Early Returns

Sexual Misconduct and Political Expediency

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Awaiting his fate.

Photographer: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

It appears that Senator Al Franken is going to resign today after most Democratic senators demanded him to do so on Wednesday. Is that the right punishment for what he's been accused of, some of which he has apologized for? No one has any idea. Based on what we know, what Franken did isn't as bad as what some men have been accused of over the last two months, but virtually everyone agrees that it deserves to be taken seriously. 

It's politics, anyway; what's "right" is always contested. That's one of the reasons for politics in the first place. There are no formulas for figuring this stuff out. What's more, in a democracy, it's up to citizens -- individually and in groups, and through their representatives -- to decide how the polity should be organized, including what the rules (including informal ones) should be for sexual assault, sexual harassment and lesser forms of sexual misbehavior. 

There's one theory floating around that Franken's fate was sealed not because of what Democrats believed about his actions but for pure electoral self-interest. Getting Franken and disgraced Representative John Conyers out of the way supposedly allows them to campaign against Roy Moore and, presumably, Donald Trump without being called out as hypocrites. For what it's worth, I doubt that was the reasoning involved here, in part because I think it's foolish. It's hard to imagine any voter in Alabama who would have voted for Moore without the revelations about his behavior who then pulls back from supporting Democrat Doug Jones because Democrats weren't tough enough on Franken. And it's not as if Democrats haven't blasted Moore over the last two weeks.  

So why did Democrats act? Largely because women and men who care deeply about these issues are important players within the Democratic coalition. That means a lot of Democratic party actors were going to push the party to take a hard line, and others who perhaps care less about the issue nevertheless value their alliance with those who do. That's how parties (and democracy) work.

That said: Yes, it's an easier call for Democrats because if Franken resigns, the governor of Minnesota, a Democrat, will name his replacement, although it will mean a special election in November 2018 to serve out the last two years of Franken's term. The same was true for Conyers, who represented a safe Democratic House seat. Republicans in Alabama really do not have any good choice in that Senate race. It's easy for Democrats to say that everyone should be against a candidate with strong evidence of sexual assault and chasing after teenagers against him, but it's not wrong for Republicans to care about losing a vote in the Senate. I'm not saying Republicans should back Moore -- just that it's a legitimately awful decision for them.

One interesting question is what will happen to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who had serious accusations of sexual harassment lodged against him during his confirmation process. Republicans at this point defend him against their political interests; if he were to retire from the court, Trump would be able to nominate a much younger replacement who is at least as reliable a vote for Republican priorities. Of course, Thomas is far more insulated from calls for resignation than Franken or any other politician is, so even if Republicans want him to leave, there's no guarantee they'll get their way. But it will certainly be interesting to see how that one develops. 

1. At the Monkey Cage, Stephen Silvia looks at the possibility of a grand coalition in Germany

2. Dan Drezner looks at what makes people more or less nostalgic.

3. Yes, the tax bill the Senate passed is a mess. Politico's Brian Faler takes a look. The big effect for now: There's enough in here that almost has to be fixed that the option of the House simply accepting the Senate version is probably off the table, meaning that both the House and the Senate will have to pass whatever compromise version emerges. 

4. Ross Douthat on the good and the bad in that tax bill ... 

5. ... while my Bloomberg View colleague Joe Nocera argues in favor of the Senate's corporate alternative minimum tax mistake

6. And Dahlia Lithwick is fed up with Republicans playing by different rules than Democrats. 

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    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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