Franken Finally Resigns
Seven, it seems, is a numinous number in more ways than one. It’s the day the god of Abraham chose as his own. He toiled and titivated a week for a day’s repose. Later on in Genesis, it was the number of animal pairs allowed onto the ark (excluding insects, of course, who numbering over 10 quintillion, were left to fend for themselves). After that, it’s the number of the deadly sins, the first of which is our concern today. Lust, or Eros—in most cases listed before all others—was Senator Al Franken’s charge. And, as always it does, it's struck a deadly blow.
So deadly, in fact, that it has spelled the abrupt end to the senator’s otherwise promising political career. He was once the spectacled and sardonic newcomer to Washington, a man so soaked with energy, he couldn’t help but not make a splash in D.C. That said, he’s since become persona non grata and he’ll walk away from his congressional seat in shame.
Still, in his brief heyday, he was a welcome gust in the senate’s stuffy chambers. Franken brought with him to Washington a unique worldview. He combined in one Harvard-educated sixty-six-year-old Jew the hardy humility that a Minnesota winter demands and the high and low-brow humor embedded SNL’s walls. He was self-effacing, wry, and ready to make deals. He won wide public appeal for his temerity in reaching across the aisle. He became so popular within his party, in fact, that Democratic leaders thought him a potential 2020 candidate for the presidency.
And he may yet be. I should know better by now than to speak too soon. There was a time I thought that grabbing women by their genitals and then bragging about it (and thus giving new meaning to the phrase, “caught red-handed”) was a cause for disqualification. Not so, agreed enough Americans on November the 8th, and President Trump is the Commander-in-Chief. But that’s a not wholly unrelated aside. The focus is on Franken and the fact that he’s now gone.
Accusations were first raised against him about a month ago. They came in the wake of the Weinstein deluge—those explosive two months that saw many industry titans wither away. In keeping with belated bombshells, Franken’s offense—like those of the other men—was brought to light recently but occurred long ago. In 2006, he and Leeann Tweeden—a comely comedienne and radio personality in Los Angeles—were rehearsing a sketch for servicemen in the Middle East. Franken, the amorous and assiduous artiste that he is, wanted just once more to practice the skit’s intimate scene. Before going on stage, he drew Tweeden uncomfortably close and forced upon her a kiss. Then, while returning home, he groped Tweeden’s breasts while she was asleep. Someone else captured the photo, and when it surfaced, it became an indelible embarrassment. Not only was it puerile and perverted, but it was the tip of an iceberg to come.
Since Tweeden went public about the untoward attention she received from Franken, five more women have spoken out. They seemed to have found courage and momentum in their shared experiences—and I do mean shared. Franken kept to a tight little script when it came to his erotic exploits. The script, as it were, reads as follows: Eager to make the affable senator’s acquaintance, the woman ran up to him for a photo op. With a gregarious guise, he’d embrace her. They would ready their pose and he’d pull her in alarmingly close. Then, with an arm girdled around her, he would cop a “feel” on her backside. It would happen in a flash and the two would just as quickly part ways. Franken would hasten off to another crowd. The woman, now a victim, would walk away slack-jawed asking, “did that really just happen?”
Unfortunately, it did. And it did again and again. What’s clear is that it wasn’t an anomaly, a misunderstanding, or an innocent faux pas; it was aberrant and pre-planned, and Franken carried it out with some degree of predictability. To these consistently slimy stories, Franken responded with weak apologies and anemic explanations. He admitted that he remembered the encounters much differently, if indeed he remembered them at all. He said that it was his warm personality, not his lechery, that caused the women to feel the way they did. He apologized for “their experiences” rather than for his own misbehavior.
In light of this, Democrats were forced to an inflection point. As more accusations began trickling in, they could have set the moral precedent right then and there by removing Franken from his seat. Or, they could’ve battered down and held out the storm. Led blindly by the benefit of the doubt, they opted for the latter. They recommended against Franken’s immediate ouster, calling instead for an ethics probe. They thought that the situation was salvageable. They thought Franken’s career was corrigible. And most dishearteningly of all, they—like their Republican colleagues—they thought their party more important than the probity lost.
To this end, it seems they would’ve continued—undaunted by the fact that their cognitive dissonance was swelling above them. The more they inveighed against Roy Moore, President Trump, and the GOP, the larger it grew. It had become a leviathan—born of hypocrisy and bred in bad faith. But just before it closed its jaw and swallowed them whole, a seventh accuser arrived on the scene. It was her accusation, no stronger than those of the previous six, that ultimately slew Franken’s career.
What’s that you say? The number “seven” appears once again? Ah, but of course, keenest reader, there it is! At the risk of pushing an introduction too far, it took that many accusers, all with equally credible and veridical allegations, to stir the Democratic leaders to act. Six simply wouldn’t do; five was too few. There’s a threshold, you see, for sexual improprieties: the number is seven.
When the seventh accuser stepped forward, more than thirty Senate Democrats changed their positions. It was an abrupt about-face, but when they turned, Franken was left forsaken. He’d become a leper whose lesions were beginning to show. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii admitted that she’d “struggled with this decision because (he’s) a good Senator” and that she “considers him a friend…but that cannot excuse his behavior and his mistreatment of women”. Her candor is telling, but Senator Claire McCaskill put it best by saying less. She tersely stated that “Al Franken should resign” and that’s all there is to it. For these and many other senators, this seventh accuser was the proverbial straw—the one that broke the donkey’s and not the camel’s back.
With this groundswell beneath him, Franken reluctantly agreed to step down. Addressing the senate floor, he said that he’d be resigning in the “coming weeks”. He noted the irony, as any middling comic could, of his leaving office while “a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office” and a man in Judge Roy Moore who has “repeatedly preyed on young girls” and who now “campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party”. Touché. Franken’s point is well made, if not belated.
But while Franken succeeded in making this point, he failed elsewhere. Again, as before, he wouldn’t take seriously the charges levied against him. Instead of swallowing hard and admitting his guilt, he tried to distance himself from the accusations. He repeated his earlier defense, almost verbatim, when he said that “Some of the allegations against me are not true…others I remember very differently”. This unseemly combination of pertinacity and amnesia spoiled his “apology”. It turned into an apology in the classical sense, as though he were defending his honor ahead of a hostile court. He tried to dodge responsibility and undercut his culpability. He never did offer an honest, outright apology. He didn’t own up to his misbehavior. Rather, he was indignant when he should’ve been contrite, defensive when he should’ve been penitent. And this, at the end, was a grave injustice to his seven victims.
Had he given a full mea culpa, instead of a weak cup of tea, Franken might’ve left the Democratic Party a martyr. He could’ve turned ignominy into sanctimony. He could’ve become the entire political class’ standard-bearer. He could’ve become the patron saint of fallen philanderers, with stained-glass, shameful eyes looking out for edification. Instead, he was near-sighted—his gaze limited to the moment before him. If he had taken full responsibility for his actions and sided wholeheartedly with his victims, the consequent call for President Trump and Roy Moore’s removal would’ve been strengthened. Sadly, though, misled by his myopia, Franken missed this chance.
As for the Democratic Party, they’re better off without him. The same goes for the Republicans, should they divest from Trump and Moore. No man is above America’s dignity and all should answer for their indiscretions—whether they number one, five, or seven.