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

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

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.

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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Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/02/2018 - 11:31 am.

    New York Senators and our vote…

    Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillebrand essentially voided our vote for their political expediency. Gillebrand as the first Senatorial voice for Franken to resign and Schumer for playing politics to buff the image of Senate Democrats. Could it be that Schumer saw a new Franken, that after 8 years of hard work and a persistent effort to keep a low profile was beginning to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the Senate? Franken, in “Giant of the Senate” portrays Schumer as an early opponent to his initial candidacy and not much of a relationship thereafter.

    When a very “appealing to the masses” candidate like Karin Housely possibly takes a seat away from the Ds that they did not even have to defend in 2018 we can render final judgement on Schumer’s political judgement.

  2. Submitted by Leon Webster on 01/02/2018 - 12:28 pm.

    not receptive to a presidential bid by Kirsten Gillebrand.

    Count me as one of those liberals who think Franken got railroaded, and Kirsten Gillebrand had her hand on the throttle. If she decides to run for president, I will be devoting my energies to whomever is opposing her in the caucuses.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 01/02/2018 - 02:45 pm.

      Yeah, me neither.

      Nor am I too receptive to those Minnesota DFLers who called immediately for Franken’s resignation. I’m thinking of Erin Murphy and Rebecca Otto.

      These two prominent, ambitious female DFL politicians stood to potentially benefit from Franken’s resignation. If Franken resigned, it figured that Dayton would appoint a prominent DFL woman, which could have been either Murphy or Otto. But no matter who Dayton picked, it would help clear the field of a female competitor for the nomination in the gubernatorial race.

      We live in an ugly world.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/02/2018 - 12:31 pm.

    This is one of those tragic moments, when those of us who have been fervent–and informed–Franken supporters since before his first run in 2008 have to admit that, yes, he was railroaded unfairly, and that yes, he had to go because of his unconscious [?] habit of groping women

    He was a good Senator, becoming a great one and thus a threat, and now he’s been replaced by someone who will never reach his level of achievement (Tina Smith works her best behind scenes, and has no public “oomph” that anyone can sense).

    Even admitting the political wisdom of what Gillibrand brought about for some “purity” for Democrats on sexual harassment, we have to watch out for indiscriminate blurring of all actions men are accused of, as if they were all equivalent harms. As a woman who has suffered instances of sexual harassment and assault, I have to agree with Matt Damon and others, including many women, that there are gradations of abuse and there HAS to be due process for those accused.

    Nobody knows the facts yet around the Franken accusers’ claims, and now we never will. That’s a loss for democracy that goes beyond the loss of Al Franken in the U. S. Senate.

  4. Submitted by B. Dalager on 01/02/2018 - 12:36 pm.

    Or you could just believe women.

    How much good does someone have to do to justify harassment? Did Franken do enough good to justify seven incidents? Eight? Twenty? How do you measure such a thing?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/02/2018 - 01:33 pm.

      You begin by…

      You begin by defining what an incident is and then measuring it against your definition. If an incident is anyone, anywhere claiming something and then moving to the final disposition with no due process measuring the claim we are sunk. Tina Smith should have indicated no interest in re-election and Franken should have said:

      “I will resign and I will stand for election again in 2018 where the citizens of Minnesota can decide who they want to represent them in the Senate.”

      • Submitted by B. Dalager on 01/02/2018 - 05:11 pm.

        This wasn’t a court of law, and Franken isn’t in a union. He wasn’t owed due process.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/03/2018 - 02:12 pm.

          So…

          Take away due process from any avenue of endeavor we pursue: school, work, housing, shopping, bowling, you name it and chaos will reign.

          The idea that the accuser, any accuser, is judge, jury and executioner is simply wrong.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/03/2018 - 09:28 pm.

            “The idea that the accuser, any accuser, is judge, jury and executioner is simply wrong.” Totally agree. However, this is not partisan but a universal statement applicable to everyone, even those you disagree with.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/02/2018 - 03:08 pm.

      Believing the women,

      and concluding that Franken did not engage in misdoing, are not mutually exclusive.

      With all of the ink spilled on this, so many have rushed past a central question: is intent relevant to whether harassment occurred?

      A hypothetical: I’m on the elevator. It stops and opens. A woman begins to enter. The door starts to close. Instinctually, I jump forward to block the door with my arm at the same time as the woman steps in. My hand contacts her body. Due to her makeup or perhaps an earlier trauma, she finds the contact uncomfortable. Have I sexually harassed her?

      We may believe some or (for the sake of argument) even all of the women when they say the contact occurred and they found it inappropriate. But we still may consider it quite plausible – at least pending a further understanding – that none of the contacts was made with inappropriate intent. Franken clearly has a sense of personal space much more suited to certain places and cultures (e.g., New York) than others (e.g., Minnesota). Of the 10,000 women with whom Franken posed for a photo, some necessarily occupied the sensitive end of the spectrum. In the endless posing there were no doubt times that Franken was distracted, fatigued, momentarily off balance, backed into by someone paying more attention to his bucket of chocolate chip cookies. With all of the idiosyncracies of human perception and all of the opportunities for a divergence of perception and intent, the number of occurrences brought forward really barely registers.

      If intent is relevant, then intent must be considered, and one can’t begin and end with “believe the women.”

      • Submitted by B. Dalager on 01/02/2018 - 05:12 pm.

        Have you ever taken a sexual harassment training? Intent is not relevant.

        So believe women.

        • Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/03/2018 - 10:59 am.

          No, I have not taken sexual harassment training.

          I don’t need to be “trained” to treat women (or men, or those of any other gender orientation) respectfully.

          I am not inquiring as to what “training” says. I am inquiring as to the norms and expectations by which ordinary, reasonably decent people make their way through the day. But if you don’t wish to engage in constructive dialogue, that is fully your prerogative.

          • Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/03/2018 - 09:29 pm.

            “I don’t need to be “trained” to treat women (or men, or those of any other gender orientation) respectfully.” I agree and I think most men don’t either. Then why do we have those classes?

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/03/2018 - 03:23 pm.

          Please help me out here…

          So, if intent is not relevant and we apply it to the hypothetical:

          “A hypothetical: I’m on the elevator. It stops and opens. A woman begins to enter. The door starts to close. Instinctually, I jump forward to block the door with my arm at the same time as the woman steps in. My hand contacts her body. Due to her makeup or perhaps an earlier trauma, she finds the contact uncomfortable. Have I sexually harassed her?”

          The attempt to be courteous and hold the door just got this person fired from their job and that is an acceptable outcome by your lights?

          Sorry to be redundant; but, such inflexibility seems counter-productive to advancing a worthy cause.

  5. Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/02/2018 - 02:00 pm.

    Just one disagreement.

    The worm is not “turning.” The worm never turned. From the first poll, consistently 80% of Democratic Mn voters have said that Franken should not resign, at least not until circumstances are understood and considered.

    Aside from how one sees the facts, or the moral or pragmatic considerations, Senator Franken’s duty was owed to his constituents, not to other elected DFL/Democratic officials. An elected official always has the prerogative to resign, if he judges that he cannot properly represent his constituents. To make that decision he certainly may and should seek the private counsel of his colleagues. But his colleagues have no right to publicly make a demand that he resign, and certainly not in league. To do so is to revoke the democratic right of those who voted for him and to demonstrate a great failure of civic understanding.

    • Submitted by Dorothy Crouch on 01/02/2018 - 06:13 pm.

      Agreed! Al Franken should not have felt compelled to resign.

      Nor should his fellow Senate Democrats ever have stepped in to call for his resignation! When Leeann Tweeden first came out with the accusation against Al Franken I questioned the logic and the legitimacy of it. This occasion happened when Franken and Tweeden and others were on a tour to entertain the troops in 2006. What would one expect? Franken at that time wrote script for SNL. There certainly was nothing in the photo Tweeden released that was attempting to be secretive. And why wait all these years to come out with it. I wondered if there was a political element to it. Leeann’s politics are far right. And then came the followup harassment accusations that Franken says he doesn’t even remember. I’m a Minnesotan who has voted for Franken and certainly would again even though we don’t always agree on some issues. I’ve often called him on those issues. I do not consider the Democratic party today to be progressive. Franken is probably more so than many. So why would his fellow Democrats call for his resignation? Should never have happened! He should have been allowed to go before the Ethics Committee as expected. I’ve written to several of the women, including Gillibrandt and several others before I noted the number of women and men calling for the senator to resign. What right had they to call for the resignation of my senator? So then I wrote to Schumer and voiced my opinion and then to Klobuchar. When the governor’s office named Tina Smith as his replacement touting Minnesota as having two women in the Senate I responded that I wasn’t proud of what women had done in the Senate thus far considering how they called for Franken’s resignation. It wasn’t their place. To those of us who supported Bernie Sanders in this past election the Democratic party is looking pretty corrupted. I certainly believe this will backfire on the party, especially with the recent ousting of those more progressive voices from the executive board. I’m supporting a truly progressive party in the future. My question and concern asks the question of what is really behind all this dither about Franken resigning? There is much more going on than is apparent it seems to me. I am coming from the position of a Progressive female who remembers WWII. And there are many others like me.

  6. Submitted by jim hughes on 01/02/2018 - 05:58 pm.

    angry

    I’m a Democrat. And I’m sorry to say that right now I think I’m angrier at some “fellow Democrats” than I am at Trump’s people. Over-the-top “Progressives” went all the way into hysteria and took out one of our best people in some sort of crazy need to make a statement. And I have no way to hit back at Gillebrand and her allies. All I can do is tell them thanks – and if you end up sitting next to Michelle Bachman again you’ll have gotten exactly what you deserved.

    This is how single-issue politics plays out: you take one thing you’re worked up about – like “attitudes to women” – and decide it’s the single most important issue in the world, and nothing else matters until it’s completely resolved. Meanwhile, there’s a world-wide mass extinction going on; the planet is heating at an accelerating rate; we’re in danger of running out of fresh water; and as sea levels rise, today’s refugee problems will seem small. But wait – someone has an embarassing photo of Senator Franken. What else could possibly matter?

  7. Submitted by John Evans on 01/02/2018 - 03:30 pm.

    We lost the chance for a constructive national discussion.

    Franken’s early responses struck me as infuriatingly wishy-washy until I understood what he was trying to do. Franken was trying to open the channels for an honest public examination of his behavior, and what should be done about it.

    Notice that he didn’t get all defensive; he didn’t even directly contradict his accusers. (Not even the deplorable Ms. Tweeden, who seems to have been acting as a political operative.) Franken was offering us the chance, through the ethics committee process, to have a national discussion in which women could talk about their experience of harassment, and demand that men change their behavior.

    Change actually happens when men say, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll stop doing that.” It doesn’t happen just because two political parties trade scalps in some war of competing fictions.

    • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 01/03/2018 - 09:05 am.

      The problem is…

      … going to the Senate Ethics Committee doesn’t ensure a public discussion at all. The first phase of an Ethics Committee investigation — the preliminary inquiry — is entirely private. If a majority of the Ethics Committee agrees at the end of that process that there is substantial evidence of an Ethics Violation, then the Committee can hold an adjudicatory review, which may or may not be public. Finally, if the Committee determines punishment is necessary, it is sometimes done privately.

      The chances of Leeann Tweeden (or any of the other accusers) getting the Anita Hill televised grilling treatment under such a process are virtually nil.

      Franken tried to apply the rules of due process to a situation in which they don’t apply. If he felt that the accusers were lying or the events didn’t happen the way they said or he had some sort of explanation, he needed to provide it publicly at the time. His failure to do so and the continuing drip-drip-drip of allegations made it entirely reasonable for his colleagues and constituents to suggest that he was no longer a viable U.S. Senator.

  8. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 01/02/2018 - 04:36 pm.

    Proud to be a Franken Supporter

    Wy Spano has described my feelings about Senator Franken to a “T.”

    I only wish that he would run again in the Fall, to give us a chance to vote for him again..

  9. Submitted by Alex Potter on 01/02/2018 - 07:23 pm.

    I’ll go to my grave…

    bitter and angry for what they did to him. If Kristen Gillibrand runs for president I wont vote for her for a d*** thing. I am hopeful their will be enough backlash and Al will consider running again in 2020.

  10. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/02/2018 - 08:22 pm.

    Sad…..

    So – Al Franken can call Rush Limbaugh” a big fat idiot” – and become a DFL celebrity, but if those same words are used to characterize big Al – it is hate speech?

    His name calling has boomeranged back on him – and proven to be true by his behavior.

  11. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 01/02/2018 - 10:46 pm.

    Also proud to be a Franken supporter

    Wy Spano speaks for me.

    I am also struggling with the fact that those who said Al Franken must immediately resign without going through an Ethics hearing were his friends, his fellow senators, members of his own party. It was the Democratic party that threw Al out without due justice of a hearing. It was people Al Franken had worked hard to see elected who yelled resign immediately. They did it without even a conversation with Al Franken or any investigation into the accusations. What have we come to as a people when we don’t stand by those who have been there for us? Who have fought for us? Where is the sense of being there for those we care about and we know so well? There is an Ethics Committee in place for a reason. Al Franken wanted an investigation. As person who is so grateful for the work Al Franken has done in the Senate for Minnesota and our country, I wanted it too.

  12. Submitted by susan Lenfestey on 01/02/2018 - 10:54 pm.

    Franken Resignation

    Thanks Wy. I’ve been writing about this endlessly on FB, my outlet for political commentary these days. And I posted your piece as well. I don’t think there is any way that this isn’t going to come back to bite us. Really rash and poor decisions were made by my party. My sadness and anger only keep growing, not abating.
    I think the world of Tina Smith and am glad she was chosen to fill this seat, but it’s small comfort in the tragedy that just played out before us.

  13. Submitted by joe smith on 01/03/2018 - 06:49 am.

    Franken got railroaded out because

    the powers that be in the Democratic Party needed a sacrifice. While I think Franken is wrong on most issues, he didn’t have a chance to defend himself. I think it was cowardly to not fight and stand up for himself, but that is what he chose to do. I also think he was a bit player in DC and was deemed expendable by Democratic Party heads.

  14. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/03/2018 - 02:16 pm.

    Many of us would say that Joe Smith gets Al Franken’s profile in D.C. completely wrong, and therefore, completely wrong on the meaning of the sacrificing of Franken to the goals of the national Democratic party.

    Al Franken began his terms as Senator in 2009 with his head low and studying hard: the arcane rules of the Senate, the arcane traditions of the Senate where newbies keep their heads down and their mouths relatively shut, the arcane but vital details of policy and the policy areas in which he intended to specialize. Then he started to grow in office. Tangibly, and with results. The guy was probably the Democrats’ biggest national fundraiser in recent years. And you can’t watch CSPAN Congressional hearings without noticing how Franken absolutely skewered Jeff Sessions, whom he revealed in several open lies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Lying to Congress under oath is a felony, so what Franken caught Sessions in is really, really serious.) Al Franken was becoming a Senate Powerhouse.

    What Kirsten Gillibrand achieved was the slaying of a Samson. Franken’s fall was the fall of a big political name, a name that Democrats would and will bring up every time they want to put Donald Trump on national trial for sexual abuses. “We got rid of Al Franken. The GOP isn’t decent enough to get rid of, or even challenge, Donald Trump.” This will be like shooting fish in a barrel–after all, yesterday Trump was tweeting like an eleven-year-old about the greater size and potency of his “button” compared to that of North Korea’s leader’s. Oh, Lord.

    Politics isn’t pretty. But Democrats have a big weapon in their armory on sexual harassment punishments, unfair as many of us think that punishment of Franken is.

    • Submitted by jim hughes on 01/03/2018 - 03:03 pm.

      no they don’t

      “But Democrats have a big weapon in their armory on sexual harassment punishments.”

      But they don’t. As the election made clear, Trump’s supporters simply don’t care about this issue. Gillibrand can now get 20 Trump accusers lined up in front of the cameras, have each one tell her story in detail, grab the headlines for a day, and demand that Trump resign – and absolutely nothing will happen. He doesn’t even have to respond. And people watching Fox News won’t even know it happened.

  15. Submitted by Dianne Arnold on 01/03/2018 - 09:02 pm.

    Franken resignation

    Thanks Wy – you said what I’ve been thinking and trying to say since this all blew up. I have been a supporter of Al for Senate since he first declared and I’m always been proud to call him my Senator. I personally don’t know what exactly happened between him and the 7 or so women who all of a sudden found themselves needing to get on this train. What I do believe is that we must learn to discriminate (in the best sense of that word) in our judgments of people. No one is perfect – woman or man. If we now are going to start throwing all adult men under the bus for every perceived and actual event of misbehavior, we will truly be screwed (pun intended). There is a difference between “dumb, and inappropriate” behavior AND “pattern of abusive, inappropriate, predatory, criminal behavior”. Very few adults have lived lives that are “dumb-free” zones. We can believe the victim/accuser and still make reasonable judgments about the proportionality of the actions. Sanity is in short supply today. I am mad, sad, and glad also.

  16. Submitted by Sonja Dahl on 01/04/2018 - 06:26 am.

    What destroyed Franken

    Let’s be very clear about what destroyed Al Franken’s career in the Senate. There exists a massive, right-wing media propaganda noise machine. There does not exists an effective counter-propaganda machine on the left.

    The Democrats who called for Franken’s resignation were keenly award that any time they mentioned Roy Moore’s or Donald Trump’s molestation of women, they would hear, blasted from a bigger megaphone, “Al Franken, Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein…”

    These Democrats weren’t concerned about the reality of Franken’s behavior, they were only concerned with the reality of no effective way to counter the narrative being spread to American voters.

    I think Franken, who has written books exposing the right’s media liars, must have been equally aware of this reality. I would love for Franken to use his skills as a writer, polemicist, counter-propagandist to lead the effort to go after and completely discredit the Right’s non-factual media.

  17. Submitted by Paul Ojanen on 01/04/2018 - 10:10 am.

    Franken

    Thoughts:
    1: Social media destroys people without evidence. It is the perfect example of witch hunts.
    2: Belief without evidence is wrong, and this is as true for harassment as it is for anything else. In reference to one of the comments about “intent doesn’t matter”, the example you commented on is a perfect one and you didn’t deal with it. You merely gave an ideological statement much like any Maoist would have done during the cultural revolution. Tweeden is and was a right wing propagandist. The other incidents described were merely “feelings” and did not show any actual harassment. I watched him take 40 pictures in less than an hour, and the area around him was a circus. I doubt he was paying attention after picture #10.
    3: Leading democrats, including one state candidate I spoke with, are still trapped in the idea that a “meta-narrative” works to attract the mysterious “centrist voter.” “They’ll kill us with this next year” I was told. Rather than try to organize around a set of policies that would attract the majority of people, such as incomes, medical care or education, because they are elite and detached from the issues of ordinary people, they are trapped in the idea that attracting cohorts who vote on these (frankly to most people down the list issues) will carry them forward. Thus we saw Hillary with rallies involving media personalities while more than half the country is essentially burning down socially. Life is not the same “narrative” for most people, and they will have long since forgotten this topic next year while they still struggle for a paycheck and health care. If you think you are going to win an election by attracting St. Kate’s graduates while ignoring the rest of the state, you will lose again. You will be buried.
    4: Gillibrand is a perfect example. She was a tobacco lawyer. In other words, she is an ethical monstrosity.
    5: I will not vote for any candidate who advocated for this. By doing so, it tells me they are either cynical or stupid.

  18. Submitted by jim hughes on 01/04/2018 - 02:13 pm.

    fracture

    We hear a lot about the big split in the Republican party – pro-Trump wingnuts vs moderates. I think the Franken case is now opening a similar split in the Democratic party, between centrists and over-the-top “progressives” obsessed with social issues that will only sink the party in national elections.

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