Al Franken And The Right To Lead

It is wishful thinking to believe that politics has nothing to do with this; it has everything to do with it.
11/23/2017 11:00 am ET Updated Nov 23, 2017
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

From a HuffPost article this morning regarding the latest accusations against Al Franken:

“Men should be held to the same standards regardless of their politics,” she said. “He’s an imperfect messenger for a progressive platform. He can’t claim to be ‘for women’ and also grope them.”

I have a couple of thoughts here...

First, I agree with the first statement that this woman makes with all of my heart. It should NOT matter what a man’s politics might be when judging his actions. Unfortunately, it does, and here is why: I have already noted elsewhere that we are unlikely to run out of men of a certain age in power positions who have taken advantage of that power in some unacceptable way. Until conservatives hold their men to the same standards as liberals wish to hold ours to, however, we are creating a situation in which being a liberal is a far more precarious position than being a conservative. A single accusation against Franken, and one that could be considered a case of bad judgment, and we were calling for his resignation. Half a dozen cases against Roy Moore, including child abuse and outright rape, and we have a president who still supports him and a state that may still elect him.

Is this at all reasonable and equitable? It is wishful thinking to believe that politics has nothing to do with this; it has everything to do with it. We cannot simply be willing to wipe out all liberal offenders and watch the other side’s offenders (who are, in general, much worse: think Bill Cosby vs. Louis CK worse) walk away scot free. (And BTW: I’d be willing to bet that a Cosby tour could still sell in conservative areas; would the same be true of a CK tour in liberal ones?) No: as difficult as it is to admit, we have to realize that we are not holding men to the same standards when they are of different political leanings. Conservatives get away with almost anything short of murder (or, maybe, even that: I’m looking at you, OJ), whereas liberals are forced to heel for much, much more minor offenses. This is an untenable political reality.

Second, I agree entirely with the speaker’s next statement as well. Given the accusations and the fact that, from photographic evidence and his own admission, there is truth that he behaved badly, Franken is an “imperfect messenger.” But he is also a human being. When was it that we started demanding perfection of our politicians, anyway? Our Presidents have rarely been. Obama was the first in decades to manage to get through without any kind of major scandal. Is Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan a “perfect messenger”? Is Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi? No, every one of these people—everyone, period—has the flaws that manifest in human beings. If we have to hold our leaders to the standard of perfection, we will find that we have no one who can lead.

But there is a context, I think, for the speaker’s second statement, and that is her third one: “He can’t claim to be ‘for women’ and also grope them.” This may be unpopular to say, but why not? Joe Biden has spent a political career putting unwanted hands all over women, yet no one says that he is not “for women.” Is what Franken is accused of so much worse? Take these latest three entirely at their words and here is what you have: Franken, not yet a senator, got some kind of twisted pleasure from squeezing their asses. This naturally made them feel diminished and very uncomfortable, but doesn’t what Biden does cause those same emotions? It may not be sexualized in his case, but it certainly makes him an “imperfect messenger” for women’s issues, doesn’t it? Yet many women who have worked with and for both men argue that they are wonderful advocates for women. What gives?

Is it possible that one’s sincerely held beliefs, the beliefs upon which a man builds a political career and works hard to make into law, might have very little to do with the man’s lack of control over his hands? That a man might be a good and kind-hearted man and still do things that are less than what we would or should consider “right”? Is it just possible that a man’s politics do count here, at least somewhat, and should be taken into consideration as an indication of what is in his heart?

I am not suggesting we should simply forgive Senator Franken. By all means, we should have expected better from him. But now that we see that he is human, perhaps we can demonstrate that we too can be human and show that we understand what making stupid decisions and mistakes is all about, and that we know the difference between what he did and what, say, the Roy Moore did. (Or the president.) Hold Franken accountable, yes, but realize that his very guilt in this matter might make him a better leader in this matter. There is no better proselytizer than a reformed sinner; Jesus himself knew that. (Think Saul.) A man who knows how easy it is to give in to that temptation might actually be a more effective leader than any holier-than-thou “I would never do that” man who might later prove to be just as weak. And make no mistake: this is a cause in which a *man* must lead the charge. Women everywhere feel the pain of it, but men, like it or not, will be more likely to listen to one of their own.