Dilemma: we must judge Franken’s conduct in a presidency where there is no morality.

The Democrats need not revise their own history.

In light of Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) latest broadside and her hesitant assertion that Bill Clinton should have resigned, it’s important to remember that President Clinton was impeached—not for sexual misconduct (which is not an impeachable offense) but for lying about it. The belief that he “got away with it” is ludicrous. He has carried—and will carry forever—the stigma of adulterer; and among some, of rapist and abuser. (Yes people still like him, but I would guess the number of admirers is diminishing.)

Further, before Clinton the last president to suffer impeachment was Andrew Johnson, more than a century earlier. It is not an everyday event. (One might say that Nixon escaped it by resigning and I would not argue, though it doesn’t alter the rarity.)

I’ve said before that we missed the boat on Clinton—that we were willing to overlook his indiscretions (some would call them crimes) because we liked him. Maybe it was because America had gone thirty years without a youthful and vibrant president, and among many Clinton was viewed as the reincarnation of John Kennedy. So we gave him a pass on Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, both of whose accusations seemed doubtful at best. But there was Juanita Broaddrick’s account—with the invitation to “discuss matters” in Clinton’s hotel room. Now that we know Harvey Weinstein’s MO, she seems even more credible today.

But again, we liked Clinton—women—not because he was young and attractive, but because of the issues he championed:

  • His first executive action was to revoke the Gag Rule: abortion counseling could begin in federally funded clinics.
  • He signed off on family and medical leave .
  • He promoted a childhood immunization effort.
  • He promoted Head Start reform and Early Head Start.
  • He signed the bill stiffening the penalties for violence against women.
  • He fought against teen pregnancy, stepped up efforts to collect child support, and lengthened the time new mothers could remain in the hospital after giving birth. All this was in his first term. More followed.

These progressive efforts resonated with women, with families. That and the fact that an organized, well funded, and merciless “Get Clinton” cabal had been in operation for decades (I’m looking at you, repentant Kenneth Starr) led many of us to put things into perspective, a perspective that may have been skewed.

Now we must deal with Al Franken, or rather, he must deal with himself. For Senator Gillibrand to announce that Clinton should have resigned at this particular moment implies that Al Franken should do the same. I don’t know a whole lot about Ms. Gillibrand, but I do know a little about politics—enough to know that jockeying for position in 2020 has begun, and to know also that internecine warfare within parties is not unusual. Franken and Gillibrand have already been mentioned as possible Democratic presidential candidates, and it would be to the Republicans advantage to weaken both of them, or to sit back and let the Democrats themselves do it—something at which they’re quite adept.

Both Franken and Gillibrand have spoken. Now, since neither one is a victim, it’s time for both of them to shut up. The system of reporting abuse and the climate for doing so are finally beginning to take hold. Debating punishment and political blowback will only distract us, and may in the end dissuade more victims from coming forward. (Oh yeah, her, she destroyed a political/entertainment/sports/professional career.)

Al Franken must decide what accomplishes the greater good, and he must make this momentous career decision within the context of the presidency of a man whose morality and integrity don’t quite rise to that of a child molester—one of whom Trump actually supports. But don’t delude yourself: if you really think that Franken’s remaining in the Senate will make Trump’s comeuppance impossible, you haven’t been paying attention. Trump’s judgment will begin only when our judgment of his accusers matches our judgment of Weinstein’s, Spacey’s, and Moore’s. In a favorable climate where victims can feel comfortable and safe, they can put to rest this excuse of “locker-room talk” and expose Trump for the serial abuser he is.


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