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#MeToo lessons from Al Franken and Kirsten Gillibrand: Will the Democrats learn in time for 2020?

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

In the grand narrative of the 2020 presidential race, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Sen. Al Franken have found themselves on a political seesaw. As her political fortunes have crashed in recent months, Franken's -- if he has any -- appear to have inched up.

No, the former Democratic senator from Minnesota is not ready for full resurrection yet. But his memory haunts his party like a resentful ghost with his claim that he was forced to resign without due process.

One casualty of that haunting now appears to be Gillibrand's presidential bid. She withdrew Wednesday from the crowded Democratic field after failing to raise enough money or support in the polls to qualify for the September Democratic debate. Her poll numbers rarely rose above 1%.

A major reason for that withdrawal has been reported for weeks. Democratic voters and donors blame her for a cardinal sin in party politics: She turned against Franken, one of the party's most popular and promising rising stars, beginning a campaign that forced him to announce his resignation in December 2017 without the due process of the Senate ethics investigation that he requested.

To be sure, she was not the only Democratic senator to call for Franken's resignation as, over the course of a few weeks, eight women accused him of inappropriate behavior. But Gillibrand was the first and remains staunchly anti-Franken, in accordance with her promotion of sexual conduct and women's rights issues, for which a "60 Minutes" profile memorably labeled her "the #MeToo senator."

Most of that behavior involved groping, touching and what delicately has been described as coercive kissing. In general, it was the sort of jovial aw-shucks behavior of which the top-tier candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has been accused.

 

Much of Biden's hands-on behavior occurred over his decades-long political career, often in front of cameras, and drew mostly amusement or bemusement at the time. The emergence of groper-gate as an issue in this campaign says a lot about how standards of tolerance have changed in regard to what qualifies as sexual misconduct in these #MeToo times.

Franken resigned under pressure from his Senate colleagues. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gave him a deadline to quit after three dozen Democratic senators called for him to step down.

At the time, Democrats were waging a major campaign against Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Alabama U.S. Senate race who was accused of improper behavior with teenage girls as young as 14. A full ethics investigation into Franken's behavior could take years. Pressure on the senator to remove himself immediately was intense.

But now some of those Democrats who called for Franken's departure have second thoughts, according to a major investigation by Jane Mayer in the July 29 issue of The New Yorker, which she described in a tweet as "How @alfranken got railroaded."

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(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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