Politics & Policy

Al Franken Gives Liberals Another Chance at Virtue

Sen. Al Franken on Capitol Hill in October. (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
They can prove they truly regret defending Bill Clinton.

In the last week, some liberals have been having public second thoughts about their defenses of Bill Clinton. In the wake of the #metoo movement and the avalanche of accusations of sexual harassment and assault being made against prominent figures such as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and now Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the memory of the way liberals disbelieved, dismissed, and often heaped abuse on the women who made the same sort of charges about the 42nd president grates on their consciences. Writers including the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias have admitted they and their allies on the left were wrong to back Clinton.

Though both sought to excuse and rationalize the way Democrats and especially liberal feminists dismissed the accounts of women who had been victimized, the upshot was that if they had to do it over again, they wouldn’t allow partisanship to influence their approach to such accusations. (In fairness, Yglesias himself was in high school at the time, though he seems to want to speak for a generation that was prepared to ignore Clinton’s failings.) Moreover, the way Breitbart and many Alabama conservatives tried to discredit Moore’s growing list of accusers should remind liberals of what not to do if the tables turn once again. That ought to mean that if a Democrat is convincingly accused of harassment, his fellow liberals will issue condemnations and demands for resignation just as they have been expecting Republicans to do regarding Moore.

Now, thanks to Al Franken, they’ve got their chance.

The comedy writer and actor turned Minnesota senator has been a leading critic of President Trump and a darling of the Left. But today it was his turn in the #metoo spotlight as Los Angeles radio host Leann Tweeden told her story of how Franken harassed her during a 2006 USO tour of Afghanistan. She claims he subjected her to abusive behavior, including a forced kiss, and degraded her in a rehearsal. But particularly damning is that he was photographed squeezing her breasts while she slept on a plane. The picture tells a story that Franken can’t deny.

Perhaps if there hadn’t been a picture, Franken’s reaction would have been similar to Moore’s. But instead, his response was a failed attempt at an apology in which he claimed not to remember the incident in which he forcibly kissed Teeden, followed by a more obsequious apology and a stated willingness to submit himself to an ethics investigation. Though he spoke about evolving comedy standards, in neither statement did he dispute anything she said.

All of which puts those writing mea culpas about letting Clinton slide because they liked his politics in a difficult spot. It’s fine to apologize for showing disrespect to Clinton’s victims, but nearly two decades after the fact it’s also meaningless. If Goldberg and Yglesias think Clinton should have been forced to resign rather than retaining the support of his allies, they can prove their sincerity by demanding Franken step down.

Yet even though Franken says women must be believed and confessed that his views about what is funny have changed, the immediate reaction from some avowed liberals on social media was little different than what we’ve been getting from Breitbart readers about Moore. While Yglesias rightly acknowledged that Franken’s first attempt at an apology wouldn’t “cut it,” other Democrats have focused almost exclusively on waiting on the proposed ethics-committee investigation. That seems more like a tactic aimed at forestalling calls for Franken’s resignation than a call for accountability.

Is Tweeden’s account as terrible as the stories of some of Moore’s victims? No. But all these stories have a common thread: men with a sense of entitlement taking advantage of women. Franken’s admission of shame is better than the denial and counterattacks we’ve seen from Moore and his apologists. But he still comes across in Tweeden’s story as just another version of the same slob who thinks he can get away with anything. In this case, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

But Franken’s example doesn’t merely show that sleaze can be a bipartisan failing. It provides those on the left with a chance to prove that their outrage over Moore isn’t mere partisanship.

This is a test that all too many on the right have failed.

This is a test that all too many on the right have failed. Many of those who waxed self-righteous about Clinton’s appalling conduct and expressed sympathy for his victims were not willing to apply the same standard to Moore and his victims. Nor were they interested in applying the same rhetoric about the importance of virtue we heard in the late ’90s when candidate Donald Trump was called to account for the Access Hollywood tape in which he boasted of treating women abusively.

But for liberals such as Franken, who claim to respect women, the standard is particularly high. If predators in the entertainment industry and journalism are being hounded from their jobs, why shouldn’t politicians be as well? If, as Representative Jackie Speier recently claimed, there are two current members of Congress who have engaged in sexual harassment, shouldn’t those names be revealed, and any proven wrongdoers pushed out of their places of honor and responsibility? Perhaps Senate Democrats should treat Franken the way the Senate Republican caucus may treat Moore if he wins the Alabama special election next month and throw him out.

It’s time for liberals to treat Franken and any Democrat who is guilty of sexual harassment the way they expect Republicans to treat bad actors on their side of the aisle. If they don’t, then all those second thoughts about Clinton — who should never again be given the rock-star treatment he’s long gotten from Democratic audiences and the mainstream media — are hypocritical lies.


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