There’s been a lot of talk today about Al Franken, the SNL writer-turned-Senator who resigned his seat in 2018 after eight women accused him of groping them and kissing them without their consent. The New Yorker has a new and lengthy piece from Jane Mayer that essentially argues that Franken was railroaded out of office and should be given a second chance.
That the story is a puff piece that spends nearly 8,000 words attacking one of his accusers before admitting that seven other women also made credible accusations against Franken should not come as a surprise. The media has always loved Al Franken, largely because he’s seen as being one of them. He’s Ivy League-educated. He came up through the broadcast world. His humor poked fun at all the acceptable targets while his SNL background provided cover whenever anyone complained that the left was made up of humorless scolds. Before the accusations came out, Franken was the subject of fawning profiles and presidential speculation. Remember the Giant of The Senate book tour? That there would eventually be an attempt to rehabilitate Franken’s image was inevitable.
Reading the story, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Franken is upset because he now realizes that, if he hadn’t resigned, the news cycle would have eventually moved on to something else and he would have been fine. It’s easy to imagine Franken looking at Donald Trump easily surviving far worse accusations and saying, “Why not me?” When someone like Al Franken looks at Virginia and sees that Ralph Northam and Justin Fairdfax are still in office, how can he not feel that perhaps he was too quick to surrender?
The main consequence of Al Franken’s resignation seems to be the transformation of Kirsten Gillibrand from a rising star to a pariah. There are Democrats who will never forgive her for calling on Al Franken to resign. But what did the country really lose when Al Franken left the Senate? He was a progressive from a blue state. When he stepped down, he was replaced by another Democrat, one who probably has the exact same voting record that Franken would have had if he hadn’t resigned. If Al Franken was still a member of the Senate, the same judges would be confirmed, the same bills would be passed, and the only difference would be that Franken would be on the floor giving a speech instead of Tina Smith. The idea that some had that Al Franken’s showbiz background would make him uniquely capable of challenging Trump was wishful thinking. If Trump’s the WWE, Franken’s the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. Guess which one of those swing state voters usually prefer.