A Lesson from DeVos

There is an inherent difference between taking someone seriously and believing that person completely without casting any doubt. Perhaps it is with the same spirit that we should look at the allegations surrounding Senator Franken—and for that matter, any allegation of such kind.

A Tempered Harpoon is a column on American Politics written by the ’18-’19 Editor in Chief, Chris Park (’19). – Ed.

Note: Senator Al Franken has since announced his resignation in a floor speech on Thursday, December 7. My follow up post can be found here.

What? From Betsy DeVos, the beleaguered Secretary of Education who believed that guns have a place in schools to fend off grizzly bears? 

Yes. That Betsy DeVos. On September 7, she reversed an Obama-era Title IX that mandated a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. While the implication of the reversal on campuses is still hotly debated, the essence of the decision, that one falsely accused person is too many, is a sentiment that can and should be acknowledged to be true.

After allegations that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) made unwanted advances surfaced, there was a preponderance of calls for the resignation of the senator from the public. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 50 percent of Americans wanted Franken to step down immediately. But perhaps it is with the same spirit of the DeVos decision that we should look at the allegations surrounding Senator Franken—and for that matter, any allegation of such kind.

To be clear, I support the #MeToo movement; I believe that countless men have abused their power and have gone without being held accountable for their actions; I affirm that we must not only listen but respect women who come out to retell her story. However, there is an inherent difference between taking someone seriously and believing that person completely without casting any doubt—just last week, the Washington Post reported that a women approached the paper falsely claiming that Roy Moore impregnated her.

Currently, five additional women came out against Sen. Franken with accusations of sexual misconduct after Leeann Tweeden wrote an essay alleging that he forcibly kissed and groped her while on a USO tour in 2006—all allege that Sen. Franken groped them. To all allegations, Franken apologized, but adding that he “takes thousands of photos and has met tens of thousands of people and he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.” Some critics, calling for his immediate resignation, cried foul: how could a senator who for so long have stressed the importance of taking victims seriously dismiss their accounts like that? Republicans likewise were quick to attack. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) criticized the “rich irony [of] all the Democrats backpedaling and trying to justify now their colleague,” decrying Sen. Franken’s actions to be “serious, serious problems” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggested that “he should consider resigning.” Also among them was President Trump, who offered a version of his classic nicknames for Sen. Franken: 

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But they shouldn’t be.

The changes that our society has undergone since the hearings on Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination or President Clinton’s impeachment trial is undoubtedly positive. Allegations of sexual misconduct can now lead to an end of one’s career, as we saw with Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis C. K., and others. Given the gravity with which our society deals with them, there is a need to also extend such weight in making the decision on their culpability.

While fairly doing so made be difficult especially in, say, corporate board rooms, it is not in the Senate chamber where due process of judgement can be first carried out in front of the Senate Ethics Committee, then on the floor of the United States Senate, all in front of the watching eyes of the American public.

Indeed, Speaker Paul Ryan, in an interview with NPR, discussed the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in the United States, asserting that “nowhere more is this important to set a standard and an example than elected officials,” a sentiment with which I concur. That also means that nowhere more is it important to set a standard and an example of what to do when such allegations rise. 

Politically, it makes sense to call for Sen. Franken’s resignation. Just look at the public backlash against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi when she called for due process in judging accused Rep. John Conyers. For Democrats particularly, it makes even more sense as women are more likely to be a Democrat, and heading into the 2018 mid-term elections, the Democrats need the women vote to have a chance at winning back Congress. Plus, there’s no political loss: even if Franken were to resign, the Democratic Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, would appoint another Democrat to fill in Franken’s seat—perhaps Keith Ellison—and thus would not cost a Democratic seat in the Senate. But it would be derelict to blindly act upon unverified allegations and call for his resignation. Taking such erroneous route to judgment would set a dangerous precedent in the ways of the Senate.

Sen. Franken has called for an ethics investigation on himself and the Ethics Committee has since opened a preliminary inquiry into the allegations against him. Now, the Ethics Committee must investigate thoroughly into all allegations that have been raised and are raised in the future to come to a definitive conclusion on Sen. Franken’s actions. If the ethics committee finds the allegations against Sen. Franken to be true, there is no question that he should resign, especially considering some alleged misconduct occurred while he was in office.

But the calls for resignation today should stop, at least for now.

–  Chris Hyunsoo Park (’19)

Featured image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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