Yesterday I lost track of a column in, I recalled, the Washington Post that I had meant to feature here. It was from a woman who did not want Sen. Al Franken to resign. So I took to Google and searched for “why franken should not resign.” I got back page after page of headlines saying just the opposite - that Franken should resign and that Democrats should make him quit. Appending “Washington Post” to my search string got a lot of anti-Al headlines but buried in them was the one I was after: Kate Harding, writing in the Washington Post, declares I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign. Snippets follow.
It would feel good, momentarily, to see Franken resign and the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, appoint a senator who has not (as far as we know) harmed women. If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option. But in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements. Some will, if ousted, have their successors chosen by Republicans.
In other words, if we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms. The legislative branch will remain chockablock with old, white Republican men who regard women chiefly as sex objects and unpaid housekeepers, and we’ll show them how staunchly Democrats oppose their misogynistic attitudes by handing them more power.
Isn’t that hypocritical? I hear you asking, Because Republicans won’t do the right thing, we shouldn’t, either? But if the short-term “right thing” leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing. I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.
For example, if Franken genuinely wishes to be an ally to women, as he claimed in an expanded statement Thursday, here’s what I would like to see him do. First, cooperate fully with an ethics investigation, as promised. Second, declare as soon as possible that he will not run again in 2020, so other Democratic candidates for that seat have plenty of time to prepare their campaigns. Third, go on a listening tour to learn what the women of Minnesota — Native American women, Somali women, Hmong women, Karen women, disabled women, queer women, working-class women — most want him to fight for in his remaining time, and go to the mat for their needs. Accept that some women will not want to talk to him at all, or will only want to yell at him for being a pig. Go anyway.
But there is where I part with Harding. I am ambivalent about an ethics investigation. What’s more to prove given the photographic evidence? Shall we have an ethics investigation of Roy Moore and Donald Trump? (I doubt that will happen so long as Republicans are in the majority.) Doing the listening tour and then working hard for women’s needs would be good penance. But declaring himself to be a lame duck would reduce his abilities to do that good work. I think Franken should stay in office, run for reelection, and let Democratic voters decide his fate.
You may reasonably feel uncomfortable about my position, so let me sketch a possible scenario. First, assume that the public decides that resignation is the appropriate punishment for sexual harassment. Then let’s consider what people of different political persuasions are likely to do about it.
Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports the most recent polling results in Poll points to partisan gap in attitudes on sexual harassment.
There’s no reason to see sexual misconduct as a partisan issue. Politicians from both parties have faced credible allegations, and that’s likely to continue as the societal scandal continues to unfold.
But a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday suggests there’s a gap in how partisans perceive the seriousness of the issue. The question read:
“If a political candidate has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, would you still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues, or would you definitely not vote for them?”
In areas such as age and ethnicity, the differences were modest, but the partisan split was enormous. Among Republicans, a narrow plurality – 43% to 41% – would consider supporting a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.
Among independents, a 61% majority said they wouldn’t consider voting for such a candidate, and among Democrats, that number was 81%.
Another way of expressing the results is to note that Dems are 80:10 more likely to vote against their own candidate. Independents are 60:30 more likely to vote against. But Republicans split about 50:50. Put yet another way, applying the poll results to 10 offenders in each political category, 5 Republicans remain, 3 independents remain, and only 2 (at most) Democrats remain.
It’s likely results like these will influence how politicians and their allies respond to sexual-harassment controversies. Indeed, if the Democratic base has one set of expectations, and the Republican base approaches the issue in an entirely different way, it’s may be inevitable that Dems facing credible allegations of wrongdoing are more likely to resign or withdraw – because that would be in line with the demands of their party’s voters.
So, that kind of selective pressure functionally increases the number of sexual harassers in Congress. Consider that if Al Franken resigns, the polling data suggests that he may well be replaced by Roy Moore.
I suppose you could perseverate in a need for retribution against Franken, but you would be hoping for a better Senator than Franken (who is reported by his own staff to treat women well). Let me remind you that we are already facing not the best case but the worst case. Here’s the headline: Trump Defends Roy Moore, Citing Candidate’s Denial of Sexual Misconduct. If Moore denies the allegations by his accusers, Trump thinks they don’t exist. I’ll bet Al Franken would not agree.