Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.
Anyone who ever learned to use a typewriter (millennials can ask Mom what “a typewriter” was) remembers that aphorism, and Monday good ol’ Al Franken finally got the message.
However, he only said he would resign from the U.S. Senate “in the coming weeks.” If so, he would be the highest-profile casualty so far in the war by women, not the infamous “war on women” that Republicans of an earlier day were said to be conducting, but a war by women on vulgar and coarse men everywhere.
But party beware. That sword he fell on was a blade of pliable rubber, not cold steel.
Al left his valedictory, if that’s what it was, with the ritual shot at Donald Trump that every good Democrat and sore-loser Republican takes at every opportunity, sometimes even when he rises in the middle of the night to answer nature’s call. No occasion must be unused. “I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
Mr. Franken’s bitter allusion to Donald Trump and Roy Moore tells what’s really going on. Good ol’ Al must appear to be sacrificed to cast Roy Moore as the villain of the 2018 campaign. The Democrats think they can pose as virgins in the bordello by putting the corpse of Roy Moore on constant display.
Mr. Franken’s sins so far can best be imagined, since his accusers have only suggested the mortal sinning the accusations suggest. He is accused of “forcibly kissing” one accuser, who emerged with seven others from the shadows of obscurity in the wake of the famous photograph showing good ol’ Al horsing around with a sleeping actress on an Air Force plane returning from a gig entertaining the troops.
Casting this horsing-around gig as mortal sin was more than a stretch to anyone who has ever seen an entertainment troupe up close, or the inside of a military airplane where the enemy on a long flight is terminal boredom. Actors, like reporters and GIs, have been known to horse around (and more) to break the monotony of long days on the road and in the air. There’s no defense for uninvited squeezing a boob or taking a pinch of a bottom conveniently at hand. But it happens and rarely to anyone’s taking offense, and when it does a sharp slap across the face wilts the most robust libido. Nothing wilts a man’s ardor like a woman’s reinforced “no.” Flesh-peddling and the errant squeeze is what Hollywood is about, and it always will be for as long as Hollywood and flesh tingle and mingle, and for mutual profit. It’s when horsing around becomes actual harassment that authentic trouble begins. It’s the real thing that deserves to be punished.
But it’s important to separate the criminal from the merely political. The Democrats now figure, probably correctly, that Roy Moore will win the special election in Alabama next Tuesday, and when that happens the Democrats can thank only themselves for turning a slam-dunk opportunity to steal a Senate seat into a bungle with fatal consequences. Trying to nationalize a local election is always difficult, and usually impossible, as we saw last summer when Democrats poured millions of dollars into a special congressional election in a suburb of Atlanta and came up with only another bitter disappointment.
Everybody resents outsiders alighting from the evening train with all the answers, even accompanied by a bag of green, and nobody resents yankees arriving with reproof, scorn and unsolicited advice more than Southerners. It’s always a recipe for Yankee disappointment. Roy Moore may be a jerk, but he’s Alabama’s jerk. Many voters don’t think he’s a jerk at all, and it’s the scorn of outsiders that proves he’s not.
The Republican congressional leadership has made noises that the party might refuse to seat Roy Moore if he wins. That’s just noise. Politics is what Washington is about, and every vote in the Senate is crucial. Noise subsides, but reality doesn’t. Sad, maybe, but true.
The tragedy of the politics of payback, with women emerging from everywhere with recovered memories of furtive squeezes and stolen kisses, reminiscent of Madame Defarge with her knitting and dreams of revenge in the shadow of the guillotine in Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” is that payback makes backlash inevitable. Punishing the relatively trivial will eventually enable the real thing to go unpunished. That’s sad, too, and equally true.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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