Unlike Donald Trump or Roy Moore, Al Franken seems to have a reasonable level of self-awareness. Hopefully that can put him in a position to provide us with a few lessons to learn from the mistakes that he has made. First, a few basic points about the situation.
- The obvious – what Al Franken did to Leann Tweeden, Lindsay Menz and potentially other women is thoroughly inappropriate and reflects the lack of boundaries that many men have towards women. At best, Franken seems to have mistaken sexual harassment and assault as mere chumminess.
- Franken should not be expelled from the U.S. Senate. Nor should Roy Moore if elected, just as Adam Clayton Powell should not have been expelled from the House in the 1960s. In a democracy, our representatives are elected by constituents and they should not be replaced until the voters decide otherwise. This does not mean the Franken should not resign if he thinks that his character has been compromised to the extent that he can no longer function properly and effectively.
- As a comedian, Franken has lived in a world in which limits are pushed, especially regarding issues of sex. It goes with the territory. As Franken states in his book, Giant of the Senate, he knew at an early age that he wanted to be a comedian. That meant that he was going into dangerous territory regarding most any definition of propriety. It’s a lot easier to be an informal comic than one who makes a living by creating popular humor.
- There are some social settings that are almost made for “bad behavior.” Going on a tour of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq as Franken and Leann Tweeden did, created a recipe for bawdy behavior. The soldiers are horny, and sex is a big part of what they want to hear about. At the very least, the want a lot of innuendos about sex.This culture clearly carries over to what the performers are doing when not on stage. It is not altogether unexpected that Franken would take liberties with Ms. Tweeden, just as he did with his audiences.At the risk of sounding like a prude, these sorts of trips are unfortunate opportunities for boys to act like boys. It is further collateral damage from the tragedy of war, and why war should be avoided whenever possible.
- In Franken’s book, he repeatedly talks about his love for and loyalty to his wife Franni Bryson. It might have been best for him to tone that down in light of his previous indiscretions.
- There is an obvious absurdity about Franken’s actions being investigated by and judged upon by his peers on the Senate Ethics Committee. Is there anything ethical about the means by which they get into office?
We boys have a lot to learn. Women can teach us a great deal and we have to take ourselves to school. In this case, popular culture is not our friend. We have to think beyond so much of what we read, see on TV or in the movies, or to quote an infamous president, how we behave and speak in locker rooms.
Bill Maher and others have reminded us that taking political correctness to the extreme leads to a very boring world. It is essentially devoid of humor. Maybe Al Franken can take his Harvard-educated mind and help us learn ways to properly respect women and not unwittingly abuse, while at the same time not having us walk on pins and needles in every mixed gender situation. Men don’t want to be like Mike Pence and fear being alone in a room any woman other than their wives. We have much to learn, and maybe Al Franken can help us along the way.