If Franken departs, he shouldn't be alone

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ON THE same day that outraged critics were calling for Sen. Al Franken to resign, Alabama's Republican Party offered its unqualified support to Senate candidate Roy Moore.

What's wrong with this picture?

Franken came under fire over allegations that he kissed and groped Leeann Tweeden, a Los Angeles radio anchor, without her consent in a 2006 USO tour in the Middle East, two years before the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member took public office.

NOW, after years of practiced seriousness to dispel concerns about his comic past, his image has been undone in many minds by a photo. It is a shot of his grinning at the camera like a goofy doofus while reaching out in a pantomime grab for the breasts of a sleeping Tweeden. Tweeden says she didn't see the photo until after she returned home and felt understandably angry and humiliated.

She also accused Franken of forcibly tongue-kissing her backstage, also without her consent.

Once you see the photo, as the saying goes, you can't un-see it. It may be the most politically damning photo since Gary Hart, Democratic front-runner in the 1988 presidential race, was photographed with campaign aide Donna Rice sitting on his lap on a boat dock - and Hart was wearing a shirt bearing the boat's name, "Monkey Business." He dropped out of that race.

"YOU knew exactly what you were doing," Tweeden writes in an online essay. "You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed."

Franken responded with two statements of apology to Tweeden and agreed with calls from both parties' leaders to turn his fate over to the notoriously toothless Senate Ethics Committee.

Moore, by contrast, continued to deny accusations that he stalked and "dated" high school girls, which allegedly included improper sexual contact with a 14-year-old, while he was a prosecutor in his 30s - and revelations that he had been banned from a shopping mall in his hometown, Gadsden.

YET HE was endorsed by Alabama's Republican leaders, despite warnings from national GOP leaders that he could lose to Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the deeply conservative state - or be expelled from Congress if he wins. Ironically, Moore has cultivated a loyal base among the conservative state's evangelicals, which he now rallies by playing the conspiracy card. He claims to be the victim of anti-conservative conspirators in Washington, despite numerous calls from both parties for him to step aside.

His defiance may be reckless, but it also is his right. It also is the right of Alabama's voters to decide if this is the sort of man they want to send to Washington as their senator.

Personally, I would like to see Franken step down so his example would increase pressure on Moore and others to treat sexual harassment as a serious offense, whether it is criminal or not.

AMONG those others is President Donald Trump, who unfortunately responded to Franken's infantile stunt in a typically infantile Trumpian tweet: "The Al Frankenstien (sic) picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words."

And he continued the tweet with even more crudeness: "Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?" Yuk, yuk.

Trump makes no mention of the sexual harassment accusations that happen to have been made against him by multiple women.

Nor does he mention the accusations against his own Grand Old Party's albatross, Roy Moore.

With that in mind, one might think there hasn't been much progress since I called on President Bill Clinton to resign after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. He ignored such calls and, thanks to overreaching by impeachment-hungry Republicans, completed his second term with higher approval ratings for himself and his party than Congress had.

BUT times have changed. Franken is only one of the latest political and show business stars to be caught up in charges of sexual harassment.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal and online "#MeToo" campaigns have heightened awareness and sensitivities since the bad old days when Anita Hill had to defend her credibility in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he believes the women regarding allegations against Moore, it marked how far we have come as a society. The sarcasm of Trump's tweets show how far we have to go.

(Write to Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com)

(c) Tribune Media

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