Al Franken hopes, doggone it, people will really like him again

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

So spoke Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota during his many Saturday Night Live skits where he played his recurring character Stewart Smalley. The problem is, daily affirmations aside, the voters of Minnesota don’t seem to be that fond of him now. As Ed Morrissey pointed out earlier this week, only 22% of his constituents want him to stay in the Senate. And that number might be a bit on the shaky side now that two more women have come out with their own allegations of unwanted probing of their posteriors.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, which offers all of us a chance to reflect on our lives, relationships and futures, and Senator Franken is apparently no exception. He’s had some time to reflect on this dismal state of affairs and hopes that, much like Stewart Smiley, people will really like him again, doggone it, if they only give him time to show that he’s really, truly sorry and is ready to change. (Star Tribune)

Al Franken plans to stay in the U.S. Senate and try to win back Minnesotans’ trust.

Franken, who had been largely silent as four women accused him of groping them, issued a Thanksgiving afternoon apology and pledge. In particular, he said he “feels terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly.” He called himself “a warm person” who hugs people when they’re being photographed with him, but clearly, “I’ve crossed a line for some women.”

From his prepared statement:

“I’ve met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I’m a warm person; I hug people. I’ve learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many. Some women have found my greetings or embraces for a hug or photo inappropriate, and I respect their feelings about that. I’ve thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again. And let me say again to Minnesotans that I’m sorry for putting them through this and I’m committed to regaining their trust.”

In terms of apologies, while this may sound sincere and remorseful at first glance, it’s actually not. Notice how he continues to use the words embraces, hugs and greetings throughout the statement. Like many of you, I’m sure, I have to go to any number of professional or family gatherings where I will be approached by women I know and be offered a hug in greeting. At no time have I felt it appropriate for that hug to include a firm grasp of their buttocks, nor has that been done to me in return.

Also, this is a typical non-apology in the sense that the blame for how things worked out is subtly shifted back to the women. He talks about how “some women” may have “found” his greetings or hugs to be inappropriate. And he “respects their feelings” about it. Nowhere is he saying that he actually acted inappropriately. What he’s sorry about is that they felt that way. He goes on from there, not to say that he needs to stop being a creep, but to be more “careful and sensitive.” Again he’s not owning up to doing anything wrong, but instead saying he’ll have to walk on pins and needles to avoid upsetting any hypersensitive females who may misinterpret his totally sincere and not at all inappropriate or creepy butt grabbing.

So, much like Roy Moore, Franken has no plans to step down, but the choice may not be entirely up to him. This is an issue which has managed to galvanize voters from both parties, with many conservatives opposing Moore and plenty of high profile liberals calling for Franken to go. Sadly, this isn’t an issue where we can separate the ethics from the politics and the particulars of each case play into the reactions we’re seeing.

The Democratic party faithful don’t have the same concerns with Franken stepping down as the GOP base has with Roy Moore. In Moore’s case, if he dropped out or simply winds up losing, the seat could now easily go to a Democrat, causing huge waves in such a closely divided upper chamber. But if Franken resigns, there’s no such threat to the Democrats. Democratic Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton would simply appoint a replacement to serve until either the 2018 or 2019 elections (depending on when the vacancy took place). There are any number of Democrats being mentioned as possible interim senators. The only hitch there is that if Governor Dayton appointed his Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, the Republican President of the Senate would assume that post, so she’s probably out. But they’ve got plenty of other choices, including Keith Ellison. (An idea which would send thrills up the collective legs of the Berniecrats.)

Can Franken ride this out? Contrary to everything I’ve just said… probably. People have a limit as to how long it will be before they succumb to outrage exhaustion. If he goes before the Senate Ethics Committee and comes away with a reprimand (or anything short of forcible removal, which his highly unlikely absent some sort of criminal prosecution against him for sexual assault), they may just let it slip down the memory hole and move on to the next battle. Franken will have an asterisk by his name and can probably forget about ever running for President, but he could easily survive this by keeping his head down and staying out of any additional trouble.

But if there are any more accusers out there and the numbers grow too large, he may have no choice but to abdicate. Will there be? Al Franken has had a long career in television and now in politics. And by his own admission he “hugs” a lot of people. Don’t be too surprised if this isn’t the end of it.