If Al Franken were the contrite and chastened guy he’s pretending to be, his course forward would be simple: He’d resign his Senate seat and ask Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to appoint someone to take his place there.
Ideally, Dayton, a Democrat, would first secure a commitment that Franken’s appointed replacement wouldn’t run for the job, but would instead simply fill the spot until voters can select a new senator in a special election; that way, such a move couldn’t be seen as a way for Democrats to ditch a damaged political figure and give a more palatable replacement a head start on the competition.
That, however, is not what the public got from Franken during his press conference Monday. Instead, he took a page from Crisis Control 101: Express vague regrets and contrition, take a few questions, resolve that you’re going to work hard at regaining your constituents’ trust — as though you’re somehow beginning an act of heartfelt penance — and then end the press availability.
But let’s consider what Franken really did. First, take what he said about Leeann Tweeden’s accusation that, in 2006, in his pre-senatorial days, he forced his tongue into her mouth while rehearsing a USO skit.
“On the kiss at the rehearsal — we were rehearsing for a sketch — I said that I recall that differently from Leeann, but I feel that you have to respect women’s experience, and so I apologized to her, and I meant it. And I was very grateful that she accepted it.”
Now let’s translate: Although Franken says he respects Tweeden’s experience, he’s not actually acknowledging the accuracy of what she said. Quite the contrary, he’s disputing her account — “I recall that differently” — though without specifying how. That accomplished, he then takes credit for apologizing, and attempts to use Tweeden’s acceptance of his apology to his advantage. After all, she’s OK with his expression of contrition, shouldn’t voters be as well?
Franken next claimed not to recall any of the three accusations of rear-end groping that have now been leveled against him: “I take a lot of pictures, in Minnesota, thousands of pictures, meet tens of thousands of people, so those are incidents that I do not remember.”
But why does posing for a lot of photos mean that those instances — one of which has resulted in an on-the-record accusation by a woman who told people at the time that Franken had groped her — should be difficult to recall? Does Franken routinely grope women when he poses for pictures? Or is having done so such a trivial transgression to him that it doesn’t even register?
Then came another general expression of regret that camouflaged an unwillingness to admit misconduct: “From these stories, it’s been clear that there are some women — and one is too many — who feel that I have done something disrespectful and that has hurt them, and for that I am tremendously sorry.”
And a seeming resolution to do better in the future: “I know that I am going to have to be much more conscious when in these circumstances, much more careful, much more sensitive.” Note, however, the subtext of those words: If he did do any of this, it could have been done unconsciously, or even accidentally. Again, it’s evasion posing as expiation.
Having acknowledged virtually nothing, Franken concluded, “I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation. I hope I can do that.”
Oh, you have, senator. Mind you, your contribution won’t advance the discussion in any meaningful way, but it will provide your agricultural constituents with some rich winter fertilizer for their fields.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.