Democrats are finally being forced to confront their longstanding hypocrisy on sexual assault. Or at least, that was the hope following the emergence of a photograph of Senator Al Franken appearing to grope Leeann Tweeden, who was traveling with him on a USO tour, as well as her story of how he forcibly kissed her during auditions.
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” Tweeden wrote in an online post. “You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed.”
The picture, disgustingly, was included on a commemorative CD of the USO tour and sent to participants by the trip photographer. It wasn’t enough to dehumanize a woman in the moment, someone felt a need to humiliate her in perpetuity.
Much to their credit, a bevy of Democrats and liberal writers argued that Sen. Franken should step down. As Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times her initial instinct was that he deserves another chance, but fought it back because “if that happens, the current movement toward unprecedented accountability for sexual harassers will probably start to peter out.”
“I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat. The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you,” Goldberg concluded.
Or at least, we thought she concluded.
As it turns out, after a second woman came forward accusing Franken of inappropriately grabbing her butt during a photo opportunity at the Minnesota State Fair, Goldberg began to have second thoughts.
She began to wonder whether Franken should stick around because her instinct is “to defend men I like,” and because Franken has made “valuable political and cultural contributions.” Perhaps worst of all, she felt comforted that “with a Democratic governor in Minnesota, the party would remain in control of Franken’s seat.”
Sadly, the prioritization of political ends over personal accountability and putting an end to the normalization of sexual assault is apparently not an uncommon view. Kate Harding, a feminist and an author of a book on rape culture, argues in the Washington Post:
It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.
This is beginning to sound a lot like Democrats’ response to Bill Clinton’s scandalous behavior. Despite being sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones and Monica Lewinski, attempting to buy off mistresses with White House favors, and allegedly raping Juanita Broaddrick, Democrats nevertheless attempted to pass Republicans’ response off as a partisan witch hunt. It’s a sordid mess, one of an all-powerful figure irresponsibly using his influence to sexually intimidate women, and yet it was a mess that Democrats and the media attempted to sweep under the rug. They argued it was nothing more than a personal issue that deserved to be separated from his public position.
It was a disastrous argument then. And it’s just as bad now. And yet, even in a piece written by Matthew Yglesias arguing that Clinton should have resigned, he includes a fairly shocking caveat:
But now that Hillary is out of electoral politics and has emerged as a bigger draw and more potent political force than her husband, there’s no excuse for Democrats not to look back on these events with more objectivity. Fifty-something leaders of organizations shouldn’t be carrying on affairs with interns who work for them regardless of whether the affair is in some sense consensual. (emphasis added)
Bill Clinton’s behavior should not have been tolerated even if it would have cost them Hillary Clinton as a Senate candidate and eventual presidential nominee. Similarly, Al Franken’s behavior (or any officeholder’s behavior) should not be overlooked simply because it may create political issue. Society’s ability to uphold decency cannot rest on the partisan affiliation of the person responsible for appointing the successor of a sexual predator. Politics ain’t beanbag, but that doesn’t mean it can’t maintain a moral baseline.