Sen. Al Franken is not Roy Moore. He isn’t even Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer.
At most Franken, who announced Thursday he is resigning, is guilty of boorish behavior – not assault, not pedophilia, not even sexual harassment. But with today’s fast-changing, contradictory and confusing reversal of sexual norms, he’s being burned at the stake, walked down the plank, buried alive. It’s unfair.
The sanctimonious claptrap and false indignation emanating from fellow U.S. senators and TV pundits is nauseating. My friends tell me that Democrats – and I’m a Democrat – can’t afford to be seen as partisan on this issue, or hypocritical. They can’t be hard on Republicans – the president, Moore – and soft on Democrats. They can’t afford to be seen as racist – hard on African-American Congressman John Conyers and soft on white Franken.
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All this obscures the real distinctions in these cases.
Moore, who is running for U.S. Senate in Alabama in a Tuesday election, has been credibly accused of forcibly attacking underage teenagers when he was a thirty-something assistant district attorney. Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who also announced his retirement this week, used public funds to settle sexual harassment suits while in office. The women he’s accused of groping were his employees.
And what about President Donald Trump? Well, we don’t even need to go there. The public knows he’s a thrice-married lech.
Franken, in notable contrast, squeezed a little too hard while taking photos with fawning fans, stuck his tongue down the throat of a co-performer during a racy USO skit. And in the infamous photo, Franken is shown holding his hands above a woman’s breast while she was sleeping on an airplane. Clearly he didn’t touch her. If he had, she would have woken up.
These are sexual hijinks committed at a time – just yesterday, I think – when such behavior was permitted in our culture.
I believe that sexual harassment is real, that mostly women – but sometimes men, even powerful men – have been victims. As a reporter at the state Capitol three decades ago, I saw women regularly harass the young governor, Jerry Brown. That was his first time in office, when he was handsome, single and had all his hair.
But back to Franken. We are in a moment of self-flagellation, when men who’ve behaved badly are getting their comeuppance. But we must be careful to avoid collateral damage, the innocent who will be brought down along with the guilty.
I also fear the coming backlash. The American people aren’t stupid. They can make distinctions. To equate Franken with Moore or Weinstein or even the president is wrong. When our elected leaders fail to make those distinctions, when they fail to give Franken the due process he deserves, they undercut the serious and legitimate victims of sexual assault.
Ginger Rutland was an editorial writer at The Sacramento Bee for 25 years and now writes plays. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.