Exit the clown

I was present at the creation of Al Franken’s political career in Minnesota. Thanks to the gracious invitation of a Minnesota DFL public affairs officer, I was one of two reporters in attendance at Franken’s debut as a possible senatorial candidate before an audience of paying Democrats. I wrote up my account of Franken’s performance for Power Line in “Saturday night live with Al Franken.” (The only other reporter there was the David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times, but he didn’t write up an account of the event.) I found Franken a plausible candidate. Franken liked my account so much that he read it on his Air America show.

I take no pleasure in Franken’s downfall. He is a proud man who has been humiliated if not humbled. He leaves in disgrace, on the opportunistic demand of his Democratic colleagues. They are a cold bunch and, Franken to the contrary notwithstanding, he himself is not exactly a warm and fuzzy guy.

He is now to leave an office he coveted. Franken coveted the office in part to follow in the footsteps of his hero, the late Paul Wellstone. He was living what must have been a fantasy. The fantasy has come crashing down in disgrace.

He leaves as a result of behavior that we used to call boorish. Franken’s boorish behavior harked back to his show business career. Indeed, according to one of his accusers, he claimed it his right as an entertainer.

Franken’s show business career included stints as a writer and performer of sketch comedy, a humorist of sorts, an author and left-wing radio host. Like so many humorists, however, he is a depressive and angry man.

The anger was not far below the surface of his resignation speech on the floor of the Senate yesterday. The New York Times has posted the text of the speech here. The video is below.

One cannot understand Franken’s speech without reference to his previous statements responding to the charges of his boorish behavior. Franken’s speech purports to deny that he did what he is said to have done. While not directly proclaiming his innocence, it implies as much. It makes one wonder why his Democratic colleagues demanded his resignation. He isn’t saying. Not yet, anyway.

“Over the last few weeks,” Franken said, “a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them.” Franken cannot bring himself to say that the women have come forward to charge him with certain actions; the focus is on how his actions affected them.

He gives his reaction to their feelings: “I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard, and their experiences taken seriously.”

Here we arrive at the epistemological nature of Franken’s response to the charges on which the calls for his resignation were premised. In his statements preceding the speech, Franken never simply denied the charges. His actions occurred in “crowded and chaotic situations.” Whatever took place, it wasn’t intentional. Accidents happened. He was “just very, very sorry” if any feelings were hurt in the course of the accidents. One necessarily inferred, as Esme Murphy implied in her interview with Franken, that the incidents took place as described.

In his statements Franken would not simply defend himself. In the case of Leeann Tweeden, there was the photograph. As for the other charges, his (unstated) memory differed, but he deferred to “the conversation.” He implied that outright denial, though warranted, would amount to disrespect of women. He respected them too much to dispute the charges outright. Franken’s speech subtracted his talking points and his apology for hurt feelings.

Franken now portrays himself as a wronged man, but one who is inhibited from saying so. If he is a victim of anything, however, he is a victim of his implicit concessions and his inability to defend himself because of the truth of the charges.

Franken could not depart without the shots at Roy Moore and President Trump. It’s all so unfair. And he let it be known that we will be hearing from him. If only it weren’t for the circumstances giving rise to his departure, he would have a new gig with MSNBC wrapped up.

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