Taking Things Too Far

The Enlightenment – the Age of Reason – was good thing. The world changed. Reason suddenly became the primary source of authority and legitimacy, not the church or any king. Thoughtful men (and a few women) could figure out what’s what. The Enlightenment then gave us the French Revolution. Citizens could figure out the best way to run their own nation – ordinary citizens, not any “Sun King” consulting a bunch of clerics. France would be reorganized and run by the elected representatives of the people. The French Revolution then gave us Robespierre and the Reign of Terror.

Robespierre, in February 1794, explained what that was about:

Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie [homeland, fatherland].

Robespierre was serious. Justice had become speedy and severe and inflexible. Between June 1793 and the end of July 1794, there were 16,594 official death sentences in France. Many more just killed themselves – and then that ended. France had had enough of that nonsense. Robespierre had taken things too far. Robespierre was guillotined. And that was that.

The new United States of America, with its nearly simultaneous revolution, based on the same Enlightenment principles, had no Reign of Terror. America had no Robespierre. Americans find fanatics tiresome, or they laugh at them. No one set up a Committee of Public Safety. The closest thing to that was the House Un-American Activities Committee in the fifties. In the Senate, Joe McCarthy was America’s Robespierre, bringing speedy and severe and inflexible justice to those who weren’t sufficiently into democracy – all those damned communist sympathizers and fellow travelers, and actual communists.

There were no actual communists. McCarthy was as successful as Robespierre. America finally had enough of that nonsense. “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” McCarthy drank himself to death.

And that was that, but the new Committee of Public Safety just brought down Al Franken:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Thursday announced that he will resign amid multiple allegations that he touched women inappropriately, a stunning political fall at a time when the issue of sexual harassment has exploded on Capitol Hill and enveloped both parties.

Yielding to pressure from other Democrats, Franken will now prepare to end a career that seemed just to be hitting its stride as he was emerging as a potent voice challenging the Trump administration – and was being seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

One does not mess with the new Committee of Public Safety:

Also Thursday, Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona announced he was resigning after House officials learned that he had asked two staffers to bear his child as a surrogate. And the House Ethics Committee announced it has established an investigative subcommittee to further probe allegations that Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) sexually harassed a former aide and then retaliated against her after she filed a complaint.

All of this came just two days after Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress, became the first lawmaker facing harassment allegations to step down.

Send them all to the guillotine, or force them to (politically) kill themselves, to prove a point:

The mounting pressure on Franken to leave the Senate reflected an effort by Democrats to gain the higher ground on the harassment issue as they seek to capitalize on allegations of misconduct against President Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The political risks for Democrats came into focus this week in Alabama, where voters will cast ballots next week. Supporters of Moore, who is accused of pursuing romantic relationships with teenage girls while in his 30s, began to argue that Democrats could not decry his alleged misconduct given the scandals plaguing their own party.

Franken, however, didn’t care about that:

In a defiant Senate floor speech Thursday, Franken noted that neither Moore nor Trump has been forced to step aside despite facing arguably more serious allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

“There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.

That sounded like sour grapes, not defiance. Forget irony. Franken could have said that he was staying on. He could have said that he’d step down the day that Donald Trump stepped down. Democrats would have cheered for that, but maybe not:

“In every workplace in America, including the U.S. Senate, we must confront the challenges of harassment and misconduct,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a close friend of Franken’s, said in a statement. “Nothing is easy or pleasant about this, but we all must recognize that our workplace cultures – and the way we treat each other as human beings – must change.”

And justice will be speedy and severe and inflexible, and for everyone:

On Thursday, Democrats said they agreed with Franken’s decision and quickly pivoted to demanding Republicans reject members of their party who face similar allegations.

“Republicans must join Democrats in holding their own accountable,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement. “The American people should take notice of national Republicans’ support for a morally degraded Senate candidate in Alabama and a president in the Oval Office facing equally credible charges.”

So they agreed with Franken, but Franken had to go anyway, and that was that:

When Franken concluded, several senators approached and hugged him. They included Klobuchar and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who slapped him on the back as they tightly embraced.

Franken then turned to the 26 aides seated behind him, shaking each of their hands and giving hugs. The final aide he greeted, a young woman, laughed and cried as they spoke.

But despite the warmth evident on the Senate floor, it became clear as the minutes passed that no senator would speak in tribute to Franken. None did.

One does not mess with the new Committee of Public Safety, and Republicans do know that:

The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Thursday that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore would “never” have the organization’s support… NRSC chair Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said in November that the Senate should expel Moore if he is elected, and he didn’t back down from that position Thursday.

“Roy Moore will never have the support of the senatorial committee,” Gardner told the Weekly Standard in an interview. “We will never endorse him. We won’t support him,”

“I won’t let that happen. Nothing will change,” he added. “I stand by my previous statement.”

On Nov. 13, Gardner said in a statement about Moore: “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”

That’s fine, but that’s trouble:

President Donald Trump has fully endorsed the Alabamian, and the Republican National Committee allowed more than two weeks to elapse before it began supporting Moore financially again, after cutting him off in response to the stories.

“We’ve taken a different position,” Gardner said when asked about Trump, according to the Weekly Standard. “I think our position is right.”

This is tearing their party apart:

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday reiterated his call for Alabama GOP Senate hopeful Roy Moore to drop out of the race over allegations of sexual misconduct, including assault.

“I think he should have dropped out,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly news conference. “Just because the polling has changed doesn’t change my opinion on that, so I stand by what I said before.”

That was well-timed:

Ryan’s remarks came just moments before Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) took to the Senate floor and announced he would resign over his own sexual harassment allegations.

Ryan’s remarks may also generate a sneering epic Trump Tweetstorm, with Trump calling Ryan a naïve goody-two-shoes-Boy-Scout who doesn’t know a damned thing about the real world, and a coward who wants to destroy the Republican Party, and truth, justice and the American Way too. Ryan, of course, shrugs at such things. That’s why Trump’s base hates him. Everyone else just watches. Republicans are an odd lot these days.

Callum Borchers proves that with this:

“Good riddance” was how Tucker Carlson reacted Wednesday night to news that Sen. Al Franken appeared poised to resign under pressure from his Democratic colleagues. That’s how a Fox News opinion host would be expected to respond to a liberal senator’s downfall, which seemed complete when Franken said on Thursday that he would indeed step down.

Yet Carlson quickly curbed his enthusiasm and urged conservative viewers to do the same.

“Enjoy the schadenfreude, the pure animal thrill of watching a powerful person knocked from a high perch, but at the same time, ask yourself what if this happened to you?” Carlson said. “Imagine being accused by someone whose name you didn’t know of something that supposedly happened more than a decade ago. How would you respond? How could you respond? What if you were innocent, by the way? And what if nobody cared?”

And there was this:

“What you saw today was a lynch mob,” Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said Wednesday on Laura Ingraham’s show. The former House speaker argued that Democrats’ mind-set is, “Let’s just lynch him because when we are done, we will be so pure.”

Borchers points out the obvious:

Gingrich’s point about purity is at the center of Fox News’s commentary on Franken. The contention is that Democrats are not acting nobly but are merely trying to claim the moral high ground on the issue of sexual misconduct so that they will have standing to denounce Republicans such as Roy Moore and President Trump, who face accusations of their own.

And so it goes:

“They have now determined that it is worth sacrificing Franken, just like they did John Conyers – throw him overboard to save the political Titanic that is their party,” Ingraham said. “What does this do? It sets the precedent for the Democrats to try to drive Roy Moore from office, should he win the Alabama Senate race. And two, this is the next step in the quest to impeach President Trump. The left is brilliant.”

It is? Fox News is an odd place, so Ruth Marcus tries to straighten this out:

There’s no doubt, in the case of Al Franken, that Democrats are better off with the Minnesota senator gone. There’s more doubt about whether justice was done… I don’t know where I would ultimately come down on the propriety of Franken’s continued service in the Senate because I don’t have a full grasp of the facts. Do you? Did his colleagues?

What gives me pause is both the rush to judgment and the one-size-fits-all nature of the punishment, given the significant difference in seriousness between the Franken allegations and those against Trump and Moore.

If so, it might be time to make some distinctions:

Franken presents a more difficult case both because of the quality of the evidence against him and the nature of the alleged transgressions. Much of the alleged behavior took place before he joined the Senate, which doesn’t make it acceptable but does make it different. Some of the Senate-era behavior is offensive but less serious; a hand on the butt during a photo op is different from a tongue down the throat. And some is anonymous, albeit corroborated by other witnesses, which should give all of us pause. The final, and perhaps last-straw, allegation involved an unnamed former Democratic political aide who claimed Franken, while a radio host, attempted to forcibly kiss her, announcing, “It’s my right as an entertainer.” Franken said the story was “categorically not true.”

That does call for making real distinctions:

Consider: One of Franken’s colleagues, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, is under federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes in the form of lavish gifts and using the power of his office to help a campaign donor/friend in dealings with the federal government. Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury last month, after which the Ethics Committee announced it would resume its inquiry into his conduct.

If senators have the patience to let the ethics-process proceed in the Menendez case why not with Franken? What about weighing whether some lesser punishment than what was essentially forced resignation would better fit Franken’s circumstances?

Marcus may be thinking about Robespierre:

The right policy is zero tolerance. That does not answer the question about what is the right punishment, or what proof there should be before it is meted out.

In short, don’t send everyone to the guillotine. That was Robespierre’s mistake. Don’t repeat it.

Ann Althouse sees that too:

I am interested in seeing how people in general may be shifting from enthusiasm about believing women and taking women seriously to feeling something is going wrong when the accused goes down so fast. Maybe Franken’s case is where the public sentiment turns…

He was afraid that to defend himself, he’d only make his troubles worse. He’d be questioning the credibility of his accusers. But maybe he should have defended himself – because at some point people are going to flip into have-you-no-decency mode. And poor Franken may regret that he went with what seemed to be the trend at the time and gave up without a fight. Fighting may catch on.

Paul Waldman sees that too:

When it comes to sex scandals, the politicians who are the most guilty and the least repentant are the ones who survive…

Franken was contrite and apologetic when the allegations first emerged. While he said in general terms that he didn’t remember events in the same way his accusers did, he didn’t attack them or call them liars, and he pledged to do better. When a politician reacts that way, there’s a good chance he’s on his way out.

And who survives this kind of scandal? The ones that are the least repentant – and often, the most guilty.

Michael Tomasky sees that too:

So Al Franken is out. It was the right thing for him to do. I guess. What he did was wrong. It wasn’t asking-a-14-year-old-girl-to-take-her-clothes-off wrong, but it was wrong.

He didn’t quite admit he’d done anything wrong, though, in the Senate floor speech at noon Thursday when he announced his resignation. The stories of the last three weeks, he said, “gave people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things I had not in fact done. Some I did not do. Others I remember very differently.”

But something is not right here:

What exactly would have been wrong in this case with letting the ethics process play out, seeing what the committee found, and determining his fate then? Liberals are supposed to love and respect process, which they sometimes do to a fault. So why short-circuit it here?

This is where I see some opportunism at work, in two ways. First, let’s cut to the chase: Do you think we’d have heard all these calls for his resignation from his Democratic colleagues if Minnesota had a Republican governor? No way. Maybe a couple senators would, but as a group they wouldn’t be nearly so cavalier about dumping him if they knew a Republican was going to replace him. And that’s fine; that’s politics. Newsflash: Politics is political. But it does make me take these high-moral-ground statements of his colleagues with a few grains of salt.

Tomasky is not impressed with those smug people:

The Democrats want to be able to say: See, when Al Franken and John Conyers are discovered to have done wrong, we don’t equivocate. We take care of it. Meanwhile, look at those Republicans. They’re all-in behind Roy Moore, whose alleged attacks on women make Franken’s look awfully tame. They have a congressman, Blake Farenthold of Texas, who reached an $84,000 settlement of his sexual harassment charge – paying it with taxpayer money – and still holds his seat with no one batting an eye. And of course, they have Donald Trump. When’s he going to be filing those lawsuits against those 16 women, by the way?

It’s a contrast, and maybe it will impress some female swing voters in Alabama. But it seems more likely that the Republican way of handling these things is going to win. Deny, deny, deny. Lie, lie, lie. Pushback, pushback, pushback. Be so outrageous – the Republican National Committee officially supporting an accused child molester! – that people can barely wrap their heads around it. Sad to say, it wins.

Tomasky is not impressed with the Democrats, who have no answer to that, and thinks they made a big mistake with Franken:

They’ve circumvented process and the principle of hearing from both sides. They’ve completely ignored the possibility that a person can reform himself. (Maybe Franken used to be a sexist jerk but has genuinely changed; aren’t liberals supposed to welcome that?) And they’ve blurred the line, which I think should exist, between different categories of sexual crimes, some of which are obviously worse than others. The day will almost surely come when they’ll regret having established these precedents.

The day came when the French regretted having anything to do with Robespierre too. For a few years, justice was speedy and severe and inflexible. His dreaded Committee of Public Safety made no distinctions of kind or of motive – those who opposed the will of the people, in any way, went to the guillotine, or killed themselves – in despair. But he took things too far. And that didn’t happen here. The new United States of America had no Reign of Terror. Why start now? We are not, after all, French.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Taking Things Too Far

  1. As usual, right on.
    I do not travel in power circles. At the same time, I followed Al Franken’s political career quite closely from the time he entered the political arena in 2006. He would not have ‘crashed and burned’ had he run the gauntlet about ethics. He is well respected out here in Minnesota.
    I’m reminded of President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. Rather than being destroyed, Clinton’s popularity increased, if I recall correctly, after the impeachment debacle. It was his tormentors, people like Gingrich, who crashed and burned. But, who cares?
    A respected organization on whose board I serve voted to commend Mr. Franken for his political service last night. I’m assigned to write the letter, and I will do so proudly, today.
    My public thoughts, yesterday, (including a link to your post, today, are at http://www.outsidethewalls.org/blog/evil-triumphs-when-good-people-do-nothing/). Near the end of my remarks is a link to a six-page sermon given by a Presbyterian minister in Feb. 1999, in the wake of Clinton, that is worth a read.

  2. Rick says:

    We should all be thankful that America’s version of The Enlightenment didn’t mimic the French version, even their pre-“Reign-of-Terror” version, with committees of so-called “citizens” running the country instead of elected presidents and representatives — the “too MUCH democracy” that our founders wisely avoided — and not to forget the mob rule and terror that followed, and eventually, even an emperor, of all things!

    But is it because we’re now living in our own bizarre “Reign-of-Trump”, where mob-think seems to carry more weight than facts and reason and justice, that a whole bunch of senators can force a possibly-innocent senator to voluntarily put his head in the guillotine?

    Yesterday, before his announcement, I was agnostic about whether Franken should resign, but afterward, I decided he should not have — not just on moral grounds but also political ones. (And wouldn’t it be nice if America got back to a time when the “moral” and the “political” shared the same grounds?)

    In fact, even as Minnesota’s Democratic governor Mark Dayton expressed his “deepest regrets to the women, who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken” in his statement yesterday, he added this:

    “Al Franken has been an outstanding Senator. He has been, as Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, ‘A Senator from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.’ He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota.”

    Let’s face it, whoever replaces Franken is unlikely to do as much for the Democratic national cause as Franken has proven he is capable of doing, and his staying, in the long run, will have done a lot more good for our side than whatever questionable short-term political advantage, if any, the party gets from his leaving.

    So now I’m wondering if, in the next few days, when the time comes for governor Dayton to announce Al Franken’s replacement, how nice it might be if he announces that his choice is Al Franken.


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