How low can a columnist go? On evidence, nowhere near as low as the president of the United States. I’d intended to highlight certain ironies in the career of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. The self-anointed moral arbiter of the U.S. Senate began her career as a tobacco company lawyer — that is, somebody ill-suited to demand absolute purity of anybody, much less Sen. Al Franken.
Gillibrand’s first job out of law school in 1991 involved representing Philip Morris in civil liability lawsuits and criminal racketeering investigations. Challenged, she has alibied that lucrative corporate shilling enabled her to do pro bono (charity) work on behalf of abused women and children, among other good causes.
Maybe so, but the New York senator’s history nevertheless suggests a certain flexibility about ends and means that one would like to have seen extended to her colleagues during the current moral panic regarding sexual misconduct. "Democrats are so stupid," former Reagan Treasury official and born-again scourge of Republicans Bruce Bartlett tweeted. "The obvious thing to say about the Al Franken business is that he will resign the day Trump resigns."
Fresh from leading the campaign to purify the Democratic Party by purging Franken, Gillibrand made a great show of urging President Trump to step down. Fat chance. Instead, the middle school bully in the White House essentially called her a whore.
"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand," he tweeted, "a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump."
She’d do anything for money. Get it? Nobody ever said Trump wasn’t a cunning bully. In effect, the president turned the liberal outrage dial up to 11, leaving Democrats sputtering and making a decent, accommodating fellow like Franken look like a weakling.
No matter how low you go, Trump will go lower. The man simply cannot be shamed by anybody playing under adult rules. So far no Democrats have been willing to take the argument down into the gutter. Nor am I saying anybody should.
But in the street, there are many things a beautiful woman like Gillibrand could say about a flabby old blowhard talking dirty about her. What’s more, as a New Yorker, I’m pretty sure she knows how. But Democrats are supposed to be the polite party.
Backstabbers, maybe, but polite. Consider, for example, the remarkable Atlantic article that led Gillibrand to declare that enough was enough, and that Al Franken had to go. Written by former congressional staffer Tina Dupuy, it tells about a 2009 party during which she asked the senator for a photo:
"We posed for the shot," Dupuy writes. "He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.
"I’d been married for two years at the time; I don’t let my husband touch me like that in public because I believe it diminishes me as a professional woman."
"It shrunk me," Dupuy explains. "It’s like I was no longer a person, only ornamental. It said, ‘You don’t matter — and I do.’"
She comes off as a too-familiar type: a mind reader with an attitude. Hey, at least she didn’t call herself a "survivor." You pose for a few thousand photos, you’re going to encounter some. Anyway, remembering this atrocity sends the author into an impassioned reverie in which she endorses today’s "pervert purge" and throws poor Franken under the bus along with — who else? — Bill Clinton, whom Sen. Gillibrand also recently renounced after 20 years of politically expedient friendship. An "elite feminist" no more.
Regarding Franken, I’m with Minnesota’s former Republican governor Arne Carlson, who has urged the senator to recant his resignation pending an Ethics Committee investigation. "Being a victim can be painful, but the answer to an injustice cannot be to create another injustice," he wrote on his blog. "I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process."
I’d go further. Harvey Weinstein probably belongs in prison; any man who exposes himself at the office (Halperin, Lauer, Rose) should have been fired at once, and possibly prosecuted.
Men should keep their hands to themselves. But hyperventilating aside, a woman who gets patted on the posterior during a photo op is hardly a victim. The perpetrator may be rude and fundamentally silly, but he hasn’t committed a sex crime. It’s an insult, not an outrage. The refusal to make elementary distinctions is characteristic of lynch mobs everywhere.
Politically speaking, it’s reminiscent of the "Junior Anti-Sex League" in Orwell’s "1984" — bad faith and posturing all around. If they’re not careful, this ill-conceived crusade could end up driving men — and a lot of women — away from the Democratic Party.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.