Senator Al Franken took to the Senate floor to announce that he would be resigning his seat. It was Harry Truman who said,
“Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow and only one thing endures – character.”
What did we learn about Franken’s character today?
Part of me feels that we shouldn’t be too hard on Franken. He is a human being, and this entire scenario for him must be humiliating, frustrating, and infuriating. Yet he is also a U.S. Senator, and knew that he had, perhaps for the only time in his life and professional career, an opportunity to talk when everyone would be listening, or at least interested in what he had to say. Under these circumstances, and in his high elected position, Senator Franken had a unique opportunity to accomplish great things. He had the bully pulpit, essentially, with nothing to lose except the opportunity before him. Nathan Hale had that opportunity minutes before he died, and found the character to make a statement that has rung out in the minds of patriots ever since. Even Richard Nixon, who had blown such an opportunity 12 years earlier when he thought his political career was over, made the best ethics statement of his life when all eyes were on him as he prepared to leave the White House forever. He said in part,
“Remember, always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
Franken began by virtue-signalling, saying that he had been excited that
“We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men’s actions affect them. The moment was long overdue. I was excited for that conversation and hopeful that it would result in real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society.”
Then the first accusation came his way, and Franken, despite his supposedly sincere statement at the time, didn’t say he was “embarrassed,” or “sorry,” or that there “was no excuse,” that he was “disgusted with himself,” or that his conduct was “completely inappropriate.” He says he was upset. Says Phillips in her notes,
“Upset” is a pretty strong word to use on the Senate floor, suggesting he was really angry that these women would accuse him of sexual misconduct.”
Franken’s whole demeanor today was angry. Next he went off the ethics rails:
“But in responding to their claims I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously. I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done.”
We have talked about this before. Franken had smugly joined his progressive colleagues in promoting the unethical, dangerous, irrational concept that any woman who accuses a man of sexual assault must be believed, even without evidence. It was this anti-American radical feminist claptrap that had led the Obama administration to issue the vile “Dear Colleague” letter extorting colleges and universities into putting young men accused of sexual assault before biased and unqualified Star Chambers, to be labelled rapists without due process or representation. This was also the most hypocritical stance imaginable for the party that had rescued a President from impeachment by airily arguing that “everyone lies about sex.”
So his convoluted argument was that he chose to bolster the dangerous party cant by pretending that the accusations against him had merit–that is, not challenging whether they were true—when in fact he doesn’t believe they were true. Yes, this is what his second apology sounded like he was doing, and it was obvious: I rated it cynical doubletalk.
And today, Al literally said that cynical doubletalk was “the right thing to do.” In reality, you see, all those women that good progressives should believe were in fact shouldn’t be believed. Got it.
Then he said, “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.” Phillips pounced:
This is very, very different from Franken before he got accused, where he indicated sexual assault accusers should be given the benefit of the doubt: “Sexual harassment and violence are unacceptable. We all must do our part to listen, stand with, and support survivors,” he tweeted in October as the #MeToo campaign ramped up. Here Franken is not giving his accusers the benefit of the doubt. And in casting doubt on “some” and “others,” of his accusers, he is casting doubt on all of them.
“I said at the outset that the ethics committee was the right venue for these allegations to be heard and investigated and evaluated on their merits, that I was prepared to cooperate fully and that I was confident in the outcome.”
That’s a lie. I flagged this from the beginning as a ploy, and I was right. Sympathetic commentators saluted Franken for “reporting himself” to the ethics committee, which was how Slick Al intended it to be taken. He said then,
“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”
Funny, that part about being confident in the outcome is missing. Franken didn’t say that, because it would mean that he didn’t believe those women—the ones other than Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick, who are official exceptions— who must always be believed. I wrote,
Brilliant and diabolical. Franken wants an investigation so it can clear him and prove that Tweeden’s version is wrong, but presents the idea as if he is nobly making an ethics claim on himself. What a weasel. But smart!
Franken’s speech then descends into naked self-celebration of his work, dedication, et cetera, to make sure that everyone feels the sharp injustice that has been inflicted on him. But he couldn’t resist this:
“I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
Brava to Phillips for having none of it:
“Daaaaaayum. On his way out the door, Franken couldn’t resist the “whataboutism” that has swallowed many partisans. The reality is: Powerful men trying to leverage their power for sex is bipartisan problem.”
And the irony is that the party that declared itself the party of feminism and gender equality and respect while accusing the other of pursuing a “war on women” is the one that has seen a House member and a Senator resign for sexual harassment in a single week.
Senator Franken, had he been a better man, a better Senator, and as admirable as he thinks he is, he could have and should have used his unique opportunity to bring some perspective, proportion and rationality to the current mob environment regarding sexual harassment. He could have called for ethics, if he sufficiently understood them, which he does not. He could have condemned the rise of anti-male bigotry, reminded the nation of the importance of due process, that accusers make mistakes, and that sexual harassment can be inadvertent, that culture can blind women and men. He could have explained that meaningful cultural changes take time, and that the time needs to be occupied by civil discussion, not name-calling and hate. Oh, he could have done a lot of good things today.
But Al doesn’t have it in him, or at least didn’t this day. Too bad. Too bad for Franken, and too bad for us.
In “Wall Street, ” a character played by Hal Holbrook tells Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), right before Bud is arrested,
“You know, Bud, a man looks in the abyss, and there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”
Senator Franken didn’t find his character.
If it’s there at all.