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Thu Dec 7, 2017, 05:40 PM

The Uneven Playing Field


Al Franken, many argue, should now resign. He should resign immediately because there are credible accusers (another emerged Wednesday), and because the behavior alleged is sufficiently abhorrent that there is simply no basis to defend him. In this parade of unilateral disarmament, Trump stays, Conyers goes, Moore stays, Franken goes.


You can talk about gradations of harm—what Franken is accused of still pales next to child predation—but even that is a trap. The point is, as Jennifer Rubin notes Tuesday, that “one party has adopted a zero-tolerance position (with Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, set to go before the ethics committee) and another party opens its arms to people it believes are miscreants.” Rubin feels confident that becoming the party of alleged sexual abusers will harm the GOP in upcoming elections (did she live through last November?). My own larger concern is that becoming the party of high morality will allow Democrats to live with themselves but that the party is also self-neutering in the face of unprecedented threats, in part to do the right thing and in part to take ammunition away from the right—a maneuver that never seems to work out these days. When Al Franken, who has been a champion for women’s rights in his tenure in the Senate, leaves, what rushes in to fill the space may well be a true feminist. But it may also be another Roy Moore. And there is something deeply naïve, in a game of asymmetrical warfare, and in a moment of unparalleled public misogyny, in assuming that the feminist gets the seat before it happens.

This isn’t a call to become tolerant of awful behavior. It is a call for understanding that Democrats honored the blue slip, and Republicans didn’t. Democrats had hearings over the Affordable Care Act; Republicans had none over the tax bill. Democrats decry predators in the media; Republicans give them their own networks. And what do Democrats have to show for it? There is something almost eerily self-regarding in the notion that the only thing that matters is what Democrats do, without considering what the systemic consequences are for everyone.

We are at a moment in this country in which entire institutions that existed to protect women—from the courts, to our criminal statutes, to our workplace protections—have proved not only incapable of protecting us but also to be tools used to shame and silence us. The question we now face is really about which institutions need to be blown apart altogether and recreated to promote justice, and which institutions do not or cannot. The Senate, I would submit, is not about to be blown up and created anew, with greater institutional solicitude for women. Not now. And that means that when it comes to the Senate, we play by the institutional rules and norms as they exist, even as those rules and norms devolve into empty shells. The alternative is a game of righteous ball, in which the object is pride and purity, and Dems are the only ones playing.

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