Al Franken Chose to Resign. He Was Not a Victim.

IMG_0221I initially thought how conflicted I was that my Senator, Al Franken, was “forced” to resign. Damn all those women Senators who came forward and demanded Franken give up his Senate seat. Who did they think they were? Where’s his “due process” people cried. He’d been an effective Senator. He fought the good fights. He was someone who might be President.

Then I became incensed.  Senator Franken’s  grabbing women constituents’ butts while having his picture taken with them, trying to forcibly kiss women, groping a woman who was asleep for a “laugh,” is simply not excusable behavior.

Some might say, well, some of these things happened before he was a Senator.  I mean, give him a break. . . after all, he was a “comedian.” Does that matter?

No, it does not matter.

It disgusts me, as someone who served in elected office, to hear what Franken did, multiple times.  My thought when he said he did not remember grabbing his  women constituents’ butts while having his picture taken with them at the state fair was – are you freakin’ kidding me? He either grabbed so many butts he can’t remember, or. . . maybe it was not a big deal to him, so he forgot. Either one is unbelievable to me. I suppose there is a possibility that these multiple women accusers all made up their stories because they wanted their 15 minutes of fame or were part of some Republican conspiracy to get Franken. Sorry, I’m not buying that.

There are many of my fellow Democrats  who, like me, were Franken  supporters, but now continue to  defend Franken  by saying we have a Republican President who has well over a dozen women who have accused him of sexual harassment or sexual assault, and yet he continues to deny it and remains in office, so why should Franken be “sacrificed” by the Democrats. The answer is – because it’s the right thing to do.

There are many of my fellow Democrats who also say there is a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama who is a pedophile, accused of sexually assaulting and harassing teenage girls while he was an Assistant District Attorney in his 30’s, who continues to deny these credible allegations and refuses to leave the race. They cling to the argument that because what Franken did was nowhere near as bad as what Moore has allegedly done, he should not resign. Let me repeat myself. Franken needed to resign – because it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe, it really can be that simple, even at a time when our country appears to have lost its moral compass. Especially at such a time. I think in many ways our country’s future demands a return to it being about doing the right thing. Ethics. Morals. Values. Do we really need to ask “who starts?”

I know. I know. President Trump and Senator Roy Moore are serial sexual assaulters and sexual harassers, they have no moral compass, are creepy and should resign (or in Moore’s case withdraw from the race). I agree. No argument. Call me naive? Think how the Republicans benefit and Democrats lose when Franken steps up and does the right thing, you say? Has that become our only moral compass? How will it help “my party?”

But Al Franken screwed up. He knew it. He resigned. He was not forced out. He could have chosen  to stay in the Senate and see how the Ethics Committee investigation and things played out. But he chose to resign. This was not about “due process” for Al Franken. Al Franken will be alright.

Franken’s  behavior should be considered disqualifying from public office. Are we really willing to say because “our” guy is not a serial sexual assaulter or pedophile, he should not resign? Is that where Democrats are prepared to lower their bar of acceptable behavior to?  I hope not.

Thank God for the women Senators who came forward and demanded Franken resign. They were in many ways not unlike that strong and wise moral voice of all our mothers,  who would tell us what we already knew in our hearts, that “this behavior is just plain wrong,” The other male Democratic Senators listened. Al Franken listened. They all knew. We all knew, that this behavior by a U.S. Senator was not acceptable. Even if we liked Al Franken.

Will we, as a country,  listen? Will we not only listen to and believe the large numbers of real victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, but will we truly hear and see them, through our own biases and limitations? Will we as a country finally begin to act in the same courageous way as the women who have come forward to share their stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and those women still unable to?

Why am I being so hard on Franken you might ask? Perhaps consider asking yourself why you’re asking that question. Maybe it’s because Franken is a metaphor for the men in power in this country. Privileged. Entitled. It’s the narrative we have been conditioned to accept. Let’s change that narrative. What we really need to be asking is why do we continue to accept and allow such horrible behavior by men in power.

I found it both curious and disappointing that in Franken’s speech on the Senate  floor announcing his intention to resign that he did not admit any wrongdoing. In fact, he specifically denied certain allegations and stated he had a different recollection of events. Hmm. I’m shocked. What happened to “believing” women who were harassed? Acceptance and acknowledgement of Franken’s own responsibility did not fit his narrative of how he needed his legacy in the Senate to be remembered.

Al Franken, in his resignation speech, intentionally acknowledged the irony of his own fate, where you have a man remaining in the Oval Office facing multiple more egregious allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment and the opposing party openly supporting a Senate candidate with sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations. No, that irony was not lost on any of us. But there’s also another irony. In Franken’s Senate speech,  he did not acknowledge and accept responsibility for his own sexual misconduct, as if somehow what he did wasn’t really all that bad. That’s a sad irony. Al Franken, you were not a victim.

Yet this is really not about Al Franken. He’s replaceable. It’s about taking a small step forward as a country of morals and an understanding of right and wrong. It’s a step towards an overdue acknowledgement of the harm done to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and demanding some tangible accountability for the demeaning, humiliating and long tolerated and ignored sexual harassment and sexual assaults that women continue to face in our society. I think of the women who are harassed in subtle, outrageous and disgusting ways every day in the work force, by men. Right now. Today. This is about them.

Men must proactively engage and be a part of the solution. It’s about standing up, finally, for what’s right. It’s about changing behaviors and calling out bad behaviors, even when it might make you feel uncomfortable. Another irony. We can no longer stay quiet and remain seated. To do so is to continue to be complicit and part of the problem.

So now what? More women in elected office?  Hopefully. That would be a thoughtful start, assisting us all in making much needed progress towards a dismantling of the underlying culture that still chooses to permit the scourge of sexual harassment and sexual assault to fester and live in our country’s ugly and messy reality.

We have much work to do, together.



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Tom Fiebiger is a recovering civil rights lawyer and politician, having spent 25 years representing workers that were discriminated against and a term in the North Dakota State Senate. The God he understands is more about grace than judgment, has a sense of humor and a big tent. Fiebiger's best gift is his family.