The allegation that Sen. Al Franken kissed and groped a woman with whom he was performing a comedy skit is serious, and should be taken seriously. It has also kicked off an energetic round of but-your-side-does-it-too on Twitter, where conservatives exhausted by the Roy Moore debacle of recent weeks are demanding that Democrats disavow Franken.
There are a couple of things to say about all this, but I want to start with this tweet by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten:
Sexual assault/harassment is not one party's problem. It's the country's problem.— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) November 16, 2017
1) The Democratic Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The Republican Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The mass of Americans who belong to neither party is full of men who have sexually abused women. Peer into socialist circles, libertarian circles, tech circles, media circles, the construction trades — you will find men who have sexually abused women. America has allowed a culture of sexual abuse and harassment to flourish, and all of our industries and political parties exist within that culture. This is a systemic rot, not merely a few bad apples.
2) I have been reflecting of late on why the Harvey Weinstein revelations kicked off this revolution, and one theory I have is that Weinstein was a powerful Democratic donor, and that was actually important. After Trump, Democrats were primed to take allegations of sexual abuse seriously. And since Weinstein was a Democrat, Republicans didn’t respond by rallying around him or trying to change the subject. Thus, the Weinstein affair broke the normal forces of polarization and made this something more than red versus blue.
3) Since Weinstein, a slew of prominent Democrats and Republicans have come under fire, and that’s forced a healthier discussion. Rather than one side on offense and the other on defense, each side has been committing itself to more stringent standards for acceptable behavior when criticizing its opponents, and then is being held to those comments when abuse is exposed among its allies. This is part of the reason that liberals, for instance, are reevaluating their support for former President Bill Clinton.
4) Until we know more about the extent of Franken’s actions, it’s hard to say what the results should be. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that an investigation is warranted, and needed, and he’s right. Franken, to his credit, has agreed. And it’s a good precedent to set that these kinds of allegations lead to official ethics investigations:
Just in, Al Franken says in statement: “I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.”— Joe Perticone (@JoePerticone) November 16, 2017
5) But it’s worth remembering that the president of the United States has more than a dozen well-documented, on-the-record allegations of sexual assault against him. The fact that those allegations are known doesn’t make them less serious, and the fact that he won the Electoral College despite them does not absolve him. It is a good thing for the country and our future that we are taking sexual assault so seriously. But it is a very, very bad thing if the one exception is the most powerful, prominent abuser in the world.