Gary Hart's bitter presidential-campaign withdrawal speech of May 1987 that I half-expected Hart to write him a commendatory letter for it.  Franken took to the Senate floor defending himself against charges of impropriety with a defiant tone that gave every indication that he was prepared to fight it out, only to bow to peer pressure and step down.  He did so with the same contempt toward the Republicans for supporting Trump and Moore that Hart had displayed toward the press, inevitably earning criticism for his attitude - except that Franken has an actual case against the Republicans.  One could argue that he has a case against Gillibrand for forcing him out for purely political reasons, given that she hopes to use women's issues in a possible candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  "Gillibrand's moves against leading figures in her own party," observed CNN's Eric Bradner, "have positioned her to turn her focus to Republicans and make an aggressive case against Trump."    
So what do the Democrats do now?  My advice to them - though I know they'll never listen, since they wouldn't listen when I told them to nominate Martin O'Malley for President - would be to pivot their focus to taxes, health care, Net neutrality, and other pressing issues even as they continue to call the Republicans on the sexual harassment issue.  Because the Republicans are in an even more precarious situation. If Democrat Doug Jones wins Tuesday's U.S. Senate special election in Alabama, the Democrats gain one Senate seat on top of the two Senate seats they picked up in 2016, and in a state in the Deep South at that.  If Roy Moore wins, the GOP becomes the party of sexual predators, which will stay on the back of the voters' minds going into the 2018 midterms.  And the Democrats' high-ground approach to sexual misconduct in their battles with the GOP may have already begun to bear fruit, albeit low-hanging fruit; Representative Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona has resigned over charges that he tried to persuade a female staffer to serve as a surrogate mother when he and his wife wanted a child, and another Republican, Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, is under a House ethics investigation for having used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim.  A black congresswoman has called on him to resign - Mia Love, the only black female member of the GOP House caucus, whom you already know about from a previous post.
Somewhere, he - Al Franken - is smiling.
And with allies like Gillibrand, who needs adversaries?  O'Malley in 2020.   

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