Columnist sees danger if Franken remains in Senate

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg has given voice to the conflict that supporters of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken may have in the wake of Thursday’s bombshell.

She likes what Franken has stood for as a U.S. senator — “He was behind one measure that made it easier for people who are sexually victimized while working for defense contractors to find justice and another ensuring that survivors don’t have to pay for their own rape kits” — and she says with more and more men getting swept up in their past, there’s the question of whether and how there is an avenue for redemption.

But she thinks Franken should resign.

So my first instinct is to say that Franken deserves a chance to go through an ethics investigation but remain in the Senate, where he should redouble his efforts on behalf of abuse and harassment victims. But if that happens, the current movement toward unprecedented accountability for sexual harassers will probably start to peter out.

Republicans, never particularly eager to hold their own to account, will use Franken to deflect from more egregious abuse on their own side, like what Trump and Roy Moore are accused of.

Women with stories about other members of Congress might hesitate to come forward. That horrifying photo of Franken will confront feminists every time they decry Trump’s boasts of grabbing women by the genitals.

Democrats will have to worry about whether more damaging information will come out, and given the way scandals like this tend to unfold, it probably will.

It’s not worth it. The question isn’t about what’s fair to Franken, but what’s fair to the rest of us. 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.

That, of course, does not address the issue of redemption. But she suggests we are not at the time for redemption yet.

Goldberg’s point mirrors that made by another columnist — the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg.

But a lot of the time, these cases create a sort of tunnel vision. The idea that Roy Moore’s supporters need to reconcile themselves even to the allegations that he abused a 14-year-old girl and harassed and assaulted other young girls and women on the grounds that he’s the only person who can take their theological vision of the world to Congress simply isn’t true.

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get trapped by this false logic, not least because it prevents us from pushing other men to step up to the plate. Saying that Weinstein is the only person who could push roles for Meryl Streep or Judi Dench lets the rest of Hollywood off the hook for being stupid enough to waste the talents of a whole cohort of older actresses.

Suggesting that only C.K. could tell the truth about misogyny is just an excuse for letting the rest of comedy stay mired in the piggish norms of an earlier era.

And if we were really in a situation where Franken was the only male senator willing to stand up for rape victims, then we would be in even deeper trouble than we are now.

Related: Al Franken championed a Minnesota rape survivor’s bill. Now she wants a new sponsor (Washington Post)

Al Franken, Disappointment (New Yorker)

I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign. (Washington Post)

  • crystals

    I agree with Goldberg & Rosenberg wholeheartedly. Thank you for sharing and helping me find some voices that are saying what I’m feeling.

    • Rob

      Yes. Franken needs to go.

  • Lindsey

    I have a hard time with this perspective. I have a hard time treating harassment the same as rape. Weinstein is horrid and did horrid acts. Moore is a pedophile.

    But where do we draw the line, where do we say, yes, that is bad, but it is an opportunity to educate, not to blacklist?

    • jon

      There is a remarkable amount of equivalencies being drawn…

      It’d be nice, if we could objectively look at these situations and come to conclusions with out the basis of politics involved.

      Unfortunately, we don’t.

      But an ironic twist of Franken being pushed out of the Senate with just one accusation, and no investigation, would be confirmation of the oft repeated claim the PC culture means an accusation is the same as guilt…

      Something the right has opposed, regardless of reality of if it’s a thing or not… So watching them cheer it on would be… More of the same hypocrisy we are all used to be now…

  • Gary F

    I say we let him stay on. Then we will be able to do the “Franken hands” signal every time we say his name.

    • The jokes about groping are no less offensive than Franken’s. Move along. This really isn’t an issue for punch lines although I recognize — as I wrote weeks ago — that the tendency of political zealots on both sides will certainly be to capitalize for political purposes. By any means necessary, and all that.

      But it betrays an insincerity toward the complaints that women — women on both sides of the political spectrum — are trying make.

      One step men can take to create a better environment — besides listening to women, of course — is stop treating this issue as another chance to make a punch line and give it the seriousness it deserves.

      • Christin Crabtree

        Thank you.

  • Jay Sieling

    Still struggling with this. It would particularly sting if Franken is forced to leave just as Moore is elected. The Times column makes a cogent point and takes the long view into consideration (down ballot impacts, fundraising, etc.). I’m wondering if we are about to see the floodgates open on the Hill and begin to enter into an age of empowerment for women. I suspect that empowerment cannot be fully accomplished if Franken stays and becomes the distraction and the “what-about-ism” rally cry. But it certainly can’t happen if Moore prevails in the election in Alabama, and current POTUS remains.

  • “Suggesting that only C.K. could tell the truth about misogyny is just an excuse for letting the rest of comedy stay mired in the piggish norms of an earlier era.” The norms of an earlier era? That strikes me as weakening the argument, and perhaps – given that so many people today think it is not a big deal to elect a president who clearly adheres to such “norms” – the “era” might still be here and now.

    I’m a retired guy who grew up in the mid-twentieth century, and somehow I knew enough to mind the personal space of others all through my life. My friends did, too. While I don’t think the majority of men are piggish, I do think that a significant minority are or have been at some point, which is why (not surprisingly) there are so many victims.

    • She’s referring to misogyny in comedy specifically. She makes that point earlier in the column.

  • Postal Customer

    “Republicans . . . will use Franken to deflect from more egregious abuse on their own side”

    I got news for you. They’ll do that with or without Franken in the senate.

  • Christin Crabtree

    I appreciate the dialogue here. Typically I tend to think cut and dry answers to these type of issues are simplistic, and at their core function as a way to minimize the complexity and depth of patriarchy and rape culture. But if I had to summarize how I feel into two words, they would be: No Passes.
    We know that patriarchy is socialized into our cultural fabric; it is systemic, codified, and institutionalized. It is not affiliated with a political party, a medium of art, nor a genre of music. We are all impacted simply by virtue of being a human in society. These events do not exist in a vacuum; they are pieces of a culture that devalues femininity as weakness and dehumanizes women/femme identifying people as unworthy of basic human decency. It is my belief that misogyny and toxic masculinity is harmful to all humans regardless of gender. In order to address this and shift the culture, we MUST ask hard questions, perhaps feel uncomfortable, and shift the ways in which we respond.
    Why on earth would I think myself less worthy of agency, respect, and safety than my male identifying counterparts? In what other instance BESIDES a case of harm against women would it be normal or acceptable to say, “well he objectified me & devalued me, but only a little bit.” Women are socialized to rationalize and accept this unacceptable treatment as a means of survival. It is exhausting.

  • Lois Gaetz

    When the perpetrator is “sorry” and apologizes 11 years after the incident, it remains too late. At what point did you “know it was wrong” and why did it take until you were outed to admit that? Perhaps Al Franken is different from Roy Moore but if we begin to measure that difference whose yardstick do we use?

  • AgSciGuy

    Where is all the anger at Bill Clinton for abusing women???

  • gus

    Franken immediately took responsibility for what he did. I look at the photo and see bad juvenile behavior in a middle-aged man. The woman was wearing a flak vest and this was not a grope for sexual pleasure but posing for a stupid photo. The kissing part is more troubling but could be misinterpreted. I don’t think he should resign.

    • JamieHX

      I like a lot of what you say, Gus. But I would like to add to the “…posing for a stupid photo…” part to read: “posing in a stupid, sexist, boorish act for a photo…” It’s like a lot of Franken’s comedy, a lot of which I haven’t cared for. But he’s been a decent senator.

    • Rob

      He took responsibility? Not hardly. He was called out on his pig behavior and only owned up to it after the fact. Taking responsibility would have involved ‘fessing up to it a long time ago.

      The fact that she had a flak jacket on is irrelevant. The photo shows him miming the act of groping a sleeping woman. In case you weren’t aware, such behavior is way more about power and demeaning women than it is about sex. And
      Franken was in his 50s at the time the photo was taken – way more than old enough to know better.

  • Christopher

    It would be wise for the state and national electorate to henceforth disqualify any entertainer running for high office. I’m not joking.
    Trump himself openly admitted that the entertainment industry, of which he is a product, is rife with harassers (almost all men, I would think) who feel that they are either invulnerable to consequences or that a certain degree of licentiousness is simply the mode of the industry and no big deal.
    Which is not to say that other industries don’t have these problems, but I think we’re just now seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the rot in this one.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I wonder if Franken will resign after a Senate Ethics investigation, regardless of the outcome. I take Franken at his word that his current self is appalled by what his former self did. But I also see Franken as an easy target for some of the Republicans in the Senate. If they agree that these actions that happened before he was a senator are worthy of Ethics committee investigation then it sets a precedent for the Senate to investigate Judge Moore if he is elected next month.