It would be easy for me this morning to dismiss Al Franken’s tasteless behavior by declaring it “better than a serial rapist like Roy Moore,” or even to suggest that Franken’s offenses occurred before he was an elected official and therefore should not be considered quite so damning.
Certainly there are gradations of abuse just as there are gradations of boorish behavior, but when we speak in those terms we miss the point, and it’s the same point we have been missing since we marginalized Mary Jo Kopechne, turned a blind eye to Bill Clinton, winked at Clarence Thomas, condoned Newt Gingrich, and consummated our insensitivity by electing Trump: the victims in each of these dramas became mere extras: the headliners always stole the show.
If you don’t believe that, look at Twitter this morning—rife with calls for Franken’s resignation, for a revisiting of Trump’s assaults and infidelities, for cries of “if one must go, all must go.” There’s the Trump’s tweet that the tasteless picture (of Franken) “speaks a thousand words (though Trump has yet to offer an opinion on Roy Moore, or himself).
It’s all about political fallout.
But there was also a victim.
Franken’s victim’s name is Leeann Tweeden, and all you need to know about her is that, during a USO tour in 2006, she appeared with Franken in a skit in which he kissed her, despite her request that he not do so. In her words:
“I immediately pushed him (Franken) away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time. I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth.”
If that doesn’t infuriate you, then ask yourself if you haven’t politicized everything to the point that even a plaintive “me too” from a victim of sexual violence means nothing. Whether Ms. Tweeden was an actress in a spotlight, or a mid-level employee in some high-rise office building, or a teenager with a part-time job, her rights were violated. Period.
Personally, I like Al Franken. I’ve read his books. As a senator he has worked vigorously to promote causes that empower women, minorities, and average Americans. Today I read his apology. It’s his voice and his syntax and was not, as some suggest, pieced together by a crisis management team. For that kind of fraudulence I turn to Trump, Moore, and their ilk.
But I’m disappointed.
I don’t want Franken removed from the senate, though my opinion counts for nothing outside the voting booth. Today only Leeann Tweeden’s counts.
“People make mistakes,” she said of Franken. “I’m not calling for him to step down.”
It was a gracious comment, but it will not end the matter. It will be litigated on social media and talk radio until the next scandal effaces it. And that’s fine, as long as we remember that, amid all the political wrangling and whatboutism, there was an offense committed and that there was—and is—a victim. When we lose sight of that, or choose to ignore it, then we become no more than hypocrites with ready lists of platitudes we use to disguise a lack of empathy.