IT’S BEEN NEARLY EIGHT MONTHS since Al Franken resigned from the US Senate amid credible allegations of sexual impropriety. While most Americans have largely moved on, some Democrats don’t want to let it go.
And they have a scapegoat for Franken’s demise: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Last month, it was reported that George Soros, the Democratic mega-donor, is still bitter over Franken’s departure from Capitol Hill. Like many Democrats, he blames Gillibrand, who was one of the first Democratic senators to call on Franken to step down.
It was, said Soros, all about furthering her ambitions to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.
This line of argument has become routine from rank-and-file Democrats: At a time when Republicans have done nothing about a president credibly accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen women, they regularly blast fellow Democrats — and Gillibrand, in particular — for turning on one of their best and brightest.
Raise Franken or Gillibrand’s names on social media, and you’ll surely be inundated by claims that Franken was the victim of a hit job, pushed out for behavior that hardly rose to the level of other prominent men accused of sexual impropriety. He should have received due process and an investigation before being unceremoniously dumped.
Gillibrand, it should be noted, has spent much of her Senate career battling sexual assault in the military. But she is still portrayed as an opportunist who allegedly used her call for Franken to step down as a springboard to national prominence.
Let’s be clear: there is one person responsible for what happened to Al Franken . . . and his name is Al Franken.
Indeed, there seems to be some sort of collective amnesia on the left over the accusations made against him.
His defenders only seem to remember that infamous picture of him pretending to grab the breasts of fellow entertainer Leeann Tweeden during a USO tour.
But Tweeden just opened the floodgates. Eight women, four of them on the record, made allegations against Franken.
Lindsay Menz alleged that Franken “put his hand full-fledged on my rear” and “wrapped (it) tightly around my butt cheek.”
Stephanie Kemplin said he “put his arm around me” and “groped my right breast.”
Tina Dupuy recounted Franken putting his hand on her waist and “grabbing a handful of flesh” and squeezing “at least twice.”
Another woman who refused to give her name said that in 2006, Franken tried to give her a “wet, open-mouthed kiss.” She reported feeling “stunned and incredulous. I felt demeaned. I felt put in my place.”
A former Democratic congressional aide told Politico “Franken tried to forcibly kiss her” and when she tried to flee the room allegedly said, “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Tweeden reported something similar: that in rehearsing a skit in which Franken was supposed to kiss her, he “put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.”
If there was one single accusation against Franken, then his defenders might have a point, particularly if he denied doing anything wrong. But Franken said he couldn’t remember many of the incidents. However, if something bad did happen, he said he was “tremendously sorry.”
That those on the political left, who regularly and rightly criticize the sexual impropriety of Republican lawmakers, play these accusations down or brush them aside because they like Franken’s politics is hypocrisy in its highest form.
Democrats who defend Franken are sending a troubling message to women. “Yes, come forward, tell us your stories of sexual harassment and abuse. You are brave and heroic. We will believe you . . . but just so long as you don’t accuse a prominent liberal of bad behavior.”
It is Gillibrand who got it right last year when she said that talking about“the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment” is “the wrong conversation” and what is needed is to “draw a line in the sand and say . . . none of it is acceptable.”
Perhaps Franken should have been investigated before being pushed out, but the court of public opinion and a court of law are not the same thing. Franken’s continued presence in the Democratic Senate caucus would have been an open reminder of the party’s hypocrisy during the height of the #MeToo moment.
While it’s true that Franken is likely being held to a higher standard than Republicans accused of similar offenses, “not as morally corrupt as Republicans” should hardly be the baseline to which Democrats hold themselves.
I wish those who made these arguments realized how much they sound like Republicans rationalizing Donald Trump’s awful behavior. There’s no surer way to lose the political high ground than to act no differently than those who are happy to traffic in the political sewer.
Partisans on the left who continue to pillory Gillibrand and make Franken into a sacrificial lamb need to drop this embarrassing line of argument. Al Franken dug his own political grave, and Kirsten Gillibrand has nothing to apologize for.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.