When I wrote about Fightin’ Greg Gianforte’s assault (as it seems to me) on a reporter, I believed that Al Franken had a history of physical aggression against folks who annoyed him. However, the only incident I recalled (and only vaguely) involved a much lower level of violence than Gianforte’s — pushing someone, perhaps someone in conservative media, out of his way in a Capitol corridor. Thus, I passed on claiming a Franken precedent.
However, Dave Begley (our man in Omaha and Council Bluffs) sent me a link to the story of Franken body-slamming a demonstrator. This is from the New York Post’s account of the incident:
Wise-cracking funnyman Al Franken yesterday body-slammed a demonstrator to the ground after the man tried to shout down Gov. Howard Dean.
The tussle left Franken’s trademark thick-rim glasses broken, but he said he was not injured.
Franken – who seemed in a state of shock and out of breath after the incident – was helped back to his feet by several people who watched the tussle. Police arrived soon after.
“I got down low and took his legs out,” said Franken afterwards. . .I was a wrestler so I used a wrestling move.
Franken seemed proud of himself, as he always does. He defended his attack, saying he was protecting candidate Dean’s right to speak. I doubt that this a good defense for an assault. The demonstrator would say he was exercising his right to speak.
I understand Franken’s outrage, just as I understand a stressed-out Gianforte losing it when a snotty reporter persisted in asking hostile questions after being told the candidate would answer later. In neither case was violence the appropriate response. Both Franken and Gianforte lost control and should be condemned for it.
The Franken incident occurred in 2004, before Minnesotans grievously erred by sending the one-time funnyman to the Senate. Gianforte’s misconduct also predates his election.
In Gianforte’s case, a goodly number of Montana voters (perhaps one-third of them) had his assault in mind when they voted. They elected him anyway. Franken’s assault was not on the radar in Minnesota three years later when he won his Senate race. It probably didn’t make the radar when it happened.
The Washington Post argues that the House should not seat Gianforte. I disagree.
As the Post admits, there is no precedent for denying someone elected to House his seat for this sort of conduct. Nor should the House set a precedent whereby partisans have a huge incentive to disqualify candidates from office by goading hot-heads like Gianforte and Franken into physical altercations.