Now that Al Franken has resigned, it is fair to note that while this was the right to thing to — and not just so Democrats could claim the moral high ground — the loss of Franken, a good and important senator, is not without cost.
Look, if it doesn’t cost anything, it’s no great feat to take the high ground. Or course there’s cost. And, of course, as Franken pointed out in his resignation speech, there is irony that he is resigning while the self-admitted pussy grabber remains unmolested in the White House and an alleged sexual predator is running for the Senate from Alabama, and with the full embrace of Trump and the Republican National Committee.
As a few people have rightly pointed out, it is actually less ironic than it is outrageous. But there is also the fact of eight Franken accusers (I know, Trump has 16 ) and that this isn’t about whataboutism, but about a long, ugly and tortured history.
It’s not a particularly high standard to say our leaders shouldn’t cop feels, squeeze bottoms or thrust tongues where they’re not wanted. It’s not a particularly high standard, as Franken agrees, to say that women must be heard and believed and not shamed and discarded, even if his resignation speech seemed to suggest he didn’t completely understand it.
The point is, you don’t have to be Harvey Weinstein, or Roy Moore, to be held to account. And as Franken accusers kept coming forward with similar stories, an increasing number of Democratic women in the Senate could no longer accommodate a friend and an ally. They’d have to act.
Franken, who notably didn’t apologize in his speech on the Senate floor and instead said he believes he would have been cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee, resigned because the female senators demanded that he resign, and because so many Democrats followed. He had no choice. It was, without question, a watershed moment in American — and sexual — politics.
And for those who think it was all about politics, it’s true that the Democratic governor of Minnesota will appoint a Democrat to replace Franken. But it’s not as simple as that. Franken’s resignation means the seat is open again in 2018. And Minnesota, like Colorado, is very much a purple state. There’s no guarantee that this doesn’t become a Republican pickup next year in the closely divided Senate.
In a brilliant piece in Slate, Dahlia Lithwick takes the politics a step further. She writes that Franken’s resignation only proves that Republicans have successfully forced Democrats to accept an uneven playing field when it comes to morality.
Franken and Conyers go. Trump stays. Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, who cashed in $85,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim, stays. Moore, who is accused of sexually assaulting teenagers, stays in the race. You can spot a trend here, although, as I’m writing this, sources are saying that Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican congressman, is resigning — something about surrogacy, something, it seems, I don’t even want to know.
Yes, people like Cory Gardner condemn Moore and say he should be expelled if elected, but that’s as easy for Gardner as reading Colorado poll numbers. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Gardner to condemn Trump’s support for Moore or to insist that the Republican National Commitee stay out of the Alabama race. Gardner won’t condemn Mitch McConnell for shifting ground to say that it’s up to Alabama voters to decide, even as the president is saying that Alabama voters should elect Moore.
What Gardner and others want is to try to claim a small piece of the high ground. But there is no moral high ground when those in the RNC actually believe Moore’s accusers and still want to help him win. That’s right. They’re pushing hard for the mall stalker who allegedly called a girl out of her trig class and writes notes in high school yearbooks and who is accused of molesting a 14-year-old.
And so Lithwick writes: “Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to arming the other side. That may be a trade worth making in some cases. But it’s worth at least acknowledging that this is the current calculus. It’s no longer that when they go low, we get to go high. They are permanently living underground. How long can we afford to keep living in the clouds?”
What we know is that Democrats and Republicans are playing by different rules. That’s in part because their constituents demand it. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 77 percent of Democrats said an elected official should resign if he is accused “by multiple people” of sexual harassment or assault. Only 51 percent of Republicans agreed.
It’s not clear what happens next. Sen. Lindsey Graham says that if Moore is elected, the stain will be carried by every Republican running in 2018. That’s certainly the way Democrats will play it. But it won’t stop there. The Moore question won’t go away. And now that Democrats have lost Franken, angry Democratic voters will want to avenge that loss.
In fact, not moments after Franken’s resignation, there were already calls for Senate Democrats to demand an investigation into the women’s accusations against Trump. Gaining the high ground is one thing. But doing something with it is another thing altogether.