The situation with Senator Al Franken has been so difficult for me, a complicated issue. I believe that Weinstein, Rose and Cosby should be in prison. They deserved to be fired for what they did. I believe the reports of the accusers for the facts that they reported it. It was important that they came forward, to begin a difficult path to healing and justice. To begin a difficult conversation in our society.
I have worked on issues of intimate touch and appropriate boundaries as a man who was the victim of childhood sexual abuse, as someone who has been touched very inappropriately as an adult (groped) and as a professional massage therapist and energy worker. It is my belief that Al Franken behaved inappropriately and that the women who came forward were courageous and should be believed about their experiences. That said, I think that Franken should be in therapy, and that he was properly called out, but that he should remain in the Senate.
Being a Senator does not confer the privilege of groping people. However, removing him from the Senate is a drastic step that disenfranchises those who elected him at a time when our nation is at deep peril from those who are doing far, far worse things, things that are unethical at levels beyond Franken’s past conduct.
The voters, not Congress, ended Gary Hart’s political career during a time when the standards for having extramarital affairs were changing. Senator Bob Packwood used his power in ugly and brutal ways and he was afforded a hearing. To me, the way Al Franken’s situation was handled actually avoided the kind of reckoning and conversation that this country needs about groping. Hearings conducted with dignity and respect, in a non-legalistic manner, with ownership being taken by Franken for what he did, would have brought this issue into light rather than marginalizing it, sweeping it under the rug. Spectacles like this, a forced resignation, may be consciously intended to set limits, but unconsciously better serve to avoid embarrassment to the institution, in my opinion.
The forced resignation does make it seem that Democrats claim a moral high ground, in contrast to Roy Moore and Donald Trump. However, Senator Franken’s constituents did not consent to a political sacrifice of their sworn representative, who was by all accounts doing an exceptional job. There is an ethics committee charged with investigating illegal or inappropriate conduct. Yes, this would have been uncomfortable to witness, but Franken was willing and it was the right thing to do.
Most people are vulnerable to accusations of misconduct involving touching other people in ways they did not want. Many people, generally men, have actually committed acts that qualify as criminal sexual assault and many have used their positions of authority to demean and control people over whom they have economic or political power.
Thosekinds of abuse of power need to be exposed, not hidden. The media has taken the role of exposing improper behavior, of providing “facts.” Often, it has done a good job, eventually. But Franken was exposed by a now-famous photo of what looked like a foolish adolescent prank. Yes, it was insulting to the victim, abusive and reprehensible, but he did not take the photo and we don’t know who did, and why.
The other reports that surfaced were often disturbing, but not approaching the severity of Weinstein, Rose, Cosby, et. al. Their misdeeds need to not be dismissed. They need to be punished. Therapy will not do for them. They crossed the line, and then some. And they were not seated elected officials. Nobody was counting on them to represent them in these dangerous times. None of them were outspoken advocates for the rights of women. None of them were defended by the women they currently work with fairly unanimously, although Bill Cosby’s victims were generally not his employees.
Franken is a character, a comedian, a joker. He crossed different lines, and those who came forward were right to do so. They deserve to be treated with respect. They did not ask that he be removed from office, but rather that his deeds be exposed and examined and that he face consequences, that he change his behavior. I do not think that their wishes or their interests were served by running Franken out of the Senate.
My strong sense, and this is only my opinion, is that the Senators who forced Franken out were acting out of political expediency more than moral righteousness. Yes, there was moral outrage and yes there was a desire to take a moral high ground. However, not allowing this situation to play out with an investigation has frozen the allegations in time, made the victims into victimizers and distorted the conversation, making a spectacle out of conduct that needs to be carefully examined and understood, and stopped.
Random groping is substantially unconscious behavior, but those who do it need to be held accountable, responsible for their actions. Women and boys need to be able to come forward not as crime victims, but as people who were abused in a less violent, but socially destructive and personally disempowering way. Their coming forward could be positive and healing when they ask that the inappropriate behavior stop and that true apologies be made. Imagine what that would be like, to take the matter out of our popular media and bring it to the family table, to a recognition that our culture needs to change and that groping is not just an aberration, that it is part of our culture. I believe that Franken was a willing participant in this kind of healing process, as he has said, but it was not allowed to play out through a Senate hearing.
The Senators know the old adage, “Easy cases make bad law.” Moral indignation is powerful, but we had an appropriate process that needed to play out. Now, if it turned out that there were clear allegations of sexual assault and attempts to destroy evidence, or smears against the accusers by Franken, the Senators may have done the right thing. We will never know, perhaps. I don’t know. Hey, I’m just one flawed human trying to figure things out, and to cope with, the abuse that was thrust upon me, and my own efforts to feel safe, and be safe to others.
Liberals and progressives are generally well aware of the ironic hazards of “zero tolerance.” When this means that there are consequences for misconduct, that is fine. However, when it means mandatory minimum sentences or suspension of kindergarten students for kissing a classmate or possessing an aspirin, we need to re-think our attitudes. Does it demand mandatory expulsion from the Senate without a hearing? Once exposed, was Franken so dangerous that he would have been preying upon more innocent victims?
The accusers need to be believed as to their experiences. However, with the behavior that was alleged, contexts and specific facts do matter. Justice is not a one-size-fits-all garment. Democrats know this. The senators who pushed out Franken treated him as a criminal and missed a much-needed opportunity to open a conversation about groping. Perhaps it was politically popular and expedient, but it ended up sweeping a major societal problem under the rug, in my opinion.
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