Keillor, sexual harassment and the things Democrats don’t understand

Garrison Keillor’s announcement today that he’s been “fired” by American Public Media isn’t as surprising as it might have been, had he not penned a particularly virulent Washington Post op-ed today in reponse to sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Al Franken.

Garrison Keillor, shown during an interview with the Associated Press in 2015. AP Photo/Jim Mone.

The rambling column presented a case for excusing sexual misconduct on the basis that there are worse forms of it.

The greatest absurdity of our time is You Know Whom, which goes without saying but I will anyway. What his election showed is that a considerable number of people, in order to demonstrate their frustration with the world as it is, are willing to drive their car, with their children in the back seat, over a cliff, smash the radiator, bust an axle and walk away feeling good about themselves.

No other president in modern times has been held in contempt by a preponderance of people from the moment he said, “So help me, God.” The playboy blather, the smirk of privilege, the stunning contempt for factual truth — how can the country come together when the president has nothing in common with 98 percent of the rest of us?

And then there is Sen. Al Franken. He did USO tours overseas when he was in the comedy biz. He did it from deep in his heart, out of patriotism, and the show he did was broad comedy of a sort that goes back to the Middle Ages. Shakespeare used those jokes now and then, and so did Bob Hope and Joey Heatherton when they entertained the troops.

If you thought that Al stood outdoors at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and told stories about small-town life in the Midwest, you were wrong. On the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled Miss Tweeden and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken. Eleven years later, a talk show host in LA, she goes public, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity, and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding.

Franken should change his name to Newman and put the USO debacle behind him and then we’ll change frankincense to Febreze. Remove the slaveholder Washington from our maps, replacing him with Wampanoag, and replace Jefferson, who slept with Sally Hemings — consensual? I doubt it — with Powhatan, and what about the FDR Drive in New York, named for a man who was unfaithful to his wife? Let’s call it RFD and let it go at that.

Tone deaf, much?

Keillor’s column had the faint aroma of someone who knew what was coming. The APM Board of Trustees authorized the coup de grâce several weeks ago, before the column was written.

“I think the country is in the grip of a mania —- the whole Franken business is an absurdity —-and I wish someone [would] resist it, but I expect MPR to look out for itself, and meanwhile I feel awfully lucky to have hung on for so long,” he said in an email to MPR’s news boss this afternoon.

Keillor is an ardent DFLer who — as I wrote in 2010 — made it hard for journalists at MPR News because of his politics. People, actively encouraged to do so, connected everything MPR with Keillor and if Keillor was holding DFL pep rallies and campaigning against Michele Bachmann, then so must the rest of MPR, including the newsroom, reality be damned. Perception is reality.

Politics is one thing, sexual harassment is another and now we’re stained, too, just as CBS, PBS, and the NBC Today show is.

And Democrats.

Democrats might have had a moral high ground in their effort to keep Roy Moore out of the Senate and they tried mightily — as Keillor did in his Washington Post column — to distinguish between the allegations of rape and sexual abuse against Republicans like Moore and those against Democrats not named Harvey Weinstein.

But it’s hard to fight perception, and now even with Roy Moore being, you know, Roy Moore, Democrats have left Republicans with an effective message: “You’re a fine one to talk.”

“I just ran my hand up her back” is a poor response.

Ask Nate Silver, who tweeted this today:

There will still be arguments from Democrats of course, that this misconduct or that misconduct is nowhere near the same as Roy Moore’s or Donald Trump’s, as if anyone is claiming it is.

Politics is a dirty game and Republicans memorized the Lee Atwater playbook and execute it better than Democrats do consistently. They’re better at messaging. They’re better at framing issues. And they’re better at creating the reality they want voters to live in. Even without the likes of Weinstein, Franken, Keillor, and Conyers, Democrats were outgunned trying to hold the high ground in a political gang war.

Here’s what the Democratic Party and the people who speak for it can’t bring themselves to understand: Women are tired of this; they’re tired of all of it. If politicians don’t understand what’s wrong with the daily harassment that women face, they’re not going to give a break to politicians or their party on the basis of “it could always be worse.”