“Sex, Religion and Politics”

POSTNOTE Nov 26: In the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune Op Ex section, letters editor David Banks had a good column about this issue. You can read it here. My submission (to date, not accepted for a letter) is at the end of this post.

I ask that you read on, and open the links and read them too (none more than two pages, and all written by myself, in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2005. But before you read the links, read the text below them.

Al Franken, St. Paul MN, April, 1998, by Dick Bernard

Politics 1960 versus 1996 (Dec, 1996, one page): Politics 1960 vs 1996001
Clinton Impeachment (Sep 7, 1998, one page): Clinton Impeachment001
Political Violence (Mar 2001, two pages): Political Violence002
Sex, Religion and Politics (Aug 2005, one page): Sex, Religion, Politics001

The headline of this post, and the last link (above) is a one page addition I made when I finished a 330 page family history of my mother’s family or origin in 2005. It speaks for itself.

We are at an exceedingly dangerous time, politically, in this country. At the end of the dismal election year of 1996, I expressed hope, and saw “silver linings” (link above). Then was pristine compared to today.

On the other hand, in today’s batch of e-mails came a letter published in the Fargo (ND) Forum, from the President of the MN League of Women Voters, which speaks for itself: “This week we learned of so many firsts across this country, firsts that give me hope that we, the people, have a greater understanding of what it means to be an American. A New York cab driver told me a few weeks ago that “this was not the America he immigrated to 30 years ago.”

I wonder what he’d say now about the Liberian immigrant elected mayor of Helena, Mont., defeating the long-term incumbent who opposed refugee resettlement? Or the transgender woman who was elected to the state legislature, defeating the incumbent who pushed a “bathroom bill.”

A Sikh was elected mayor of Hoboken, N.J. The first openly transgender African American woman was elected to the Minneapolis City Council. A Lesbian won the mayor’s seat in Seattle. A woman is the new mayor of Provo, Utah. St. Paul has its first African American mayor. Charlotte, N.C., has its first African American female mayor.

The list goes on and on to include a Vietnamese immigrant woman and two Latina women elected to the Virginia Legislature, gay and transgender school board members, three African Americans being elected mayor of three towns in Georgia. A Sudanese woman elected to an Iowa city council.

And, my personal favorite, a young woman of color defeated the county commissioner who made headlines in January with his comment about the Women’s March when he wondered, “will the women be home in time to make him dinner?”

How many more years will it take before the headlines aren’t about “firsts” and labels? This list seems to indicate that we, the people, are instead choosing leaders who best represent our future and not our present. This is the vision upon which the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was founded 98 years ago. We invite you to join us in our advocacy and voter education work.” Terry Kalil.

My hope, demonstrated by this fine letter, is that, finally, the American people, generally, are getting it: that they are “politics”. Through the people will come the solutions to todays vile political conversations.

And as for Al Franken (photo above): he is my U.S. Senator, and a person for whom I have great respect. In the wake of the recent revelation, he has again demonstrated that he is a class act, in distinct contrast to the two others in the spotlight for the same general problem: Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

I’m pretty sure Mr. Franken has no idea who I am, though I’ve followed him since I first heard him speak in 1998 (I was never a follower of Saturday Night Live.)

In the 2008 campaign, I was something of a camp follower – I went to several events at which he was a speaker. He has always impressed me. I once had the honor of sharing the dais with his wife, Franni, when she was representing him early in his campaign for U.S. Senate. She is a lovely lady with her own story.

Mr. Franken has apologized for the 2006 revelation, and the apology has been accepted. Of course, in other quarters there is something of a mantra: “never apologize”. It is seen as a weakness….

Which of us – any of us – having a spotlight shown on the wart(s) of our past would come out unscathed? Were they shown, whose behavior, Trump, Moore or Franken, would we emulate?

POSTNOTE: I recommend this, posted overnight.

from Madeline: Shame on you Minnesota politicians, Rebecca Otto, Megan Thomas and others calling for Al Franken’s resignation: There is NO moral equivalency between his bad jokes and the behavior of repeat sexual predators like Trump, Weinstein, Moore, Louis C.K. etc. SEE the ADULTS IN THE ROOM: here.

from Bruce: It was a well crafted apology that apologized for the pic but not the kiss. This sort of apology is really a non-apology. He was humiliated by her rebuff of his sexual advances, the kiss, so mean spiritedly he got what amounted to his locker room buddies to humiliate her by taking the pic. That’s classic bullying in my mind. I’d like to know who took the pic, and who is sitting to Tweeden’s left laughing as Al grouped her. They should be called out too. Al should take the high road own up to being a mean spirited bully disguised as a comedian, resign, and demand that Trump/Moore do the same. He’d be doing the country a big favor.

from a Mom and her Daughter: this is just how we are thinking.
That piece “Just Above Sunset” said it all so well.
I didn’t know how to respond to the calls for Franken to resign. I thought — ”well, yes, this was also sexual misconduct. Am I just excusing him because I think he is so good and such a good Senator?”
After reading “Just Above Sunset”, It is more clear to me why I think as I do…………. 1) the seriousness of the crime—Initially he thought it was a joke, but in hindsight, realized it was inappropriate. It is NOT equivalent to a 30 yr old man groping teenagers or a man saying he can grab a woman by the genitals and they let you do it because you are rich and famous. AND 2) he acknowledged what he did was wrong and apologized. He actually apologized several times; a tweet, another tweet and a letter to the woman. I am now no longer thinking I am using 2 different standards (one for OUR candidate and one for THEIR candidate) but looking at the whole picture.
I am appalled at the “religious” people who continue to support Roy Moore. When I heard the Governor of Alabama say she believed the women and she still supports Roy Moore, it was clear confirmation that all they want is a Republican————– It doesn’t matter what kind of a person he is, he is a Republican and that is all they are looking for.

Thanks for sharing your blog.

from Carol: I didn’t vote for Franken the first time around, mostly because of his record of joking about rape. But I think he’s done an admirable job for Minnesota. That said, I think this all goes beyond just him. I don’t like our current habit of voting people into political office who have won their fame by being entertainers, comedians, movie stars. (And it started with Reagan.) What is there about those folk which particularly qualifies them to run the country, or represent the rest of us? We’re just a nation addicted to entertainment. Serving as leader of the free world (well, we USED to be), serving in Congress, etc. is not a joke or a reality show. Franken’s past history came back to bite him. (Unfortunately, Trump seemed to get a pass…)

from Jeff: Carol’s comment is on point. Our supposed advances in technology of late, and many of the companies that are highest value are like Apple, Media companies, gaming, social media companies . And they essentially are all means of entertainment and can increase narcissism and inward social engagement. History and factual analysis is de-emphasized and all that matters is “the moment”. I think this past election may show a return of some civic engagement, maybe outrage has its rewards.

from Sandy: I can think of nothing more important right now than forging ahead with Peace and global integration and not this isolationist “America First” Nationalist agenda of Trump. He is taking our country and the world backwards with everything he is doing and it is so wrong and so awful for the world. Obama spent so much time and energy promoting America as a leader in the world and caring about the environment, peace, cooperation, climate issues in addition so to so many other wonderful things! I miss him so much and cannot believe we have such an idiot running our country and actually such a mentally ill president. I am a mental health professional and Trump is for sure mentally unstable and such a worry for all of the world with his temper and short fuse and impulsive decisions which could lead the world into Nuclear war and maybe the end of mankind! I don’t want to think about that but it is a reality until he is impeached or the Republicans lose control of all three branches of government.

I have to also say that I am very disappointed also in our Democrats in office right now because why aren’t they standing up and doing something stop all this nonsense or at least do as much as they can to make a lot of noise and be as obstructionist as the Republicans were with Obama in office. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tax bill that is decided by both parties and is actually a good tax plan? You and I and most of us in our financial class will be total losers in this bill (unless you are a multi-millionaire) They will do so much harm to everything we believe in and line the pockets of business and the wealthy on the backs of the middle class and lower class and working people. I hope it doesn’t pass but I am worried that it will because Trump is pushing them to win at all costs! ​

Where are the honest , good, decent politicians? I am disappointed in Franken but at least he had the moral ethics to admit guilt and apologize which is more that Moore and Trump and the rest of the bunch have done. They just deny and lie and lie and lie!

from Mary: Well I started to fellow Senator Franken when he was trying to decide if he should run for the US Senate. He has worked hard for MN and the whole country. He is smart and it appeared always [well] prepared. I am reminded of my guide when I was in Vietnam. I asked him, how do you feel about American tourists coming to your country, when we killed your members of your family, friends, and devastated your country? His gentle answer was. “We always forgive but we never forget” One part of his response allows for compassion, acceptance, and understanding, The other part of his response allows for learning, planning, and prevention of hopefully not repeating the same mistake in the future. I call that wisdom and the ability to increase our humanity. As I reported to the DFL on Friday, Senator Franken did very wrong, but my hope is he still has my support.

from Joyce: Extract from this article: ‘Those cases illustrate the real issue here: the power imbalance that allows some men to take women hostage using sex. Franken, from what we know, was not such a man. When he kissed Tweeden without her consent, during a rehearsal on a U.S.O. tour, she was able to, according to her description, push her assailant away, tell him, “Don’t ever do that to me again,” and walk away—hurt and disgusted, to be sure, but not in fear for her future. She wrote that she didn’t go public at the time because she “didn’t want to cause trouble,” and didn’t feel that she needed protection from Franken. On the way back from the tour, Franken posed for a picture in which he pretended to grope Tweeden’s breasts when she fell asleep on a plane. More than a decade later, when Tweeden decided to go public, he apologized. “The apology, sure, I accept it,” Tweeden said in a press conference. “People make mistakes.” She sounded less magnanimous than annoyed. She explained that she had decided to go public in order to encourage other women to speak up without fear. That matters. Whether Franken resigns does not.’

from Dick (submitted as a letter to editor, Minneapolis Star Tribune, on Nov. 23): During the 1970s and 80s, when sex became big news, my job was as field representative for the Minnesota Education Association.

It was then I learned a fundamental fact: unlike other alleged offenses, accusations related to sex had a unique component: to be accused was to be presumed guilty as charged. There was no need for a hearing, other than public opinion.

The cases (rare as they were, usually teachers and clergy) were always front page news.

Not everyone was guilty.

One alleged perpetrator I remember was suspended for alleged improper touching of one middle school student. He demanded a public hearing.

In my recollection, it took about a year from suspension to hearing, and a result of the hearing was the arbitral equivalent of “not guilty”. The teacher had gone through a year of hell.

Years later I was told that some years after the allegation, the boyfriend of the female student was in jail, and admitted they had made the whole thing up, for their own particular reasons.

We haven’t learned much, it seems.

There will be no due process in any of the current cases. One of the accused is rich enough to counter sue his way out of any court action; another may prevail because of tribal loyalties; a third may be put on a show trial before his peers and hypocrisy will triumph. And on it goes.

But it will make for good conversation, about how sure somebody is that somebody else is guilty, because….

from Gail: Thanks for sending this, Dick. I am very sorry that your letter was not published, because it makes a point too often ignored in cases like this: “unlike other alleged offenses, accusations related to sex had a unique component: to be accused was to be presumed guilty as charged. There was no need for a hearing, other than public opinion.”

What’s been happening with this rash of accusations about sexual harassment (note: not rape) reminds me of the McCarthy Era, when many lost their jobs or were ‘blacklisted’ for being accused of being a Communist or Communist sympathizer, usually with no evidence (or maybe someone attended a Communist Party meeting out of curiosity, in an era when the context was very different). And there were the Salem witch trials before the McCarthy hearings.

‘Due process’ is the component of our judicial system that helps to ensure that it is ‘just’. The underlying principle is that it’s better that some guilty people go free than that innocent people are punished. I realize that many times sexual harassment occurs in private, and it’s difficult to prove; but I’m distressed by what seems to be the complete lack of attention to the need for evidence and due process in regards to these allegations. Even Franken said that women need to be believed. I say, no, allegations aren’t enough – there needs to be some form of evidence.

I’m encouraged by the response from the MN Peace Project – Franken group. We wrote a letter of support to him, saying something to the effect that we appreciate his support for women. Also, I understand that a group of 14 women ex-staffers wrote a letter saying that Franken was always supportive and respectful of them.

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