Al Franken Is Putting His Self-Interest Over Everything He Claims Is Important

If Senator Al Franken left the U.S. Senate in the wake of his sexual harassment admission, Governor Mark Dayton would be able to appoint a replacement.  Many speculate that he might name his Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, a respected, thoughtful leader who would likely be a very capable candidate in a November 2018 special election.  There are also other excellent choices Dayton could make.

As a result, Al Franken and Minnesota DFLers need to be asking themselves some important questions.

Who would have more moral standing to hold sexual harassers and abusers like Roy Moore and Donald Trump accountable, and send a clear signal that sexual harassment will no longer be tolerated?

Who would be a more credible and persuasive advocate for progressive causes?

Who would be a more respected representative of Minnesotans’ interests, opinions, and values?

Who would be a better role model for Minnesota’s young men and women?

Who would be more re-electable in 2020, and more likely to help Democrats stop Minnesota’s Senate seat from going to a Trumpublican?

What Al Franken did is less egregious than what Moore and Trump did, so he may be able to hold onto his job, even after a long and humiliating Senate Ethics Committee investigation that will further cement this incident in the public mind. But just because he can hold on to his job doesn’t mean that he should.

Note:  The day after this post was written, Senator Franken resigned, proving this post’s headline wrong.  In his resignation speech, Senator Franken said: “Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day.  I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls is running for Senate with full support of his party.”

Al Franken and Our Paris-in-the-Terror Moment

Image result for paris in the terrorThe set of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” will never be confused with The Algonquin Round Table. If for no other reason than Dorothy Parker would never allow Joe [Scarborough] to bloviate on as long and as loudly as he so often does. But the show’s cast of supporting characters — plenty of New York Times and Washington Post reporters and columnists — is bona fide, and given a topic in her wheelhouse, in this case th gross sexual misbehavior by men, soon-to-be Mrs. Joe, Mika Brzezinski, (a.k.a. “Mika-Boo”) is a force of nature.

And Mika the Force is all over our “me too” moment. Amid much high dudgeon about sexual harassment she has also been pushing the nuancy questions of proportionate punishment and “What do we do with the apologies?” This isn’t to say Brzezinski is the first to pose these questions, only that she’s making a persistent point of them.

And that it directly affects Al Franken.

Even following the latest accusation of … butt-palming … at the State Fair, liberal women are having a hard time lumping Franken in with Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore. For her part, (as a very committed feminist and liberal), Brzezinski is conceding her tribal affinities, while arguing that if this “moment” is going to accomplish something of lasting value, every woman has to have the right to speak and every offender should suffer or at least endure some measure of punishment. But, that said … butt palming/patting/caressing is not in the same universe as rape or pedophilia.

What Mika-Boo hasn’t yet gotten into in this Paris-in-the-Terror moment for men, is the twisty down side to a flat-out, unequivocal “believe the women” episode.

Some of us are old enough to remember the truly bizarre (and remarkably under-examined) frenzy over satanic sexual abuse, murder and mutilation of very young children in schools and day care centers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sociologically and psychologically, it was a mind-boggler.

Here in Minnesota the focus was in Scott County. A zealous prosecutor, Kathleen Morris — like prosecutors in the McMartin Pre-School case in California and the Little Rascals Day Care case in North Carolina — insisted the public at large had a moral obligation to “believe the children”. (BTW: The PBS series on the latter case, “Innocence Lost” remains one of the most riveting documentaries I have ever seen. If you want a case study in tribal psychosis, there it is.) Eventually, after millions in court costs and the total ruination of reputations and lives, all of the cases fell apart and the frenzy subsided.

The media took the “believe the children” bait, big time.

My point is that in those environments it was difficult-to-impossible to not “believe the children” just as, for progressive liberals and Al Franken in particular it is not functionally,  socially possible to “believe the women” in this environment.

For example: Even if Franken knew for certain the tongue-in-the-mouth business with Leeann Tweeden was a “bit” or that the butt-caressing at the State Far never happened … he can’t in effect call either of the women liars by saying so. That simply isn’t allowed under the rules of this “cultural moment”. Not for liberals anyway. Conservatives, especially Donald Trump and Roy Moore, are free to condemn all female accusers as liars (and in Trump’s case argue that none of them were good-looking enough to warrant his attention, and then threaten to sue them).

It’s a liberal dilemma … and one that is ripe for exploitation.

Now, before I wander off into the bat[bleep] conspiracy phase of this screed, let me issue the disclaimer that: The United States has always been exceptional in the long march of human nature, in that unlike every other culture on the planet, here in the USA malicious adversaries have never ever concocted a plan to destroy a political opponent through nefarious means. That sort of thing only happens someplace else.

Personally, I don’t find it unimaginable that people like Roger Stone, Steve Bannon and the toxic-but-well funded netherworld of Breitbart and the Mercers might find a way to, shall we say, “encourage” women like Ms. Tweeden and the State Fair victim to come forward with stories (and photographs) deeply damaging to a politician enjoying high regard as a clever, mediagenic assailant of their pet policies and personalities.

I know how insane that sounds. It’s real Elvis-stepped-off-the-UFO stuff. But I’m simply saying I can imagine it. (And yes, I’m taking medication to treat the hallucinations.)

Also, as we collectively try to come up with the appropriate scale to judge all the misbehaviors being tossed up, let me suggest that abuse and harassment stories coming through some form of professional vetting — like the editing pipeline of a major news organization — strike me as having more credibility than just someone holding a press conference.

Big news organizations have reputations to protect and don’t like getting sued. But no nationally renown public figure, of the progressive political persuasion, is in any position to denounce much less sue one poor woman recovering, like Ms. Tweeden and the young lady at the Fair, from the terrible, psychological scarring of sexual abuse.

Voters Need To Fire The Creeps

We’ve learned a lot of grotesque things in recent weeks.  Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken will do anything to get a laugh, including humiliating women. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is a serial pedophile predator who should have been prosecuted before the statute of limitations ran out. Minnesota Representative Dan Schoen and Senator Tony Cornish continually go way over the flirt-harassment line, and it’s not close. President Donald Trump has admitted on videotape to sexually assaulting women, and at least 16 women have gone on the record to assure us that what the President told Billy Bush is true.

So enough with the political noise.  Enough “if the allegations are true” games.  Enough “what about others in the other party?” What these men did was unacceptable.

I obviously can’t control the outcomes of these controversies.  But if I could, this is what I would wish for all of them: None of them would resign under pressure from party leaders. All of them would be voted out.

Clearly, if they do resign before their next election, that’s better than them retaining their power.  But if I could wave a magic wand, I don’t want the final chapter on these men’s history to be “resigned under pressure from party leaders.” I want it to be “rejected by the voters.”

Here is why:  If it’s the former, there will be many Americans who blame the spineless, “politically correct” party elites who forced the resignation. If it’s the latter, it will be much more clear that the community-at-large rejects sexual harassment and assault. That’s what we need to stigmatize this behavior and make it less prevalent.

I understand why party leaders call for these men to resign. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they’re showing that they take the issue seriously. To look at it more cynically, they need to replace their damaged political goods with a more electable candidate so they can retain power for themselves. Whatever their motivation, I’m glad they’re doing it, because it helps to spotlight and denormalize the behavior.

But I don’t want party elites to end these political careers. I want the larger “us” to do that. We’re a democracy. Voters need to step up and do our job. We need to overcome our tribal instincts and vote these guys out. We should replace them with more women. We should send a clear signal to political leaders that creepiness and criminality are electorally toxic, so parties will start nominating better people.

Like a lot of men, I’m not all that comfortable speaking out on this topic. Men who are self-aware and honest know that we’re all part of the sickness we’re reading about on the front pages.

Though we continually assure ourselves that we’re “way better than most,” we also know we’re far from perfect. Maybe we’ve told a joke that we understand in retrospect made women uncomfortable. Maybe we’ve confused objectification with flattery. Maybe we haven’t always controlled our eyeballs. Maybe in the exclusive company of men, we didn’t have the courage to speak out about comments that embolden harassers. Maybe we haven’t called out peers who went over the line in our presence.

So I’m not coming at this from a holier than thou perspective.  We all need to improve. We all need to own this and fix this. Seeing the community at large — masses of fed up voters — reject this behavior will do more to hasten the improvement process than seeing them forced out by a handful of party elites scrambling to cover their asses.

Al Franken, Come On Down.

And now it’s Al Franken’s turn. While he has, first and foremost apologized, then asked for an investigation of himself and promised to cooperate, the chips are still going to have to fall where they may, regardless of his advocacy for issues vital to women and liberals. It’s the new normal. It’s a fact of life we’re all going to have to get accustomed to. If you’ve behaved like a pig, (although in this case not criminally so), chances are good you’re going to get outed.

Having met and interviewed Franken a number of times I can’t say that I, like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” (which I saw again last night at the Icon Theaters in St. Louis Park) am “shocked, shocked” to hear that Al the celebrity behaved badly.

This situation strikes me as very similar to the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who after being accused last week issued a statement saying:

“I want to try to tell you the complicated truth. At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die’. And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.”

Franken may not have had the same cachet with “all women” as an Oscar-winning actor, but the “asshole” part may well apply. A constant with a lot of the characters outed to date is a sense of being drunk on fame and power, of being transported by manic ego to a realm of impunity for behavior unconditionally unacceptable to others. (Although, lord knows, millions of common guys have pulled the same stunts).

Comparisons are already being made to liberal women’s regard for Bill Clinton, who was without question a reckless womanizer. At Vox, Matt Yglesias goes on at length about why Clinton should have resigned following disclosure of the Monica Lewinsky affair. But he didn’t and he wasn’t forced to because a majority of Americans, not just liberals, made a value judgment that he was doing more good for them than bad, and that the Lewinsky thing was the sordid culmination of a decade-long witch hunt by opponents who had no better option to offer.

Clinton’s um, “interaction”, with Lewinsky was wrong by every measure, and despite leaving office with a higher approval rating than (St.) Ronnie Reagan, Clinton and Hillary have paid quite a high reputational price for it. But … unlike Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump … even Lewinsky describes their fling as “consensual” and in no way (that we know) did Clinton require sex as a ticket to employment or advancement. So it is with most of the other ladies he is known to have cavorted with in his drunk-on-fame binge.

The episode with Juanita Broaddrick, which she describes as rape, has always been clouded by her way-too tight association/exploitation by the same semi-deranged Clinton-haters who tried to convince us a money-losing Arkansas land deal was a Constitutional crisis. But that isn’t to say it didn’t happen. (This one is an example of a “consider the source” accuser.)

The point, with reference to Al Franken and liberals, is that we are now in an era when what was once secret is being laid out on the table for all to see and judge. I’ve voted for Franken twice, because he votes my interests, which I’ve always thought is the best reason to vote for anyone, not because I liked him personally. And if a full investigation concludes that this supposedly semi-comic groping kissing business was the full extent of this incident I’m inclined to vote for him again.

More to the point, the revelation about Franken, (and we already know about his coke-snorting days), comes in the early moments this “cultural moment.” There’s a lot more to come. You can feel it. And we’re seeing quite a range of skeezy behavior. Some far … far … more ugly than others.

I’ve been trying to imagine the frantic contacts and the amount of hush money that must be changing hands right this moment in every industry from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to to Detroit to Capitol Hill as famous men with a whole lot to lose, (think Bill O’Reilly’s $32 million), buy off the victims of their years of being an asshole.

 

Bad Boys, Dumb Boys, Roy Moore and our “Cultural Moment”

Is there a male alive today who doesn’t cringe at every new revelation of sexual misbehavior? God we look bad. Whether blatantly criminal, like Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore, or farcically oafish, like GOP Rep. Tony Cornish here in Minnesota, the male “brand” is taking a brutal beating in this “cultural moment.”

And for the (very) most part that’s a good thing. We’re witnessing an astonishing outing of perverts, boors and dorks. It’s a comeuppance that is generations-to-centuries overdue. As I’ve said before, since we live under the minority rule of gun fetishists, we’re not going to do anything about our weekly assault rifle slaughters, so maybe all this attention being paid to male sexual/ego dysfunction will accomplish something positive.  (Clearly, the gun slaughter thing has been reduced to: A week of news coverage, “thoughts and prayers” and “let’s move on”.)

Having become a fan of Yuval Harari’s books on human evolution, I’ve been wondering how much of this predatory sexual behavior is a modern invention? And by “modern” I mean post-agricultural revolution?

Did adult males in our hunter-gatherer days lurk malevolently around adolescent girls — like a pervy Fred Flintstone at the Bedrock Mall — and force themselves on them against their will? Was violent rape a common occurrence?  Did sexual fantasies of power and domination control male behavior? Sexual interaction between males and females of “breeding age” was common. We know that. But what about the violence part? The literature I’ve seen recently is mixed, but trending to the belief that this twisted, contorted notion of male dominance is yet another example of a large percentage of the human population — most notably the males — failing to adapt to the exponential increase in population, competition and discordant cultural messages.

Pretty much every culture war issue can be broken down to a diminishment of the archetypal male role. Our big muscle skill set began to be less important to species survival when we stopped having to spear and wrestle mastodons to the ground. Likewise the need for us males to spread our seed to as many females as possible has been making less and less sense species survival-wise since we settled down to farming and began producing more off-spring than we could feed.

A friend the other day mentioned he was called into a faculty meeting at the college where he teaches. The topic? You guessed it. Sexual harassment in the work place, (and by extension everywhere else.) He correctly saw his role at that meeting as, “Shut up and listen.” The women had plenty of venting to do, and this is their time to do it. No mansplaining required or allowed. (It’s fascinating to see the level of passion coming from media women on political chat shows. They are truly seizing the moment to clue — men — into all the crap they’ve been putting up with since junior high but until now have quarantined to lunches with their girlfriends.)

There’s a worry among the usual retrograde types — Sean Hannity, Alabama Republicans, etc. — that not only are fine Suth’n gentlemen like Roy Moore being tarred without a trial — but every male is now going to be treated like a criminal pervert.

That of course is part and parcel of the usual hysteria from the perpetually aggrieved, a description the Trumpist right wears round their necks like a medieval scapular. With male attention — sought an unsought — playing as large a role in women’s lives as it does (the reverse being at least as true for men), I’m not too concerned “the gals” will have a hard time making out the qualitative difference between getting raped (Harvey Weinsten), preyed upon and groped (Roy Moore and Donald Trump), being shocked and disgusted (Louis CK), inappropriately seduced and abandoned (Bill Clinton), aggravated and annoyed (Tony Cornish) or semi-amused and filled with pity at the average guy’s generally clueless and clumsy come ons.

Women have made a science of male behavior. Think of us as simple, one-cell/one track paramecium being observed under a microscope. The Harveys and Roys and Louis of the world are no surprise to them. All that’s going on now is that evolution has ticked up a notch to where (western) women can say out loud and with less fear of male repercussion what they’ve been saying to each other for, mm, several thousand years.