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.
26 thoughts on “Franken’s Resignation Speech: The Lost Opportunity”
Comedy writers write lines for comic characters. They don’t have to have it.
I had to look it up. It was Socrates who is reputed to have said, “Know thyself.” I’ve been thinking what an important ethical imperative that is. It would have been very useful to Al Franken. By nature, Al Franken is a satirist, an ironist and a cynic. (Trust me, it takes one to know one.) He’s an observer, a kibitzer. He’s not a doer. He should have known better than to try to make the switch from critic to serious governmental person. He thought he was smart enough to pull it off (being arrogant isn’t terribly ethical either) and the voters evidently bought what he was selling for a while. But he should have known (as should all media types): there’s a difference between just being inclined or able to criticize others who are trying to accomplish things and actually accomplishing something yourself. Al should have just stayed on the sidelines with his verbal pea shooter being a wise guy. He’s a wise guy, not a wise man. It’s a great lesson for all of us. We need to know our own strengths and weaknesses, our limitations, what we are versus what we are not. Al made the crucial mistake of not knowing these things about himself. He’s a cut-up and a clown. He’s quick with a quip. But he’s just not a serious person. And now he’s paying the price, as are all his supporters and colleagues. We need to stick to what we know and not, as did another Greek, fly too close to the sun.
The Minnesota goes down through dereliction of duty:
I have always liked Al, and still will, but I was thinking much the same as what you wrote above.
Maybe with some distance he’ll write a book about what he should’ve said tonight.
Amid all the news focusing on Al Franken today, Trent Frankes’ resignation slipped under the radar.
”Trent Frankes’ resignation slipped under the radar.”
Might that be because of the (IMHO) BULLSHIT reason he did?
Unless he said something like, “hey, would either of you’s gals help me…um…obtain a specimen to submit?”
(bolds mine throughout)
“I have recently learned that the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable,” Franks added. “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
”Franks also stressed that he never made inappropriate sexual advances to any of his staff.”
What do you believe the outcome would be had this been an X-Chromosomal Unit discussing the same subject with Y-Chromosomal Unit subordinates?
It’s anyone’s guess, but I speculate that, at the very least, the latter would be branded: “What heartless Jerks! Part of the EVIL Patriarchy, How could they not understand, They have no idea what she’s going through, etc.” for publicizing some poor woman’s inability to conceive.
Oh well, if Franks said it, it must be true and he just decided to leave despite being sure an ethics investigation would clear him.
Let me offer the most innocent of the alternatives that I can think of.
Instead of discussing the hardships of looking for a trustworthy surrogate. He, who happens to be the boss, asked if either of the women would be interested in the job. They, as employees are put in the hard position of having to say no to the boss. Add in that the inappropriate request was made because they are women of a certain age and it requires using their bodies for something other than the tasks one could be reasonably asked to preform as a congressional staffer.
I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he would in no way penalize anyone for refusing this non-work related request. But I can’t be 100% sure about that, given that his request was already out of bounds. And so maybe the two women also couldn’t be 100% sure.
Fair points, we’ll see.
And if it turns out that he did (per your scenario) make an…um…indecent proposal, I shall return…with an appropriately groveling and contrite mea maxima culpa.
Good thing he didn’t inquire about the availability a kidney…
Which would also be highly problematic.
Jack, do you want to weigh in on this?
Should all organ donation discussion be verboten?
Oy! Even pipe, console, & mouth (harmonica or kazoo)…?
Howse about a passive request so only those interested need inquire, like a break room bulletin board notice with tear-away phone numbers?
I don’t see a problem with that, or a little poster with information on how to register. No more of an issue than a poster encouraging people to donate blood. The boss would never know if you did it or not.
Oh, let me note that the scenario I suggested is the one that Wapo’s reporting. That he asked if they’d be surrogates (in-vitro implied, not that he’d make a direct deposit)
Direct deposit, THAT got a hearty chortle!
Any…um…minimum amount requirement, duration it must remain, or penalty for early withdrawal…?
Some sort of scenario along those lines seems plausible, icky, and definitely reason enough to resign. Definitely a hostile work environment where your boss makes such a request — how could he possibly think that was appropriate?
As I recall, though, his name was mentioned in the NYT coverage of Franken’s speech, but he hadn’t actually resigned as of then. Probably happened after the deadline for the morning paper.
Franken’s resignation took away all the headline oxygen.
If he’s just a House member (and until now practically no one outside his district knew his name,) then he’s far less relevant and newsworthy than Franken. Surely you don’t see some sort of conspiracy here.
Question though….would his speech be just as bad coming from someone who truly believed they didn’t do anything wrong?
The context is his previous statements. Which he showed were completely cynical and insincere. The slam at Trump and Moore was wrong under any circumstances, and if he didn’t do anything wrong, then he shouldn’t have resigned at all.
Franken bringing up trump and Moore is like the menendez brothers bringing up oj Simpson as they are led away to prison. Valid point – completely wrong messenger.
I don’t understand Franken. He declares that he is either innocent (“I remember it differently”) and will be exonerated in the ethics review, or that his conduct falls far short of what he expects of himself and apologized but he is not as bad as Moore or Trump. If he is innocent, why is he resigning? If he is innocent, why isn’t he fighting tooth and nail to clear his name? If he is innocent, why isn’t he telling the Democrat Party leadership to go pound salt?
He has put himself in a proverbial box. If he fights back, then he is going against his and party’s platform that sexual assault victims should be believed at all costs; yet, if he resigns, then he is essentially admitting he is guilty of the allegations.
Your second paragraph shows that you Do understand Franken…
Yup. That box is most unpleasant. Rave on, Senator Franken!
Now where have I heard “The Franken” apology style used before? Something years ago and very high-profile?I remember! Kobe Bryant!
“Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colorado.
I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
Maybe they have the same lawyer?
Good reminder, Isaac. That is indeed an eerie echo, what Franken said.
Smerconish wonders why Franken said he would retire “in a few weeks.” Damn good question. Is he waiting to see if Moore gets elected and everyone will say, “Come back, Al! All is forgiven!”
One day out since Franken spoke, I am starting to wonder: did Franken REALLY resign? Is he REALLY going to leave office? I’m not going to hold my breath in hope that he will actually give up his power. His speech left the door open for him to stay in the Senate. I don’t trust that guy any farther than I can throw Hlary or the Rock Center.
Finally getting caught up on reading.
I was the pointer?
You may wanna double check that in case someone else is missing out on credit for pointing you this way. I don’t recall finding the speech and sending it to you, Jack.