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Mad, sad and glad: reactions to Al Franken’s resignation

I’m one of a startlingly large number of politically active and aware Minnesotans who are both madder than hell and profoundly sad today.

The worm is turning on the Franken story.
REUTERS/Richard Clement

I’m one of a startlingly large number of politically active and aware Minnesotans who are both madder than hell and profoundly sad today, the day that Al Franken resigns from the United States Senate. I’m also glad that Franken was our senator. 

Wy Spano
Wy Spano

Why mad?

Because I think Al Franken got a bum rap and was driven from office by members of his own party. We had the most effective Democratic senator on women’s issues and on helping to elect Democrats, and then we didn’t. 

Why sad?

See “Why mad.”  Also, add sadness over the decline of and respect for actual truth, as opposed to the perception of truth.

Why glad?

Because we had Al Franken for a senator for nearly a decade. He led on women’s issues.  Taught us why we should care about net neutrality and rural broadband. Unselfishly used his celebrity to bring in more money to Democratic candidates than any other senator.

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I started with biases in the Franken “inappropriate conduct” matter. I researched Franken for a never published book about the Franken-Coleman recount in 2008. Women from his time at “Saturday Night Live” and other women he’d worked with were effusive with their over-the-top endorsement of his support of and sensitivity to women. I was looking for spicy stuff on Franken. There was plenty of spice at “SNL,” but he came off as a first-order mensch.

Franken’s women staffers during his time in the Senate were also genuinely supportive of what they identified as his respectful and supportive treatment of women. On the big Washington political stage, Franken’s office and Franken himself became an essential component of any feminist, women’s rights advocacy coalition. Politically and personally, Franken has been a feminist stalwart.

Then came Los Angeles right-wing talk show personality and model Leeann Tweeden, who said Franken forced her into a French kiss during their 2006 USO tour. Franken’s military escort on the tour said he was with Franken every minute and didn’t see what she described. The Tweeden allegation was bolstered by the famous photo of Franken leering while reaching for a sleeping Tweeden’s breasts.

My B.S. Meter was going wild. 

Everything I knew about Al Franken the person said the forced kissing charge was nonsense.  

But the politics of it made perfect sense. The right hated Al Franken. His books from the ’90s skewered them, and his adroit questioning of inept and unqualified appointees had become must-see TV.

Was the photo harassment or just plain dumb? Apparently nobody saw the picture nor commented on it till Tweeden posted it, along with her kiss allegation, on her radio station’s website Nov. 16, 2017. Does an event you slept through and the record of that event you ignored for 11 years qualify as harassment? Maybe. But also, maybe not.

What about the other seven accusers? We’ll never know if their experience with Franken rose to the level of harassment. Individual women became victim, prosecutor, judge and jury. We do know that “he put his hand on my waist” was sort of equated with disrobing a 14-year-old — one of the allegations against Roy Moore, who lost his Senate bid Dec. 12 in Alabama. There’s some sort of karmic balance in all this. Women spent many years not being able to get any hearing of their harassment complaints.

The worm is turning on the Franken story. Minnesotans are beginning to believe that Franken got hosed. A politically charged unexamined complaint and a series of unexamined incidents have been used to take our senator away. And, irony of ironies, the women of the Senate were complicit in the hosing. 

Politically, it would have been possible for Democratic women senators to insist, with high dudgeon, on an ethics hearing. But they apparently didn’t like the optics of that, especially coming toward the end of Alabama’s special election. Democrats needed to be perceived as pure on harassment, so Franken had to be pushed out of the boat, regardless of whether or not it was proven he’d done anything wrong.

The Franken affair has also become an issue in statewide DFL endorsement races. The group of “Franken must immediately resigners” is taking some heat, while “wait to find out what really happened” is garnering support.

Jan. 1 New York Times story notes that harassment and #MeToo are becoming rapidly more politicized. Politicized legal battles are coming, which could lead the public to doubt the veracity of all harassment charges, using the Franken case as an early example of going too far. If that happens, the decision by women senators to throw Franken out so the Democratic Party could look pure might end up helping the public to brand Democrats as overly pure, thus diminishing the overall possibility for legitimate harassment claims. For that, I’m really sad.

Wy Spano has been involved in Minnesota political life for over 40 years, as a newsletter editor, commentator, lobbyist, grad school teacher, and citizen activist.

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