Back in May, I read Senator Al Franken’s smart and hilarious book, Giant of the Senate. I loved it, I concluded he should run for president, and I told him so when I interviewed him.
“No,” he said decisively.
He laughed. “It’s a really, really hard job!”
I asked if there were any circumstances under which he would change his mind.
“No. None,” he answered.
Now I’m wondering whether Franken knew he had something disqualifying in his past: something like the allegation that surfaced Thursday, when Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden charged that Franken forced her to kiss him, mistreated her when she rebuffed him, and took a photo with his hands grabbing her breasts when she was asleep—all when they were both touring Iraq and Afghanistan with the USO, entertaining American military personnel, back in 2006.
I have no evidence that that incident drove Franken’s answer to me. But with this new allegation, it seems like good judgment on his part, anyway. I was disappointed when Franken ruled out a presidential run. But I’m much more disappointed now.
Against the backdrop of the sexual-abuse scandal that threatens to drive Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore—accused of kissing or groping nine teenage girls—out of the race, I have to recognize a huge double standard in my reactions. I believed Moore’s accusers right away—especially given all the detail in their accounts, and all the corroborating witnesses. I confess: I spent at least 30 minutes looking for proof that Franken didn’t do what he’s accused of. (Then he essentially admitted he did.)
I reached out to women who are close to Franken, and at least two say they don’t know enough to confirm or deny it, but they’re devastated. I don’t know him well enough to be devastated, but I’m enormously sad. Women have spent the last 13 months, in the wake of the 16 or so sexual abuse allegations against Donald Trump, which weren’t enough to keep him from being president, obsessing over and reevaluating their mistreatment by men, from their childhood well into adulthood, and telling those painful, awful stories. Publicly and privately. Now we have one about a man who’s a self-described feminist, a champion of Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List, accused of the same thing. This one really hurts.
It’s worth noting that Franken had already gotten in some political trouble for his sexual hijinks back when he was part of the undeniably bro-y, often sexist world of comedy. On the eve of Minnesota’s Democratic nominating convention back in the summer of 2008, a magazine reported that in 1994 Franken made a joke about rape in late-night brainstorming for a Saturday Night Live sketch that never aired. At the convention, he made a speech that saved his candidacy.