The Democratic Party Leadership Should NOT Have Driven Al Franken Out of Office, and Al Franken Should NOT Have Resigned

December 8, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |



On Thursday, the Democratic Party leadership forced Minnesota senator Al Franken to resign his seat on charges of sexual harassment. In a single day, 35 Democratic senators seem to have suddenly decided that Al Franken must go and forced the Minnesota senator to resign and give up the seat to which he was legally elected. To be clear, the Democratic Party is an institution of the ruling class, openly dedicated to maintaining and expanding capitalism-imperialism, including unchallenged worldwide domination; and Franken is, at least until recently, an important player in that institution. Nevertheless, there is a question of principle involved here that bears on the kind of revolution we need and the society we are working toward. In getting rid of Franken, the Democratic Party leadership did serious damage to important principles, as well as to the whole upsurge against sexual harassment and abuse.

Six to eight women, some anonymous, accused Franken of sexual harassment and abuse. Franken has either denied these accusations outright or says that he remembers them differently. There is a procedure for hearing such allegations—a hearing by the Senate Ethics Committee. In previous years such a hearing resulted in the expulsion of former Senator Bob Packwood. Yet rather than let the process unfold through which these accusations could play out and be adjudicated, with both sides being heard, the Democratic Party leadership apparently made Franken “an offer he couldn’t refuse” and forced him out.

Accusations are not proof. By insisting that Franken leave, the Democratic leadership prevented him from exercising a basic right: the right to confront his accusers and to test the evidence against him in an adversarial proceeding.

By agreeing to go, Franken capitulated to a mob mentality and the strong-arming of the Democratic leadership. It is highly possible, and even likely, that the Senate Ethics Committee procedure is flawed and shaped in ways that make it weighted against women, as is virtually every institution in the society; nonetheless, people should still have the right to contest charges against them in some arena. In addition, by peremptorily purging Franken, rather than letting the process play out, the Democratic leadership focused against one individual and let an institution which is saturated in the oppression of women off the hook.

Earlier this week we criticized a trend of “any and all allegations and accusations being automatically treated as proven fact, and accused individuals immediately being treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’ in effect, while concrete steps are immediately being taken by assorted institutions to fire them from their jobs, hound them out of public life, invalidate and bury their art or other works, deprive them of representation, demolish them on social media and generally turn them into lepers and social pariahs.” Because Franken is so high-profile, because this overturns a legal process (elections), and because this was so nakedly engineered by a powerful ruling class institution (the Democratic Party), Thursday’s action takes a terrible trend and seriously exacerbates it.

Today, this treatment is applied to those accused of sexual abuse. Tomorrow this could go on around charges of “aiding terrorism,” or “treason,” as it has often done and in fact still does in this country. Is that what we want?

To those who have asked why Franken should get due process, when women who are harassed too often get none, the question has to be posed: Do you want to end oppression for all people, or just get your chance to take revenge on those who oppressed you?

As we have said, the wave of exposures against sexual harassment and abuse has been in the main righteous and extremely important. It should continue—aiming its main fire and energy at the culture as a whole, the institutions that are complicit with this behavior, and the social relations which mold and shape men to behave as predators. But injustices like this forced resignation not only do grave harm to individuals and critical epistemological and legal principles, they will end up sabotaging and short-circuiting this movement. This approach misdirects the movement down blind alleys, turning away people who want to see this harassment exposed and ENDED but who also want to see a society in which there is rule of law, a respect for the process of getting at the truth, and respect for the rights of individuals, no matter how odious the act they are accused of. This trend, left unchecked and unstopped, will turn a righteous movement into a 15-minute paroxysm of revenge. No!

The night of Franken's resignation, Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC, visibly uncomfortable with the bum-rushing of Franken out of public life, nevertheless sought to justify it by saying that “There is wisdom in the wave.” This is wrong, terribly wrong. There is righteous anger at injustice in “the wave” but there is also the potential for turning that anger to revenge, rather than justice. Wisdom does not lie in tailing along behind every manifestation of a movement, but in seeing the source of the problem and the path of solution, pointing out the dead ends and ditches along the way, and struggling for principle.

Finally, Franken correctly pointed to the howling irony of at least 35 Democratic senators marching one of their own to the chopping block while doing nothing to demand that Trump—who is caught on tape admitting to much worse behavior than Franken is even accused of—be removed from office. In fact, not only have they done nothing to remove Trump, the Democratic Party leadership actively discourages and attempts to suppress any such move toward doing so. For them “the wave” must apparently end at the door of the Oval Office. And one would be justified in asking, given some of Franken’s aggressive questioning of Trump/Pence administration officials, whether Franken’s removal might be connected with further squelching any such move.



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