I briefly published this post last Friday but pulled it down. Given the events of the day, I probably should have left it up.
Unfortunately, it’s probably time for Al Franken to step down. I’ve been a defender of Franken since the allegations first surfaced a few weeks ago. The accusations against him are not comparable to those against Roy Moore, John Conyers or the media moguls Harvey Weinstein, Russell Simmons or Matt Lauer. The former comedian groped women during photo shoots. He never demanded sexual favors and he did not employ any of the women or create a hostile work environment. However, a flood of women is coming forward with similar stories and I don’t think it will stop. We’ll hear from more women in the coming weeks.
My guess is Franken the comedian thought his boorish behavior was somehow funny in an over-the-top sort of way. Clearly, to the women, it was not. It was insulting and demeaning. He was an adult. He should have known better and he should have had more respect for the women.
Were the political environment different, Franken might survive, but it’s not. Powerful men in every industry are falling because of inexcusable behavior. In Congress, Michigan Rep. John Conyers needs to step down because of sexual harassment in the workplace. Franken needs to go because, right now, there’s no room for nuance and his survival is becoming an excuse to keep Conyers in place. As more women come forward with stories about him, Republicans and others will claim a double standard if he stays.
Franken is also from a state that is taking a hard line in support of women. Two Minnesota legislators, a Democrat and a Republican, have been forced from office. Garrison Keillor, a state icon, was fired from Minnesota Public Radio. Polls show that Franken’s approval rating has plummeted and more Minnesotans think he should resign than stay in office. In that environment, he will have a difficult time being an effective Senator.
I believe comparing Franken’s offenses with those of men like Conyers and Moore is false equivalence. That said, I don’t think right now we can allow Republicans to protect their more grievous offenders, including the president, by claiming Democrats have a double standard. Most of the public won’t distinguish between Franken’s offenses and those of Moore or Trump. It might not be fair, but it’s the political reality and it’s not likely to change any time soon.
I fear that Franken staying in office will prevent other women who have been harassed or abused by powerful men in Washington from coming forward. His political survival should not be a roadblock to justice for women who have suffered. Unless he can figure out a way to atone for his wrong-doing while making it easier for women to come forward, he probably needs to go. Besides, he won’t be able to survive another accusation and I feel sure it’s coming.