Franken comeback? "I haven’t ruled it out, and I haven’t ruled it in”

Who’s ready for Al Franken’s big comeback from #MeToo purgatory? The former Senator from Minnesota himself may be, local CBS affiliate WCCO reports. Franken has begun making public appearances again, raising questions about his ambitions. He’s not quite ready to commit to electoral politics, but Franken won’t “rule[] it out” either:

“That means a lot to me. It was very moving for me. It was very gratifying. I put my heart in the job,” Franken said. “I miss the whole job. I loved that job, I loved the job as Senator. … It was very meaningful for me and bittersweet, I would like to still be there.”

Franken was treated warmly at every turn. One young father remembers Franken’s repeated visits to the school, and like many on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, he says he would like to see Franken return to public life.

When WCCO’s Esme Murphy asked him whether he plans to run for office again, he responded, “Well, see, if I say anything there you will put it in the story. I don’t know. I haven’t ruled it out, and I haven’t ruled it in.”

The exchange in the interview almost looks like an outtake. Franken doesn’t exactly seem surprised by the question, but doesn’t have an answer ready either. Franken had to know that his first big public appearance would raise the question, especially given the very sympathetic and non-electoral contest of opening a new school for native American children. It’s precisely the kind of soft opening one would recommend for a politico hoping to stage a post-scandal comeback.

Franken has one advantage in this, too — the sense that he got shivved by his own allies in a rush to judgment. Complaints about Franken’s past emerged in the immediate cusp of the #MeToo movement, before concerns over due process began to arise in the backlash of the Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey scandals, among others.  Rather than have a Senate Ethics Committee hearing first, fellow Senate Democrats led by Kirsten Gillibrand demanded and eventually got Franken’s resignation. Among the disgraced figures in the #MeToo era, Franken’s the likeliest candidate for a rehabilitation.

However, “likeliest” still doesn’t mean “likely.”  Franken had multiple accusers alleging a fairly specific pattern of behavior, none of which Franken fully rebutted. While that pattern falls far short of other #MeToo allegations, it’s still objectionable and wrong. As Monica Hesse wrote yesterday at the Washington Post, not being Weinstein doesn’t make others into the good guys:

The staggering standard set by Harvey Weinstein was necessary. Women’s claims against him allowed no room for debate; everyone could tell he was disgusting.

But Weinstein also proved to be a useful distraction. Everyone could tell he was disgusting, including plenty of men who had also done gross things. They just weren’t as gross as Harvey.

“James is absolutely not a Harvey Weinstein,” said a woman who accused actor James Franco of sexual misconduct, on “Good Morning America” this year.

“Geoffrey Rush is not Harvey Weinstein,” said actress Rachel Griffiths about her acquaintance. Rush stepped down from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts following accusations of “inappropriate behavior.” …

Our job is to live in the gray now. To wrestle with the society we’ve produced. To understand we’re not talking about good guys vs. bad guys, but about good guys who are also bad guys.

Besides, any new electoral campaign would still have to deal with this picture. Franken can’t chalk this up to a youthful indiscretion — he was 55 years old at the time (in 2006), old enough to know better than to turn a sleeping woman into a sexual prop without her permission for a pointless comedic moment. Minnesota’s Democrats have better options without this kind of baggage, including high-profile women vying for the kinds of positions of power that would most interest Franken. Why would the DFL want to put itself in the position of arguing that this no longer matters? Put in Hesse’s terms, they don’t have to live in the gray, which means Franken had better find something else to do with his retirement.