The bookends to Sen. Al Franken’s political career are reflected in two photos that appeared in this newspaper, one in 2009 and one this week. They are photos of a face, not of Franken, but of a woman.
His wife, Franni.
In the first photo, Franni is shown hugging her husband on the stairs of their Minneapolis condo after he won his first election. Franni holds him tightly, her mouth open in joy as she waves to people in the crowd.
This was to be the start of the real Al Franken Decade, in which the former comedian finally grows up and seizes the progressive populist mantle of Paul Wellstone, whose legacy was on Franken’s mind and lips on his first day — and his last.
The second photo shows Franni, the dutiful wife, seemingly dragged through a horde of reporters, her face drawn and worn by this debacle, by accusations that her husband, despite his brilliance and passion, may have been at times a bit of a creep.
The Giant of the Senate, as Franken jokingly referred to himself in his latest book, is now the Ghost of the Senate.
I have no idea if Franken harassed anyone, and neither do you. When numerous women step forward, I tend to believe the alleged perpetrator did something bad to them. But in a time when 30 percent of the population bought into a contrived story that Hillary Clinton ran a sex slave business out of a pizza place, the notion of conspiracy cannot be completely dismissed.
As Franken foreshadowed in his latest book: “Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.”
How you respond to the Franken resignation is likely dictated, or at least influenced, by your political view. Morality rides either an elephant or a donkey, but not both. We’re into a period of political and social nihilism and we no longer want to win, we want to destroy each other. There are no rules and no limits to the mean.
Add to that the churlish, insatiable beast of social media and the toxicity is overwhelming. I’m not sure if Twitter is possessed itself, or whether we, collectively have possessed it. If we were to perform an exorcism, would we perform it on Twitter, or ourselves?
There is a purge on the great American landscape, for the better and the worse. The question has become not whether we should believe abused and harassed women, but whether we, the media especially, should believe all the women, all the time, with no evidence, and then print accusations anonymously. It is inevitable that one accuser will, some day, be proven to have lied and then no woman will ever be believed again.
Aside from Bob Dylan, our two most well-known celebrities are Franken and Garrison Keillor, now both swept up in disgrace over behavior once reserved for frat parties and corporate holiday bashes.
Like irony? Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar once secured a Senate resolution honoring Keillor’s show. “It really represents a simpler life and represents the best in people, especially as we’re coming through this flood season and seeing neighbor helping neighbor,” the proclamation reads.
Our American narrative now reads like the script of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Get shut of it. Shut it out. … There’s an absolute morality? Maybe, and then what?”
So, what is it with Minnesota? We’ve had two powerful celebrities and two state legislators taken down by sexual harassment charges. Is it the stodgy Lutheran composure that compels us to keep everything quiet and tidy, even when we are being abused, before unleashing a torrent of pent-up anger at long last?
Franken served the state like a man on limited time. In 2015, he pushed for a female judge of color. On mental health care, he picked up where Wellstone left off, arguing for a health care parity bill. He and Franni later worked on domestic abuse issues with a passion rivaled only by the Wellstones.
Franken’s ability to tap his adolescent self for humor made him famous, but it didn’t play so well in the grown-up world.
So Franken, a keen intellect and rigorous questioner of unqualified Trump appointees is gone, and next week I’m betting that the good folk of Alabama will elect some goober who was widely known to chase teenagers around the mall and quite possibly molested at least one of them.
The body politic shrugs.
These incidents are not even close along the creepy guy scale of transgressions. We have commingled all the stories so that whether you fondle a 14-year-old in her underwear or let your hand drop to someone’s butt while surrounded by opposition researchers with cameras who just happen to miss the moment, you land on the same list.
Franken goes home to the condo while Trump breaks every good thing his predecessors, Republican and Democrat, have done before him. Clarence Thomas, long after the Anita Hill harassment charges, diminishes the Supreme Court day by day.
Due process? What’s due process?
Which is why this issue, the issue of treating women badly, is such a loser for Democrats. Democrats have to care about this issue, or at least appear to, to have any credibility. Enough Republicans don’t care that they elected a president with a far worse record on women and an actual audio recording admitting to his guilt.
In the battle of values, Democrats took the metaphorical hill, the moral high ground, but not without a casualty. Unlike soldiers in war, they left the body behind.
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