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Don't resign, Sen. Franken — at least not yet

Eric Zorn
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No, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., should not resign.

Not yet, anyway. Or not unless the GOP agrees to a swap in which President Donald Trump also resigns, given that the numerous credible allegations that Trump has sexually harassed and assaulted women are far more troubling than the lone damning story we know of that implicated Franken.

That story is well-known by now, but to refresh: Radio news anchor Leeann Tweeden alleged Thursday that in 2006, Franken stuck his tongue in her mouth while kissing her against her will while they were both on a USO tour. Bolstering that claim is a contemporaneous photograph showing a leering Franken either groping or pretending to grope Tweeden’s breasts while she appears to be asleep.

Franken, who was not in office at the time, said he doesn’t remember the alleged kissing incident the way Tweeden does, but he apologized quickly for the photo:

“I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter,” he wrote. “There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what's more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it — women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.”

His apology, abject, thoughtful and speedy though it was, did not quell demands from across the political spectrum that he step down.

Wisely, at least as of this writing, he has resisted.

The arbiters of sin always ululate for instant resignation or other forms of satisfaction while scandalous discoveries or allegations are still fresh, umbrage is on boil and perspective has not returned to its throne.

But as I wrote in 2009, generally the worst time to resign is when people all around you are insisting that you quit. Absent a true crisis where any delay will cause irreparable damage to others or yourself, you should wait. Let passions cool. If you're famous, allow the screaming headlines to fade and the angry pundits to train their righteous fire elsewhere.

I named this principle Roland’s Rule, after Illinois politician Roland Burris, who stoically ignored those who demanded that he refuse to accept the appointment to the U.S. Senate conferred upon him by Gov. Rod Blagojevich three weeks after Blagojevich had been arrested on corruption charges. Burris went on to serve nearly two undistinguished years in the Senate.

But I could have named it Jack’s Rule after Jack Ryan, who crumbled in the face of such demands. In June 2004, Ryan, a photogenic and wealthy political novice, resigned as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Illinois just three days after news broke that his ex-wife had alleged in their divorce that he'd pressured her to go to sex clubs.

Ryan, like Franken today, was greatly embarrassed and the object of considerable bipartisan indignation. But rather than taking a breath and waiting quietly for a celebrity tiff, natural disaster or ghastly crime to come along and capture the public’s notoriously brief attention span, Ryan bailed out of the race.

Had he toughed it out, my reporting experience tells me his sexual predilections would have become a minor issue as summer moved into fall. He almost certainly would have lost to Democratic nominee Barack Obama, but he would have done better than his replacement, the absurd Alan Keyes, and rehabilitated his image enough to fight politically another day.

Or, in light of what happened in the fall of 2016, I could now rename it Donald’s Rule for the way Trump, then the GOP presidential nominee, hung in and hung on as a raft of women came forward to accuse of him sexually predatory behavior after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

People magazine correspondent Natasha Stoynoff was particularly persuasive in describing what happened to her in 2005 when she was interviewing Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort and he offered to show her a “tremendous” room.

“We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us,” Stoynoff wrote. “I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.“

Trump denied that story along with all the others, attacked and threatened his accusers and was rewarded with a victory in the Electoral College.

Thursday night, exhibiting his trademark juvenile opacity, he tweeted:

“The Al Frankenstien (sic) picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?”

However, Trump has yet to spew forth any condemnation, mockery or innuendo at Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been credibly accused of worse behavior by multiple women.

The Franken photo reveals odious behavior, and if he forced a deep kiss on Tweeden, that was reprehensible.

But if no more women come forward to establish a pattern of predatory behavior as alleged in the cases of Trump, Moore, Bill Clinton and so many, many others, Franken — and any Republicans ever accused by just one person of a nonfelonious act of lechery — can and should make personal amends and weather this storm.

In the calm that will inevitably follow, he can put his transgressions into context and make the decision that’s right for his constituents, his family and his reputation.

No matter what the masses demand or his conscience tells him, history says to hang on.

Do not delay

This isn’t an ad, it’s a public service announcement. Tickets are going fast to the Songs of Good Cheer holiday singalong programs that Mary Schmich and I will host at the Old Town School of Folk Music Dec. 6-10, and if you wait until Thanksgiving to buy, you’re likely to be a Santa out of luck. Go to chicagotribune.com/zorn for information on the show and how to enter the essay contest to win free tickets.

Re: Tweets

The Tweet of the Week winner happens to be my office neighbor, Tribune columnist Steve Chapman (@stevechapman13), whose quip “I'm guessing Alabama Baptists would not be so forgiving if Roy Moore had taken those girls dancing” handily beat seven other finalists in a reader poll.

The fix was not in! This is the first time in the long history of this contest that a tweet from inside the building has won. I’ll add that if you’re not following Chapman on Twitter, you’re not doing social media right.

ericzorn@gmail.com

Twitter @EricZorn

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