The latest in a long, long list of prominent men accused of sexual misbehavior is Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, and the former comedian’s timing couldn’t be worse. Not so very long go the Democratic party and its media allies would have rallied to the defense of a such a stalwart liberal soldier, but at the moment they’re unable to do so.
A popular Los Angeles radio and television personality named Leeann Twidden told the local American Broadcasting Company affiliate that Franken forced a kiss on her and briefly groped her while they were rehearsing a skit on a USO tour of of the middle east in 2006, and she had a picture of Franken grinning as he reached to fondle her breasts as she slept on the flight back home. Franken issued a statement that said he remembered the rehearsal differently but apologized but apologized nonetheless, and described the photo as a joke that he know admits wasn’t funny, and after that was met with widespread criticism by his fellow Democrats and their media allies, he offered an even more apologetic apology.
That once would have sufficed for Franken, who is beloved in the Democratic party for his undeniably sharp with and his fund-raising prowess as a celebrity politician, but fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was still demanding an ethics investigation, and so was minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and so were several other prominent congressional Democrats, and by day’s end Franken himself was demanding an investigation and promising his full cooperation. Our guess is he’ll probably keep his job, but might well be censured by the Senate and that all the crazy talk about him launching a presidential race will be quashed for a while, and will never again be quite so beloved in the Democratic party.
Which is fine by us, as we never liked the guy. He was often funny back when he was writing and starring on “Saturday Night Live,” which was reportedly a drug-drenched den of rampant sexual harassment backstage at the time, but the wit devolved into witless ad hominem attacks when he switched to politics, and he first won election with some suspicious vote-counting, and despite all the religion-bashing he did back in his show biz days he’s also posed as a paradigm of political correctness and therefore more righteous than any of those holier-than-thou types on the Republican side. Franken has a goofy smile and endearing self-effacing quality, but he also has a well-documented temper that occasionally becomes violent and is widely considered something of a jerk by those who run into him off-camera. He’s long claimed to be the loyal long-time husband of a wife bravely battling alcoholism, but he was married to her during that USO tour and his apology didn’t mention his wife or family.
Franken is also an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, but as one of the first politicians to substitute celebrity for credentials in a run for office and making witless ad hominem insults a part of the political discourse we also blame him in part for Trump’s presidency.
As awful as Franken’s behavior apparently was, though, it’s just one woman and it happened a while back and was not nearly so awful as what several other Democratic politicians have done without suffering the opprobrium of their party. President Bill Clinton immediately comes to mind, more recently even New York Rep. Anthony Weiner got a tentative defense for his weird sexual proclivities right up until he went to jail for them, and that’s not to mention all the decades of indulgences for the entire Kennedy family. The Democrats haven’t claimed to champion old-fashioned values of chivalrous manhood and chaste womanhood for a long time, which has long spared them the added charge of hypocrisy when these things pop up, so the party used to take a more forgiving attitude toward their own members if not any Republican who stood similarly charged.
Lately, though, the Democrats find themselves obliged to be more strict. The long list of prominent men who have recently been accused of sexual misbehavior includes a lot of heavyweight Hollywood types who of course were big Democrat donors and previously added some glitzy cache to the party’s image, as well as some media and academic types who are also associated with the party’s high-brow image, and having one of its sitting Senators on the list is no longer tolerate. By now well more than half of the party’s voters are women, as demonstrated by all the exit polls in every race everywhere for the past few decades, and by now many of them — ranging from movie stars to office workers to waitresses — are throughly fed up with such behavior no matter the party affiliation of the accused.
The Democrats suddenly find themselves the champions of chivalrous behavior, even as they write polemics against toxic masculinity, and the defenders of chaste womanhood, even as they celebrate women’s sexual empowerment and freedom to choose whatever is required to deal with the consequences, and as complicated as that is it clearly doesn’t allow any forgiveness for Franken or any of those other Hollywood guys. For now the Democrats and their media allies are no longer making even any excuses for Clinton, and for all his fund-raising prowess Franken never did achieve that level of influence in the party. There’s also another reason all Democratic men are advised to go straight home to their wives and avoid any sort of encounters with other women along the way for the foreseeable future.
As ridiculous as the Democratic party looks at the moment, the Republicans have more pressing problems of their own that the Democrats are eager to exploit. The Grand Old Party is currently running a candidate in a special senatorial election down in Alabama who stands credibly accused by nine named women of far-creepier-than-Franken behavior, and so far he still has the half-hearted endorsement of a Republican president still stands credibly accused by more than a dozen named women of the creepier-than-Frank behavior that everyone in America heard him bragging about on that “Access Hollywood” tape. One can hardly blame the Democrats for wanting to be known as the party with zero tolerance for such behavior, and concluding that giving a pass to the small-fry likes of Franken is hardly worth blowing the opportunity.
Up until Trump was nominated and elected the Republicans used to enjoy that zero tolerance reputation, even if it did get them branded as the party of self-righteous old fuddy-duddies back during the go-go ’90s of the Clinton era, and it’s hard to see how they’ll get it back.
Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore poses as a champion of old-fashioned chivalrous manhood and chaste womanhood, and with an admirable contempt for that newfangled gobbledygook about toxic masculinity and empowered female sexuality, but by now you’d have to be a die-hard fan not to conclude that he used to be that creepy 30-something guy hitting on teenage girls at the mall and is now lying about it attempting to trash the reputation of the women he once preyed on. No matter what Trump is eventually forced to say about it, the creepier-than-Frank accusations against still stand as credibly as ever, and so long as he remains in office the party won’t have any claim to zero tolerance for such behavior.
The Republican party’s senatorial campaign office and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell have said they believe Moore’s accusers and have withdrawn their support of his campaign, as have many other Republicans officials, as well as such such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves, and Trump might yet join us, but it won’t amount to a complete reputation of such conduct. Even if they’re not a majority of the electorate a lot of those Alabama Republicans who defiantly vote for Moore, Trump will still be the president and putative leader of the party, and neither the religious nor the secular wings of the party will go untainted.
As cynical and opportunistic as the Democrats’ newfound religion clearly is, we welcome it nonetheless. All of those women who make up more than half of their reliable votes are quite right to be outraged by Moore and Trump, as far as we’re concerned, and they’re just as right to be outraged by Franken and all the rest of those sleazy show-biz types. There are a few Republican politicians who have staked out a similarly non-partisan position on all the bi-partisan sexual misconduct that has come up over the past several decades, along with such grass-roots Republicans as ourselves, by now by they’re all considered “establishment” and Trump is still the president.
Just maybe, though, there’s a chance that both parties will someday agree not to put up with stuff any longer. Our hope is that chivalrous manhood long endures, and that whatever “toxic masculinity” is it disappears, and that women are sexually empowered, whatever that means, yet chaste womanhood is still protected. At this point we’re no counting on either party to bring that happy day, though.
— Bud Norman