The Case of Al Franken

Jane Mayer, in a remarkably deeply researched piece for The New Yorker:

A remarkable number of Franken’s Senate colleagues have regrets about their own roles in his fall. Seven current and former U.S. senators who demanded Franken’s resignation in 2017 told me that they’d been wrong to do so. Such admissions are unusual in an institution whose members rarely concede mistakes. Patrick Leahy, the veteran Democrat from Vermont, said that his decision to seek Franken’s resignation without first getting all the facts was “one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made” in forty-five years in the Senate. Heidi Heitkamp, the former senator from North Dakota, told me, “If there’s one decision I’ve made that I would take back, it’s the decision to call for his resignation. It was made in the heat of the moment, without concern for exactly what this was.” Tammy Duckworth, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, told me that the Senate Ethics Committee “should have been allowed to move forward.” She said it was important to acknowledge the trauma that Franken’s accusers had gone through, but added, “We needed more facts. That due process didn’t happen is not good for our democracy.” Angus King, the Independent senator from Maine, said that he’d “regretted it ever since” he joined the call for Franken’s resignation. “There’s no excuse for sexual assault,” he said. “But Al deserved more of a process. I don’t denigrate the allegations, but this was the political equivalent of capital punishment.” Senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, told me, “This was a rush to judgment that didn’t allow any of us to fully explore what this was about. I took the judgment of my peers rather than independently examining the circumstances. In my heart, I’ve not felt right about it.” Bill Nelson, the former Florida senator, said, “I realized almost right away I’d made a mistake. I felt terrible. I should have stood up for due process to render what it’s supposed to — the truth.” Tom Udall, the senior Democratic senator from New Mexico, said, “I made a mistake. I started having second thoughts shortly after he stepped down. He had the right to be heard by an independent investigative body. I’ve heard from people around my state, and around the country, saying that they think he got railroaded. It doesn’t seem fair. I’m a lawyer. I really believe in due process.”

That’s quite a paragraph.

First and foremost, I think Mayer makes an incredibly solid case that Franken was railroaded. When the scandal first broke, Franken himself immediately called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. That investigation should have been allowed to run its course, and it seems clear now, based on Mayer’s reporting, that his resignation was not called for.

Second, the Democrats lost their single best television presence. It shouldn’t be this way but it is: being good at TV is very good for politics. However repugnant you think Donald Trump is as a man and as a president, there’s no denying that he is very good at being on TV — he hosted a prime time network TV show for over a dozen years, and likely would still be hosting it today if, you know, he hadn’t been elected president. Ronald Reagan was underestimated by the political class because he was “just an actor”, but that’s exactly why he should have been taken very seriously from the moment he entered politics: he was amazingly good at being on TV.

Franken is very smart, very funny, and very good at being on TV — and he was great at making his questioning in Senate hearings work for TV. I’m not saying Democrats should have looked the other way at egregious behavior just because he was good on TV, but Franken’s importance to the party at a national level should have at least made them look twice at whether what he’d actually done was actually egregious.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019