Why Al Franken Had to Quit

Al Franken regrets resigning from the Senate. Several Democratic senators feel guilty for pressuring him to quit. And Jane Mayer’s recent New Yorker piece confirms that Leann Tweeden’s sexual harassment allegations against Franken were the byproduct of a coordinated conservative media hit job. In a tweet promoting the piece, Mayer said Franken was “railroaded” out of office.

But it doesn’t change the simplest fact of all: that Franken deserved to lose his job all the same.

Mayer does a brilliant and thorough job reporting on the forces that conspired against Franken. But it still sounds like she’s rehabbing his reputation. Mayer describes Franken’s physical awkwardness, how female colleagues and employees felt perfectly fine around him and that he didn’t know he’d made Tweeden (or any of his other accusers) uncomfortable in any way.

The original point of the #MeToo movement was calling out men, especially in positions of power, for abusing women and making them feel uncomfortable. Franken’s obliviousness to Tweeden or anyone else’s discomfort doesn’t exonerate him. It simply proves how normalized abusive and/or unsettling behavior is.

Conservative media undeniably played a role in Franken’s downfall. Tweeden’s relationship with Sean Hannity and the lack of fact checking surrounding the original story is damning. Conservative media wanted to avenge (credible) allegations of pedophilia against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and Franken was the perfect target. Not only was he a rising Democratic star, but by all accounts Franken is a thoughtful, reasonable person who might acknowledge wrongdoing—which he ultimately did.

Franken’s treatment feels terribly unfair, especially considering his and Moore’s actions aren’t in the same stratosphere. Hell, the president of the United States has been credibly accused of rape by mulitple women and will likely never face consquences. But you can’t negotiate morality or make progress with blowhards like Donald Trump or Roy Moore who prioritize power over humanity. You can demand accountability from a politician like Franken because he actually believes in accountability.

Like it or not, Franken’s resignation is progress toward holding powerful men accountable for their actions. Sure, it’s understandable to call it reactionary. If he’d held off, he’d probably be in the Senate or 2020 Democratic primary today. Mayer contends that Dems pressured Franken quit before all the facts had emerged and been contextualized. But his behavior toward Tweeden and other accusers didn’t need more context to be problematic.