Sexual Misconduct and Political Expediency

Awaiting his fate.

Photographer: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

It appears that Senator Al Franken is going to resign today after most Democratic senators demanded him to do so on Wednesday. Is that the right punishment for what he's been accused of, some of which he has apologized for? No one has any idea. Based on what we know, what Franken did isn't as bad as what some men have been accused of over the last two months, but virtually everyone agrees that it deserves to be taken seriously. 

It's politics, anyway; what's "right" is always contested. That's one of the reasons for politics in the first place. There are no formulas for figuring this stuff out. What's more, in a democracy, it's up to citizens — individually and in groups, and through their representatives — to decide how the polity should be organized, including what the rules (including informal ones) should be for sexual assault, sexual harassment and lesser forms of sexual misbehavior. 

There's one theory floating around that Franken's fate was sealed not because of what Democrats believed about his actions but for pure electoral self-interest. Getting Franken and disgraced Representative John Conyers out of the way supposedly allows them to campaign against Roy Moore and, presumably, Donald Trump without being called out as hypocrites. For what it's worth, I doubt that was the reasoning involved here, in part because I think it's foolish. It's hard to imagine any voter in Alabama who would have voted for Moore without the revelations about his behavior who then pulls back from supporting Democrat Doug Jones because Democrats weren't tough enough on Franken. And it's not as if Democrats haven't blasted Moore over the last two weeks.