Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was recently accused by Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio host, of kissing and groping her without her consent. This accusation of misconduct was from two years before Franken was elected, when Tweeden and him were traveling on a tour to entertain troops abroad.
This allegation comes at a time where we as a society have become rightly sensitive to sexual misconduct, harassment and assault. Politicians like Roy Moore and other entertainers like Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein have drawn necessary criticism against their abhorrent actions.
It’s important to note several observations before any call to action. First, sexual misconduct and harassment isn’t a black and white issue. While certainly we can all agree that sexual misconduct of all forms is grossly evil, not all sexual misconduct is equally despicable. The allegations of Harvey Weinstein, for instance, are substantially worse because of the history of the perpetrator against women he has worked with. We believe those allegations are substantially worse than the charges against Franken because there isn’t enough evidence yet to suggest a long-standing history of such behavior even though both actions are dehumanizing in their own way. On a spectrum from predatory to boorish, there is a clear separation from clear predators and Franken — that difference should not be ignored.
Second, Franken has a proven record of supporting women’s rights. He has co-authored many bills and has a strong voting record in favor of many bills that advocate and protect women’s rights. This suggests that his attitudes have changed over the years. His statement indicates that he is willing to work hard to make up for his actions.
However, this doesn’t change the facts.
The reality is that this was still sexual misconduct. The picture released clearly describes a narrative that dehumanized Tweeden, regardless of the context. The photographer taking the picture was also complicit in this misconduct. The Democratic party has spent a lot of time in defending the indefensible. A victim who happens to be Republican is still a victim, and should be respected as such. The response to Franken’s misconduct should not be to point at other people with many accusations. This type of discussion diffuses the seriousness of the problem, and leads to an environment where we cannot confront our own hypocrisy.
We urge the Democratic party to accept a stronger bipartisan norm against sexual misconduct and assault. Someone who engages in sexual harassment and other types of misconduct should not be viewed partially dependent on the party affiliation. Additionally, we urge Franken to make it clear that he will not be running for the next Senate election. This will give other people, namely female candidates, time to get political campaigns moving. Franken should vocally support a candidate that will advocate for stronger punishments against sexual assault, and protect the victims against such crimes. This type of political withdrawal will protect against any chaos from Franken resigning, as well as ensure that there is a smooth transition of power between him and whomever the next senator becomes. This way, Franken can begin to rectify his wrongs while still being held accountable for his actions.