Though Republicans have been on the political hot seat because of credible allegations about sexual assault, child predation and harassment hanging over Alabama’s Roy Moore and the U.S. Senate seat he wants, only Democrats can turn what feels like a moment into a movement. For that to happen, they will have to do something they proved incapable, or unwilling, of doing when they were previously faced with disturbing and inappropriate behavior within their own ranks.
They get to start doing so with Sen. Al Franken, who was accused last week of forcibly kissing and groping a woman in 2006. How the party handles that allegation will determine if the U.S. is on the verge of striking a real blow against gender discrimination or remain stuck in a hyper-partisan environment that makes such change impossible. In the early going, Democrats have responded with just the right tone. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an immediate ethics investigation, and few if any of Franken’s supporters tried to make excuses, as Moore apologists did.
The party can go further, not by offering an apology for how it handled Bill Clinton (though it should do that as well) and the women who accused him of dastardly things, but by declaring that it will accept no one as a presidential nominee or major office holder if there are credible accusations that he (or she) committed ugly acts against women (or men). That includes Sen. Franken, who should resign.
Democrats should commit to not hiding behind the kind of rationale Alabama Republicans have wedded themselves to in defense of Roy Moore, such as claiming there is not enough evidence to make an informed judgment, when there clearly is, or saying they don’t care because their political opponents are worse. They must prioritize – in no uncertain terms – the well-being and worth of women above short-term political gain. If Democrats refuse to do so, it will reveal that the outrage they are expressing about Moore, and expressed when Donald Trump became president despite being caught on video bragging about casually sexually assaulting women, is hollow.
Democrats must lead even though it is the GOP, which has long claimed the mantle of religious faith, that now is facing the most egregious case. Moore is accused of prowling for teenagers, including a 14-year-old, when he was a 32-year-old man. Republicans abdicated their moral duty and used the longstanding Democratic embrace of Bill Clinton as an excuse to elect Trump. That’s why they cannot be relied upon to strike a fatal blow against sexual harassment – particularly because they still approve of Trump at a roughly 80 percent clip despite his horrific history with women.
Before Franken, Democrats were reveling in the troubles facing Republicans because of Moore. They didn’t want to hear about Clinton, fearing that might make it harder to claim the moral high ground as they bashed the family values party for having chosen a man like Trump. They were leery of facing up to their own flaws, knowing the GOP was likely to use them for political purposes. While those concerns are legitimate, they are nakedly political ones. It’s time to put on display the kind of moral courage the GOP has long talked about but rarely adhered to.
Democrats have an opportunity to rise above politics and move the country forward in a way they always claimed they wanted to.
They should seize it.