Democrats are doing the right thing with Al Franken


FILE PHOTO: Senator Al Franken (D-MN) meets with constituents at Minnesota Farmfest in Redwood County, Minnesota, U.S. August 6, 2014.   REUTERS/Craig Lassig/File Photo
Senator
Al Franken

Thomson
Reuters


  • Sen. Al Franken is widely expected to resign on
    Thursday.
  • Democrats have taken an admirably swift approach to
    force him out of the Senate.
  • Despite some gripes from the Democratic base, high
    ethical standards are good for a party.

The first accusations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken came just three weeks ago.
With his announcement Thursday that he will resign from the US
Senate
, Democrats will have gone from accusation to nudging
him out of the Senate in less than one month.

This is admirably swift, especially considering the way the fact
set around Franken gradually got worse, instead of hitting in one
bombshell. Remember, after the first accusation, even accuser
Leeann Tweeden said she was reserving
judgment
about whether he ought to resign.

Perhaps Democrats should have acted after the fourth accusation
instead of the seventh, or in two weeks instead of three. But
once a party collectively decides a member is unfit to serve in
the Senate, it’s tough to take that decision back. It’s worth
being deliberate as long as you are not stalling or excusing.

On the other side of the Capitol building, Democratic leaders
have gotten Rep. John Conyers to
resign
and are trying very hard to push Rep. Ruben Kihuen to do the
same
. In each of these stories, they have moved toward
demanding resignations within days or weeks. You can argue
whether each of the moves were quite as fast as they should have
been, but they were all pretty fast.

Maybe Democrats are doing the right thing for political reasons:
They hope to make Republicans look bad for not holding their own
accused sexual harassers and abusers accountable, up to and
including the president. That’s fine. The whole point of
democracy as a political system is it’s supposed to align
lawmakers’ crude self interest with the public interest.

“You’re just trying to show you’re better than the other party so
you can win an election” is how it’s supposed to work.

High ethical standards are good for a party

I see a few Democrats griping about unilateral disarmament. Why
should Franken resign if Trump won’t? Aren’t we just a bunch of
chumps if we hold our officials accountable and they let theirs
do whatever they want?

This is the wrong way to think about it.

First of all, high ethical standards are their own reward. A
party that stands against sexual harassment is better for the
people who work on campaigns and in congressional offices —
especially but not exclusively women. A party that lives its
values of ethical behavior and equal treatment is also more
likely to make laws in the public interest.

High ethical standards also have a political reward. They allow
the party to make a stronger argument to the public that it is
deserving of trust, and enable the party to more credibly
criticize the other side for its failures.

It’s not always good to be as interesting as possible

Franken will be replaced by another Democrat who will vote
similarly, who won’t be dogged by this scandal, and who (one
hopes) will not grope constituents who pose for photos.

Franken’s replacement will probably produce fewer C-SPAN videos
in which he or she totally destroys
a Trump administration official testifying before a
committee
. But these exchanges from Franken were more useful
for thrilling a certain kind of liberal fan than for changing
political outcomes.

Ideally, Franken’s replacement will be less like him and more
like his colleague from Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar is skilled at selling liberal ideas to the center. She
was an effective advocate for the Democratic platform on
healthcare earlier this year in a CNN debate — a venue where
one might actually reach the sort of persuadable voters Democrats
will need to retake congress.

Minnesota is a once-strongly blue state that has been trending
red for decades. While Hillary Clinton won the state last year,
she won it by a smaller margin than she won the national
vote — the last time a Democratic presidential candidate had
run worse in Minnesota than in the whole country was in 1952.

But while Franken was just barely dragged across the finish line
in his 2008 Senate race by the strong national political
environment for Democrats, Klobuchar won her last two elections
in Minnesota by 35 points and 20 points, respectively —
showing the right kind of Democrat with the right kind of message
can still do really well in the upper Midwest.

That’s the way forward for a Democratic majority, and cutting
Franken loose is one step toward walking that way.

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