Final Thoughts On The Al Franken Controversy

Final Thoughts On The Al Franken Controversy

Earlier this week I published When #MeToo Got It Wrong: The Al Franken Controversy, One Year Later. The reaction was mixed, maybe 65/35 favorable/unfavorable, though some groups skewed heavily one way or the other. Because so many people commented or raised additional questions, I thought it’d be useful to respond to common criticisms and share some final observations.

First, to everyone who read the lengthy article, thanked me for writing it, shared it, said kind words, or clapped on Medium, thank you so much! It means a lot. To those of you who hailed insults, told me I need to learn how to write, etc., I hope you find a way to get that hatred out of your heart. Maybe this will help.

Responses To Common Criticisms

“I’m not interested in another man’s opinion.”

A number of women made comments implying that, as a man, I had no business evaluating women’s accusations or criticizing aspects of #MeToo.

Granted, most women have undeniably experienced more sexual assault or harassment than most men. So I think I understand the root of the argument. But it’s difficult for me to see how dismissing someone’s opinion because of their gender is not sexist. Why can’t men listen and then ask questions or raise concerns?

Both men and women can be victims of sexual assault or harassment. Furthermore, justice demands that in any situation we consider the rights of both the accuser and the accused. It was never right when women’s accusations of sexual assault were ignored, or when the process for evaluating them was skewed against women. But as some very smart women have said, it isn’t right for those processes to be skewed against men either.

It’s understandable why women may feel as if men have been giving a monologue for centuries and now it’s time to turn the tables. But monologues are the problem. A conversation is the only viable path toward progress.

“You minimized the accusations against Franken.”

I tried to link to the accusations and portray them accurately. If it came across as minimizing them, well, it’s probably because I think they were minimal. I don’t think squeezing a woman’s waist while posing for a photo is “sexual assault” in the way most people understand the phrase. I don’t think walking toward a woman with the intention of greeting her with a platonic kiss on the mouth, and then not kissing her, is “sexual misconduct.” You have a right to think what Franken allegedly did was monstrous. I disagree.

“Sure, Franken’s colleagues defended him. But so what? Are you arguing that just because Franken didn’t grope or assault every woman he met, that means his accusers are lying? I thought you were “logical.’”

First, I never said his accusers were lying. I think most were telling the truth. I think some, most likely the two anonymous accusers who alleged butt touching, may have been conservative plants. But regardless, that’s not why I brought up the women who defended Franken.

One major theses of the article (that I could have made more clear) is that I think the accusations against Franken were more likely a combination of a dumb joke, some awkward greetings, miscommunications, and accidents, rather than Franken trying to take advantage of his accusers. The fact that his female coworkers defended him supports this idea.

Of course, Franken could have been an angel with all his colleagues and still taken advantage of other women. But does it really seem likely that Franken is “grabby” or a “serial groper” as headlines claimed, but that no woman he worked closely with detected one hint of that? His defenders don’t prove his innocence, but they support my thesis.

 “Stop Blaming Kirsten Gillibrand For What Franken Did.”

Nobody is blaming Gillibrand for Franken’s misconduct. I was critical of Gillibrand because she organized a group of senators and called on Franken to resign AFTER he had already agreed to an ethics investigation. I don’t believe Gillibrand has convincingly explained why that was necessary.

But, you argue, she wouldn’t have had to say anything if Franken wasn’t such a creep in the first place. On the contrary, we don’t actually know what Franken did or didn’t do, because there was no investigation, because Gillibrand didn’t want to wait for one.

“Then Franken shouldn’t have resigned. It’s not Gillibrand’s fault.”

Well, she didn’t technically force him to resign. But, she and her colleagues put him in a position where it would have been very difficult for him to effectively represent his constituents. At the very least, her calls for his resignation put much more pressure on him to resign.

“So why are you blaming Gillibrand? Why not criticize the men who asked Franken to step down?”

Because Gillibrand is the one who led the charge. She’s the one who wrote a lengthy FB post about why she was asking Franken to step down.

Final Observations

The Franken/Tweeden Photo Is The New “What Color Is That Dress?”

In 2015, there was a photo of a dress online that made headlines because people could agree on its color. The infamous Franken/Tweeden photo is the new dress—people are looking at the same thing, but cannot agree on what they’re seeing.

To me, Franken is either not touching Tweeden at all, or at most, his finger tips are grazing Tweeden’s flak jacket. It seems clear he is not actually trying to grope Tweeden, but rather pretending to grope her for a “funny” photo.

But a number of commenters appeared to believe that Franken was not joking, but rather actually trying to squeeze Tweeden’s breasts. I have no explanation for that perspective, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

Kirsten Gillibrand Probably Won’t Be President

I think Gillibrand jumped the gun in calling for Franken’s resignation. I’m not her biggest fan. But other people hate Gillibrand and think she’s a craven opportunist. Even many of her voters support her reluctantly. Sure, against Trump most Democrats would vote for any nominee. But, it’s difficult to imagine someone with Gillibrand’s baggage emerging from a crowded primary.

Ironically, apologizing to Franken may be the best way to improve her chances.

The Democratic Party Has Some Fault Lines

The Bernie/Hillary primary made this obvious, but the Democratic party has some growing divisions, and the Franken controversy reflects that. A handful of commenters either said they stopped being a Democrat after Franken was pushed out, or are considering changing their registration. Some, sadly, even lost friends over their disagreements. As long as Trump is a foil, Dems can probably hold it together. But there’s a storm coming.

Isn’t The Disagreement Proof That We Needed An Investigation?

If anything is clear from the mixed reaction to the article, it’s that people still disagree about almost every aspect of the Franken controversy. As Carrie Bradshaw might say, I can’t help but wonder…doesn’t that prove an investigation was necessary—so we could actually get the facts straight and reach some consensus about an appropriate resolution?  

4 thoughts on “Final Thoughts On The Al Franken Controversy”

  1. You make some very good points.
    For me, the biggest part of the problem is the Democrats frantic to show that they are better than the Republicans. This was not the way to do it.

  2. Roger Stone announced hours before the story broke that it was Al’s turn in the barrel.
    He’s directly responsible for the Mueller appointment as his astute questioning led to the recusal of the AG.
    The me too stories were the penalty and opportunity for ambitious people to eliminate potential competition.

    • Yeah–others have looked more into Stone’s involvement than I have. Most write it off as “conspiracy theorizing,” but it is odd that he seemed to know in advance–and that Senate Democrats weren’t interested in learning more.

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