The Al Franken Dilemma.

I love Al Franken. I have always loved Al Franken. One of my favorite lectures ever was the talk he gave on his fight against Fox News. (Hunt down The First Amendment Project; one of their episodes contains part of that talk.)

He broke my heart. I suspect he broke many others.

He broke my heart in the same way that Anthony Weiner did, albeit for less horrible reasons. Another champion of social justice brought low by behavior that I would have thought a champion of social justice would have known better than to engage in. (Weiner’s case had the added flavor of “how could he be so stupid?”.)

Franken has apologized, of course. But that’s not enough, at least not for me. I can’t help but feel that that apology was a political ploy, that Franken (who generally speaking is one smart cookie) is too intelligent to think that the allegations were going to go away. It’s a different tack than the Republicans take; they prevaricate, they lie, they slander women who come forward. They know they can get away with such behavior because their supporters will accept it. (After all, Roy Moore leads in the Alabama Senate race in spite of credible allegations of sexual harrassment and even rape of teenage girls.)

Democrats won’t. Representatives from both parties are pushing John Conyers to resign, even though he has given up his committee chairmanships and probably will not seek re-election.

This a sea change from the mid-1990s, when women charged that Bill Clinton had harrassed them, and Democrats for the most part questioned their motives and insinuated that they were all lying. Yes, some of them were Republican shills, but all of them? And even if some of them were brought forth by the Republicans, if the harassment occured, should that matter? It is incontrovertible that Clinton engaged in an illicit affair with an employee who was nearly twenty years younger then he was.

I was a lot more idealistic then. I wrote a letter to the White House urging Clinton to resign. (I wonder what would have happened had Gore ended up finishing that term: would the country have returned to normal or would the Republicans, seeking blood in the water, found something or made something up about Gore? Probably the latter. On the other hand, it might have given Gore a leg up in the 2000 election.)

I still believe that moral relativism is repugnant. If we decry behavior on the right, we should be just as swift to condemn it on the left. If we believe Roy Moore’s accusers, we should believe Al Franken’s. After all, as Jon Stewart said, “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re tested, they’re not values — they’re hobbies.”

That we have come to a point in history where women feel safe enough to come forward makes me happy. It still takes a lot of courage to tell of the misdeeds of the rich and powerful: you get slandered, your privacy invaded, your motives questioned in the nastiest terms. The difference is that now you have a chance of being believed.

We can empower women.* Maybe the first cracks in the shell of toxic masculinity and rape culture which cover this society are beginning to appear. Maybe women are beginning to be treated as trustworthy human beings, not as the heirs to Eve’s supposed treachery to Adam. Maybe punishing our heroes for their bad behavior is the first step towards a more just world.

And yet… and yet…. and yet…..

There are grave consequences to pushing Democrats out of the Senate. The repeal of the ACA was defeated by one vote. If Franken had not been there, the bill would have tied, and would have been passed by Mike Pence casting the deciding vote.

I am privileged in this debate. I can afford to ride forth on my white horse of righteousness, knowing that am, generally speaking, protected from the worst that Congress is likely to do. Had the ACA been repealed I probably would not have been affected all that much. If abortion is outlawed or birth control restricted I am not going to be personally harmed. I’ll take a hit with the new tax plan, but nothing I can’t handle.

Others are not so privileged. Their finances (when they are barely holding on in the first place), their health, perhaps their lives, will be in danger from reckless and callous government disregard for their well-being.

Some of those others are women. They need the protection that a Congress truly dedicated to their welfare can give. Yet at the same time those women are the ones who work for bosses, or have customers, who think they can grope, fondle, flash, forcibly kiss, and even rape with impunity, believing that they will never be called to account for assaulting the women over which they have power.

So I’m torn. All I can do is what I think right, which unfortunately changes from day-to-day as I confront once again the reality I have always known, that sometimes men — occasionally even men I like or admire — engage in despicable behavior.

*Yes, I do understand that men can be victims of assault as well, and that in fact in many ways the impacts of sexual assault are even more difficult for men than women. Anthony Rapp, whom I have always liked, has my unmitigated respect for speaking out against the popular and powerful Kevin Spacey. Men are affected by rape culture and toxic masculinity just like women, but in different ways. I think that’s another post.

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