Franken and Moore: Fall On Your Swords
We return once again to America’s most infamous politicians. On the one side, we have Roy Moore, the recalcitrant Republican whose predilection is pubescent girls. On the other, we find Al Franken, the Democrat who fancies his ladies a bit older, but a bit less conscious. Between the two politically, little lies in common. The former is an evangelical zealot, an obstreperous public servant, a reactionary rube who’s spent a controversial career in the political cataracts of the deep-red South. The latter is quite the opposite: he’s a man of the mid-west and then the northeast, a man softened by celebrity, Semitic but secular, a tyro to politics, a citified self-effacing type.
At least this was the case until last week, when Moore and Franken’s tales converged. You all know the saga well enough, and I needn’t recount the dirty details here. To put it briefly, both Moore and Franken have been accused of something somewhere between sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault (we’re slowly coming to learn the distinctions between the three). Moore has been accused by nine; Franken by two. And while both should be walking the political plank, creaking ever closer toward the edge and ocean below, the opposite seems to be the case. Both have found themselves relatively safe aboard their Party’s ships.
From the outset, Moore made clear his intention to stay in Alabama’s senate race. He’s vying for a seat that’s gone reliably “red” for the past twenty-five consecutive years. The GOP’s dynasty in Alabama has ruled a quarter of a century strong, and it’s now very much at stake. Moore is counting on history to bury not only his Democratic challenger but his own personal demons as well. In any other scenario, the seat would be easily won, but the early polls have pundits thinking otherwise. Doug Jones, a former U.S. District Attorney and Moore’s Democratic opponent, is said to hold a nine-point lead. I very much doubt the that the number is that high, but if the near double-digit lead holds true, Jones might wind up slaying the dynasty come December.
For Alabama’s Republicans—of whom there are many—this is a serious nodus they must face down. The majority of them is grappling with the decision, which has become an inflection point for the conservative state. To support such a man would contradict many of the people’s most strongly held convictions about fidelity, filial piety, and the like. None of these Christian virtues are expressed less than in Roy Moore.
But others remain devoted to the judge. They are a subset in Alabama, but they are unconditional. Their mindset is hypocritical, but it’s also simple and it goes as follows: so long as the politician is “our guy” and on “our side”, no sin is disqualifying. A political win takes precedence over your champion’s peccadilloes, even if they are as heinous as pedophilia.
Recognizing this, Moore still thinks he has a real shot come December. He’s been adamant about staying in the race and obdurate about defending his name. He’s refused to acknowledge any truth in his accusers’ claims. Quite the contrary, he’s inveighed against them. He’s threatened forensic hand-writing analyses and libel lawsuits against the Washington Post. He’s become desperate to maintain the fading mirage of his saintly innocence. And while the “establishment” in Washington has left him largely marooned, his defiance has continued to garner pockets of Republican support, including President Trump’s tepid-turned-explicit endorsement earlier today.
That last part is perhaps the most important. President Trump is extraordinarily popular in Moore’s Alabama. Trump relishes in his popularity in the deep south, a place he feels connected to like a kindred spirit. As such, he could’ve influenced voters’ next step in a direction away from Moore. Instead, he breathed new life into the beleaguered judge’s campaign.
Had Trump chosen another path, his next step away from Moore could’ve been one of many. The most promising would’ve been if Trump convinced Moore to step down immediately from the contest. By doing so, the GOP could hurry onto the ballot a write-in candidate. President Trump then would have had just enough time to rally Alabamans in support of his once-preferred choice, “Big” Luther Strange. It would’ve be a circuitous journey, but one that might’ve ended with a GOP victory at its end.
Instead, in essence, Trump has endorsed Roy Moore. This leaves us with two possibilities moving forward: the first and less likely is that Moore splits the Republican vote with a yet unnamed nominee—a write-in candidate—thus splitting the party and paving the way for Doug Jones to take the seat. More likely is the second possibility that has Moore winning the election outright—fair and square via the popular vote. His victory secured, Moore would then head to Washington with the threat of expulsion looming. The question would then become whether or not the GOP-led Senate, who’s support rests with the victims and not with Moore, would make good on its threat to send Moore away.
Like Roy Moore, Al Franken has shown little indication he’ll be dropping out from political life any time soon. At the very least, he won’t be doing so voluntarily. He, like Moore, initially tried to downplay the accusations when they first arose. Franken’s response to Ms. Tweeden’s account of his indecent kissing and groping was one of amnesia: he claimed to have remembered the “situation” quite differently than she. Similar defenses have become increasingly common by the accused. Dozens of other leading men accused of similar misconduct have relied on this pallid line.
The attempt is to weaken the woman’s claim, but to that end, Franken failed. He tried to transform Tweeden’s story—which we haven’t a reason to discredit—into hearsay. The optics changed, however, when the photograph of him fondling her breasts began to circulate. Whether in earnest or jest, he was caught red-handed groping her bullet-proof bodice, and his defense fell apart. He’s since issued an apology and submitted to an Ethics Committee investigation.
If the Democrats were wise, and if they could feel the rhythm of the political pulse bounding beneath their feet, they’d join at once in calling for Franken’s ouster. In charting this course, uncomfortable though it may be, they’d not only preserve their dwindling pride but strengthen the party’s image moving forward.
Just as Luther Strange replaced Jeff Sessions when the latter became Attorney General, so too would a Democrat replace Franken were he to resign. The appointment would be temporary and would last only until Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, could hold a special election. At that point, Minnesotans would go to the polls—albeit prematurely—to choose a new senator to fill the role until 2020. Sure, a new face would replace Franken’s on the senate floor, but the party would be none the worse for the wear. In all likelihood, the seat would stay blue.
Instead, Democrats are in the midst of missing a chance to capture the moral high ground. Quickly passing is their opportunity to improve the system from within. Imagine for a moment the tone they’d set if they severed ties with Franken and committed themselves not just in word but in deed to ridding sexual predators from public service. This could stir a new-wave, neo-liberal shift, whereby disaffected Republicans—dismayed by the lack of a moral standard that they previously held so dear on the Right—move their support Left (it’s a long-shot, I’m aware). However, as long as Franken stays where he is, and as long as Democrats recoil at the thought of cutting him loose, no such shift will take place.
Ignorant of the riches they might win by acting otherwise, Democrats have fallen in line to support Franken. None, so far as I know, have called explicitly for his removal. They’ve passed the onus to the Ethics Committee, whose track record for the past decade has very little to show for. In that span of time, the committee has issued only five letters of admonition and disciplined none. Few think that Franken will buck that long-established trend.
In an ideal world, Franken and Moore would fall on their swords. They’d excise themselves like cysts from parties too squeamish to do it alone. Obviously, this world isn’t ideal (a small revelation to Moore and Franken’s victims), but it could be improved. Each man has the potential. As it is, they’ve become personae non gratae in their parties. Now it’s time for them to unfurl their grips, and step aside.