Monday, November 20, 2017

The Reckoning: Clinton & Franken Versus Trump & Moore

Update. December 6, 2017.  Below I noted that with the second accusation against Franken, the call for whether he should resign was closer.  Now, with more credible accusations mounting it has gone far beyond the tipping point and Franken needs to go.  It appears that he will resign tomorrow.  Knowing the first two reports weren't isolated incidents, shame on him for not resigning sooner.  Sexual misconduct is obviously rampant on Capital Hill and we are sure to hear more officials -- Democrat and Republicans -- being called out.  Democrats will resign; Republicans will not.  Democrats will lose men who have otherwise done and would have continued to do great work on important, progressive causes, but so be it -- with a couple of caveats.  First, beware of Republican dirty tricks as they try to dig up real and fake dirt to sully Democrats as a way to blunt the Roy Moore allegations.  Second, Democrats should not reflexively call for resignations  Every case is different, and there is a continuum of misconduct that has to be considered. But, as Senator Kirsten Gillebrand put it in urging Franken to resign:  "[T]his moment of reckoning about our friends and colleagues who have been accused of sexual misconduct is necessary, and it is painful. We must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person.”  This is a watershed moment and the Republican Party can remain pig-headedly the Party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore at their peril.  

Sexual misconduct does not have a party affiliation.  It is all about power, and white men -- Democrat and Republican -- have long wielded it. So, at this moment when women are finally feeling empowered to speak out, they are speaking out against Republicans like Roy Moore and Democrats like Al Franken.  But that doesn't mean that the transgressions of Moore and Franken are equivalent.  Sexual assault and harassment are always unacceptable but context matters.  The nature and magnitude of the acts matter.  The response to accusations matters.  The effect of the response on the victims matters.  And how Democrats and Republicans address the issue matters too.

When a Republican is in the hot seat, Republicans are quick to point to Bill Clinton's misdeeds because "Clinton" is always a way to distract and deflect from Republican malfeasance, sexual or otherwise.  Although it must be conceded that, Democrat or not, relevant or not, Bill Clinton is a pig.  No question about it.  I'm still angry that he couldn't keep his fucking dick in his pants while he was president, and as a result he not only marred his own presidency but undermined the candidacy of his vice president, Al Gore, who would have defeated George W. Bush had Gore not had the Clinton sex scandal albatross around his neck.  Democrats, unlike Republicans, always pay the price, and they continue to pay for Clinton.  Recall how the Trump campaign was able to undermine Hillary Clinton' by cynically but effectively countering the sexual assault charges being leveled against him by parading the women who made accusations against Bill and somehow found Hillary complicit for her husband's misconduct.

But it is important to remember, as Republicans drag out the "what about Clinton" trope, that although he lied about it, Clinton's "relationship" with Monica Lewinsky was indisputably consensual.  And although we should rightfully believe women when they come forward, whether they accuse Democrats or Republicans, the other women who were allegedly victims of Clinton's unwanted advances and assaultive behavior get less of a benefit of the doubt because they were put up to it by a widespread and well-financed ratfucking operation aimed at destroying the Clintons, and their accusations were rife with false and inconsistent information.

Al Franken not only forcibly kissed Leeann Tweeden during a USO show rehearsal, but posed for a damning photograph in which he appears to be lecherously touching her breasts over a Kevlar vest while she is sleeping.  True, Franken was a comedian, not a Senator, at the time, but such disturbing behavior is inexcusable whatever one's profession.  To his credit, Franken acknowledged this, apologized sincerely, and called for an ethics investigation on himself.  Democrats have roundly condemned him and agree that such an investigation should be launched. Tweeden accepted his apology and does not believe he should resign.  Update:  Another woman has come forward to say that in 2010, when Franken was a Senator he pulled a George H.W. Bush move and grabbed her behind while posing for a photo. 

And while Franken's conduct is not in dispute, it is worth noting the suspicious timing of Franken's outing.  Roger Stone, ratfucker nonpareil, seemed to know well ahead of time that Franken was about to be exposed.  Together with the fact that the initial Franken story came out at the exact moment when the Moore story was gaining traction with new allegations suggest some coordination with the darker end of the Republican spectrum.

And then there's Trump.  After the Franken revelations broke, our adolescent-in-chief couldn't keep his tiny fingers from tweeting about it, despite that fact that he was not only caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, but that 16 women subsequently came forward to describe how he harassed, grabbed and groped them. Trump's response at the time of those accusations -- not surprisingly given his history of misogyny -- was to disparage the women and call them liars. Republicans in Congress initially criticized the words Trump uttered on the tape but never engaged with the numerous credible reports of sexual harassment and assault.  Clinton was impeached for lying about having consensual sex with an intern.  Trump was elected president.

Roy Moore, if possible, is even ickier than Trump. Well-sourced and corroborated allegations describe Moore as a creepy hebephile who lurked around malls, preyed on teenage girls, and in some instances sexually assaulted them.  Moore and his supporters deny everything, contending it is the liberal media, Democrats and troubled, gold-digging women who have fabricated it all.  Initially most Republicans hesitated to condemn him, waiting for absolute proof of his guilt, but eventually several so-called Establishment Republicans called for him to withdraw from Alabama's special election.  Still, many Republicans, including the Alabama GOP and President Trump, would rather have a sexual predator than a Democrat as an Alabama Senator, and they continue to deflect questions about the veracity of the allegations that keep piling up against him, insisting it is up to the voters to decide.

Republicans, unlike Democrats, don't apologize.  On the contrary, they attack and shame women who dare to come forward.  They accuse Democrats and the liberal media of manufacturing allegations against them while they engineer scandals to target Democrats.  And they rarely pay the price for their misdeeds. Donald Trump is the President; Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court; and Roy Moore has a reasonable chance to become a U.S. Senator.

In stark contrast to Republican denials, Franken and his fellow Democrats are acting responsibly and doing some soul searching that includes how they responded to the accusations against Bill Clinton (and should include how they responded to Clarence Thomas -- I'm looking at you, Joe Biden). Indeed, some on the left are even calling for Franken's resignation before an ethics investigation has a chance to play out.  They argue that while Franken has been an unstinting champion for women's rights, his effectiveness has been compromised -- and, in an effort not to appear hypocritical, they argue that he should step down given how Democrats have unequivocally attacked Trump and now Moore.  They further maintain that as long as Franken remains in the Senate, any effort by Democrats to challenge Republicans for their perpetual war on women will be countered with the Franken photo. As Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times put it:  "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."

Before the second incident came to light, my feeling was that reflection and taking responsibility are essential, but that we shouldn't get carried away -- that Democrats should not deny, deflect and disparage like Republicans do but at least in this case, they don't need to reflexively fall on their sword either.  Al Franken's conduct, as gross as it was, appeared to be an isolated incident that took place when he was a comedian.  He apologized respectfully and the apology was accepted.  Unlike Trump and Moore, he has been a strong and effective advocate for women and women's rights, which should count for something.  And he's already suffered enormous damage to his reputation and destroyed any chance for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

The question is whether this second accusation changes the calculus.  Its definitely a closer call, but it still seems to me that Franken's status should be determined by the Ethics Committee.  As noted above, many Democrats feel otherwise, believing that if Franken resigns from the Senate it will bolster the Democrats ability to go after Moore, Trump and other Republican misogynists.  But this suggests a logic that does not exist in Congress.  The notion that if Democrats remain principled and pure they will somehow win the day sure didn't work during the Obama Administration and it won't work now.  Republicans will attack Democrats with real facts if they have them and alternative facts if they don't.  They will call out Democrats for hypocrisy, whether they are hypocritical or not.  Look what they did to Hillary when she went after Trump's mistreatment of women.  Whether or not they have the Franken photos to point to, Republicans will always have the Clintons. 

Roy Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court twice -- first, for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments at the state courthouse, and second, for defying the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding same sex marriage.  He believes that homosexuality should be illegal.  He was unfit for the Senate before the sex allegations came to light, particularly given his belief that his evangelical version of the Bible trumps the Constitution and the rule of law.  And he has failed to acknowledge, much less apologize, for his sexually predatory behavior. 

Al Franken is no Roy Moore.  It would make sense for him to be censured or receive some punishment short of expulsion after the ethics investigation, but given the nature of the allegations (so far), I believe he should remain in the Senate where, having owned up to his own misconduct, he can, along with his fellow Democrats, call out sexual assault and harassment when it arises, fight like hell for women's equality and reproductive freedom, and confront the inevitable efforts from the Roy Moores of the Republican Party to trample on women's rights.


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