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The Murky Question Of Al Franken’s Sexual Misconduct: Should He Resign?

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Should Al Franken resign?

The answer becomes murkier by the moment.

A lively and sometimes anguished debate erupted after the Democratic (and very Jewish) senator from Minnesota acknowledged that he groped and belittled a woman back when he made his living telling jokes. Just this morning, another woman accused him of touching her inappropriately, this time when he was in public office.

Even before the second charge, columnist Michelle Goldberg argued in the New York Times that Franken should resign for essentially symbolic and partisan reasons. Symbolic: to show the world that sexual harassment won’t be tolerated. Partisan: to show the world that sexual harassment won’t be tolerated by at least one political party.

“The question isn’t about what’s fair to Franken, but what’s fair to the rest of us,” Goldberg wrote.

Feminist author Kate Harding cited the same reasons to make the opposing case in The Washington Post, contending that women will be harmed if every Democratic man who acted as Franken did is driven from office. “If we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms.”

I remember echoes of this debate decades ago, when then President Bill Clinton was embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Many liberals contended that even if he had a wildly inappropriate relationship in the Oval Office with an intern, even if it appeared that he lied under oath, that he should not resign because he was subject to a Republican witch hunt that, if successful, would damage his agenda and his party.

I resisted that argument then, when as editorial page editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the newspaper called for him to resign. And I think that’s the wrong argument today.

Franken, like Clinton before him, like Roy Moore and Donald Trump and the seemingly endless stream of men in public office whose behavior has grabbed the headlines, should be judged on what they did and when they did it, rather than on the political consequences of their possible removal. If not, we turn this wrenching issue into a partisan one rather than the moral challenge that it is.

We need the courage to ask the serious, defining questions: Was the behavior illegal? Was it an abuse of public trust? Was it part of a pattern? Did the accused express genuine remorse?

As the ever smart Ruth Marcus wrote in the Post, “not all crimes deserve the death penalty. Not all bad behavior warrants expulsion, firing or resignation.”

Women intuitively know the difference in degrees, since so many of us have been subject to them. A stranger once grabbed me inappropriately on a Jerusalem street. As upsetting as that was, it did not compare to the ongoing sexual harassment I suffered in a job years ago.

For me, the jury is still out on Franken. Until the latest revelation, I did not think he should resign, given the timing and context of his misdeed, and his genuine apology. But if a pattern emerges of his continuing bad behavior while a Senator, that alters the equation.

For me, anyhow. And you? Share your thoughts in our new weekly feature, Have Your Say.

What else I’ve written. If this #MeToo moment is to lead to lasting change, the Jewish community needs to take concrete steps to change policies and behaviors. And if we don’t, the heartbreaking, infuriating stories I recount in this essay will only continue.

Trending on Forward.com. The civil conflict at the Western Wall between liberal Jews who wish to pray there and the ultra-Orthodox authorities who don’t want them to took a disturbing turn last week, when leaders of the Reform movement were beaten as they attempted to bring Torahs to the holy site. Our story was one of the most-read on our site last week, and continues to draw readers.

A fabulous evening was had by all. The Forward’s 120th anniversary gala last week exceeded expectations in all regards. The sold-out event had a captivating buzz, as nearly 400 guests wined and dined in the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s cavernous room overlooking New York harbor. The program was engaging — emotional, even — reflecting our Jewish values and commitment to journalism. And we raised more than $1 million from donors large and small.

If you missed it all, you can catch the highlights here. And please continue to support our fearless, independent journalism. Ab Cahan would be proud.

Looking forward. I admit it: I love Thanksgiving. It may be because it’s the only major holiday I do not host, true, and compared to preparing for two huge Seders — well, there is no comparison.

But the real reason is because it is a lovely tradition that I share with everyone around me, no matter their religion, race, national origin, whatever. That makes for a lot of traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, but at a time when there’s precious little that binds us as Americans, I’m grateful for this one day.

I’ve had lots of warm responses to Jane Looking Forward. If you’d like to invite someone to this newsletter community, here’s the link to sign-up. Thank you!

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