Sen. Al Franken’s ouster Thursday was a necessary step in order to brand the Democratic Party as the “good” party, and to cast sexual abuse as a Republican problem.
We know this because… they admit it. “This is a requirement to be able to look at [women] with a straight face and say we’re the party that cares about them,” Guy Cecil, who heads the liberal Priorities USA and previously served as executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Politico. “As long as Republicans don’t do that, there’s a very sharp contrast to be drawn.”
This is sagacious and intellectually honest commentary. It’s also transparently political. Sacrificing Al Franken—a safe thing for them to do considering that a Democratic governor will name his successor—was but a small price to pay for a brand image that serves as a stark contrast to Donald Trump and Roy Moore.
It’s also perfectly consistent with where Democrats want to go. “For the last decade, Democrats have been pointing the finger at the Republican Party for devaluing women,” Cecil continues.
And they might get away with it, too—despite the obvious obstacles. For one, the fact that Democrats stood by Bill Clinton. And don’t forget that this current season of sexual scandals began with Harvey Weinstein, a huge liberal donor who tried to buy indulgences by promising to go after the National Rifle Association. And now, of course, accusations of impropriety have taken down Democratic Rep. John Conyers and Franken.
These pesky details hardly matter. Narratives are what matter. And it seems entirely plausible that the public might henceforth view the Democratic Party as the party that cares about women and the Republican Party as the party of sexual abusers.
But will it work?
The best-laid plans often go awry, and virtue signaling has a mixed track record of success. As liberal columnist Bill Scher recently lamented, “I’ve been alive long enough to know that Democrats having the moral high ground has never been like the linchpin to Democrats winning elections.”
This raises an interesting, if counterintuitive, question. Does the public reward or punish people who admit to their mistakes and take action to correct them? I mean, we always talk about the importance of owning up to our mistakes. But politically, there’s a pretty strong argument that audacious denial is the more sagacious strategy.
“In today’s politics,” writes conservative columnist John Ziegler, “it is usually far safer to respond to allegations by being a lying, arrogant jackass than someone who, like Franken, tried to take the high road and came off like something Trump might feel entitled to grab because he is a star.”
What if, by acknowledging their problems, Democrats end up looking like Al Franken, while ignoring the problem means Republicans end up winning—like Donald Trump?
A serious question: Why did accusations of misogyny against Trump—far more serious than those lodged against Franken—not hurt him? On the merits, Trump should have been a zillion times more vulnerable to both charges. But you can’t shame someone who is shameless. And once it became clear that Trump wasn’t going to apologize, or be shamed, or quit, the stories eventually faded away, and people moved on to new controversies (in some cases, controversies Trump had manufactured).
It’s possible that, by throwing Franken overboard, Democrats are making the mistake that Winston Churchill warned about when said (paraphrasing, here) that appeasement is like feeding a crocodile in hopes it will eat you last.
When you take accusations seriously, you incentivize accusers to come forward. When you demonstrate that accusations are pointless and unlikely to result in change, you disincentivize them. Therefore, the party that does the most to address allegations will, ironically, be punished with more scandals.
If the Democratic Party is going to set high moral standards, then it will be burdened by having to actually live up to them.