There is the moral argument for resignation, of course. And really, it’s so freakin’ obvious that I think I can move on to the practical one: are Democrats unilaterally disarming by cleaning house of its morally bankrupt elected officials, while Republicans celebrate theirs? Or put another way, does the cause for women’s equality take a hit if we push Al Franken—a solid legislative ally—out of office and spur a competitive race for that seat, both risking losing it and diverting resources to other difficult races?
Franken is a particularly good test case, as he has apologized for his behavior, his (first public) victim has accepted that apology, and she’s said she doesn’t want him to resign. So given the practical political considerations, and the fact that his most prominent victim is satisfied with Franken’s response, why can’t we simply let the ethics investigation play out and focus on other things?
I’m not going to lie, this has been a difficult situation for me, and I waged a fierce weeks-long internal debate with myself. But in the end, once I got past my moral disgust (which leads to an easy “resign!”), a deep exploration of the practical politics of the matter inevitably led to a similar conclusion. Franken has to go.
- The Democratic Party is overwhelmingly female. According to Gallup polling, 41 percent of women identify as Democrats, while just 32 percent of men do. According to Pew, 54 percent of women identify as Democrats, while just 41 percent of men do. In 2016, 54 percent of women voted for Hillary Clinton, while just 41 percent of men did. In Virginia’s Democratic wave this year, 61 percent of women voted for the Democratic gubernatorial victor, while just 48 percent of men did.
- There is a big voter gap between married and unmarried women. In 2016, Clinton won married women 49-47. She won unmarried women 63-32.
- Single women are one of the worst-performing voting demographics. In the 2014 mid-term elections, out of nearly 57 million unmarried women eligible to vote, just 20 million did.
You don’t have to be a math wiz to understand that activating even a slice of those non-voting unmarried women could dramatically reshape our political landscape. And that’s not even considering gains Democrats could potentially make among Republican married (and unmarried women) in the age of Trump.
But here’s the thing: Democrats can’t cleanly make the case that they’re better for women, legislatively, if every Donald Trump and Roy Moore is offset by an Al Franken and John Conyers. By keeping Franken around, it creates that noxious “both sides do it” atmosphere that both demoralizes and demobilizes. It erases what should be a clear, bright line between our party and theirs. You can argue all day about how “different” Franken’s harassment was compared to Donald Trump’s or Roy Moore’s pedophilia. In the end, those distinctions get lost in the noise. They have sexual predators. So do the Democrats. Ergo, there is no difference.
We need a bright line between our parties.
We may be seeing this effect in Alabama right now, where two recent polls show Roy Moore regaining lost ground, and once again staking out a small-but-significant lead in this surprisingly contested special-election Senate race. Potentially swingable voters might be outraged by Moore’s behavior, but if the Franken saga communicates that “they all do it,” then they can once again revert to traditional partisan patterns.
And of course, this has particular import heading into next year’s midterm elections, which currently point to a massive Democratic wave. A big part of that is the new energy among women who are outraged at Trump’s election, and further enraged (and validated!) by the neverending stream of harassment revelations. We saw that energy in full display in the Virginia and New Jersey elections earlier this month, where a record number of women candidates ran, and a record number of them won.
We have a situation that boggles the mind—EMILY’s List has already had more than 15,000 women reach out to them about running for office. The number was less than 1,000 in the 2016 cycle! Women are driving the Resistance on the ground. They’re itching to vote and punish Republicans, as Virginia proved.
So given how important women are to our party, and to next year’s elections, why would we rationalize and explain away male Democrats who have mistreated or harassed women in the past? We have a golden opportunity to stake our claim as the unyielding champions of equality, and prove that we put action behind our words. And if we replace some of those disgraced men with women, even better!
Once again, the moral case for resignation is clear (and I don’t intend to underplay it. It matters!).
But the political-practical one is just as strong. If we place party or personal allegiance over the practical concerns of the majority of the Democratic coalition, we are no better than those “Christians” in Alabama who back Roy Moore despite his history of harassment and molestation. And while their party base is okay with the mistreatment of women and children, fact is, ours is not.
Sometimes we do things because they’re the right thing to do, and sometimes we do them because they’re the practical and expedient thing to do. In this case, demanding the resignation of every Democrat facing credible allegations is both: it’s the right thing, and it’s the smart, politically expedient thing.
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