It’s already begun. Liberal activists and pundits are arguing that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s documented piggishness toward women should be discounted, forgiven or perhaps even ignored given the fact that he is, well, one of them. They are beginning to circle the wagons as they tell themselves that his shortcomings are perhaps the price that must be paid for all the “good” he does as a leading progressive senator. Bill Maher, a longtime friend of Mr. Franken, has made the argument on television that tries to distinguish between Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and even President Trump on the one hand, and the good senator on the other. They should go, he says, but Mr. Franken should stay. Others, including a number of “feminist” leaders are beginning to voice the same argument.
We’ve witnessed all this before. When President Bill Clinton was, at least figuratively and perhaps literally, caught with his pants down in the 1990s, his allies, led by his wife, mounted a campaign to demonize his accusers and excuse him of rape, sexual exploitation of interns and whatever else he may have done. His private peccadillos shouldn’t, they argued, and couldn’t possibly offset the “good” he was doing in advancing the liberal agenda as president, even if some of those peccadillos took place in the Oval Office itself.
That was then, we are now told, and the world has changed since the ’90s. Women who accused the powerful back then could be routinely ignored or made fun of by the men they claimed had abused or raped them, but today they are to be believed almost without question. Certainly those who have lined up against the likes of Roy Moore are to be believed and to avoid charges of hypocrisy. Some demanding the man be consigned to the outer darkness are even willing to admit that perhaps they were wrong in the ’90s, and that the former president they lionized and defended against every accuser was perhaps as reprehensible as Messrs. Moore, Weinstein and the dozen or so others who have been “outed” in recent days.
It’s easy today to turn on Mr. Clinton because neither he nor his enabling wife are likely to play any significant role in implementing the progressive ideological agenda to which these folks are wedded. Mr. Franken, however, is a different case. Until last week, the Minnesota senator was regarded on the left not just as a champion of the liberal agenda, but as a bright future star who might just make it to the White House one day.
His “memoirs” published just a few months ago were humbly titled “Giant of the Senate,” which was to be taken as a joke or not, depending on the reader. In it he bragged about his accomplishments, wrote of his upbringing and family, and hit all the policy hot buttons required of a good liberal. John Coyne, in reviewing the book in these pages, asked what he called “the inevitable question: Why do senators write books? By and large the answers are either to get re-elected or to make it to the next level. Mr. Franken has been comfortably re-elected. So what’s next?”
What was next in the former jokester’s mind as he penned his book may have changed since the revelations of the last week, but his friends and allies on the left are going to do their all they can to save one of their own. After all, the man has apologized and at least one of his accusers has suggested that she doesn’t really want him expelled from the Senate. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an Ethics Committee investigation of the allegations, Mr. Franken’s allies are already suggesting that such an investigation should essentially ignore what happened before he became a senator — bad as it might have been — while Alabama’s Roy Moore should be denied entre to the club because of his decades-old piggishness.
For his part, Mr. Franken says he welcomes such an investigation, knowing that it will take the story off the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. It will also allow his colleagues to both bury and forgive or ignore the fact that he is no better than the Harvey Weinsteins, Roy Moores and, yes, Bill Clintons of the world regardless of his politics or usefulness to the progressive cause.
Whether the world has actually changed since the ’90s remains to be seen. The early evidence suggests that within the bubble that is Washington, the past may prove to be prologue. We’ll know whether the new standards apply equally or liberal Washingtonians and members of the Senate Club exist on a higher and less judgmental plane than others if Mr. Franken is still a sitting rather than former senator within the next few weeks.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.
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