Sometimes I think the Democrats could screw up a two-car funeral. I’ve been exasperated by the Democrats many times in my five decades as a journalist, but nothing was quite so disheartening as the dumb political miscalculation and misplaced indignation in the Democrats’ stampede to throw Al Franken under the bus.
Here was the miscalculation: By demanding Franken’s ouster and jumping the gun on the due process of a pending ethics investigation, Democrats thought they would be displaying zero tolerance for any sort of sexual misconduct and demonstrating clean hands. This in turn would shame Republicans to do likewise, and embarrass the Republicans’ Senate candidate in Tuesday’s Alabama special election.
So how did that work out? Republican Roy Moore continues to stonewall and lie about the women who stepped forward with their accusations of far more serious sexual crimes. Trump continues in office as the groper in chief. Democrats are revealed to be weak, opportunist, and disloyal to their own.
Does anyone think that Franken’s announced resignation will change a single vote in Alabama, where polls now show Moore overtaking Democrat Doug Jones? In hoping to shame Republicans, Franken’s Democratic scourges overlooked one reality: the Republicans are shameless.
As an example of the Democrats’ muddled logic, consider the words of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the leaders of the stampede:
“I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping you are having the wrong conversation,” Gillibrand said on Wednesday. “You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK. None of it is acceptable.”
Excuse me? Just as there is a difference between murder and shoplifting, the rape of a child is not the same as an unwanted pat on the butt. Yes, Franken’s alleged actions were crude and sophomoric, even abusive, but Roy Moore’s alleged child predation and Franken’s misdemeanor misconduct are not in the same ethical universe. Contrary to Gillibrand, this conversation needs a sense of proportion, otherwise we are moral idiots.
Franken’s statement of a few weeks ago was exemplary. He apologized and expressed a full understanding of why his actions were offensive and unacceptable, and he called for a full investigation. But Democrats needed a human sacrifice. Some purists even found fault with his resignation speech as insufficiently groveling. (In the medieval Inquisition, you died if you admitted the charges, and you died if you presumed to defend yourself. The point was to obtain the confession.)
Why is the indignation directed at Franken not directed full force at Moore? And at Donald Trump?
Democrats missed a huge opportunity to point to the ethics investigation of Franken, and insist that similar investigations be directed at Moore and Trump. Instead, Franken is seen as having admitted guilt, while Moore is still presumed innocent.
In a few weeks, Moore could be seated in the senate, while Franken, a far more principled and noble man, will be gone. Bravo, Democrats.
Some Democratic senator, preferably a woman, should have the decency to stand up in the Senate and say, “We really got this wrong. Instead of a rush to judgment, let’s have a full ethics investigation of Franken — and of Moore and Trump.”
Sunday, on Fox News, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski suggested that Franken might not resign after all. From your lips, Corey.
We are in the early stages of a long overdue revolution. Women are finally demanding that powerful men cease treating women as sexual toys. Amen to that. But revolutions are messy. And, as the historian Crane Brinton pointed out, revolutions have an unfortunate habit of trying to create republics of virtue and ending up with reigns of terror.
Surely the goal here is a mass revision of what is considered acceptable behavior by men, especially men with power. But this overdue goal does not operate in a political vacuum. When Democrats turn on their own with no sense of proportion, the winners are not feminist values. The winners are Republicans who find the whole movement amusing.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His forthcoming book is Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?