It seems all the talk and chatter in Washington has turned to sex. The harrowing allegations have captivated everyone, which is also affecting political happenings.
This weekend, I was at the Miami Book Fair and appeared live on C-SPAN for my book “Neighbours in Arms: An American Senator’s Quest for Disarmament in a Nuclear Subcontinent,” a summary of which can be found on Amazon. However, the subject changed when I was on live TV. I was asked a totally unrelated question about Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) and Judge Roy Moore’s current dilemmas. It surprised me, but the sudden shift of topic demonstrates how pervasive the chatter is in Washington today.
The nationwide C-SPAN interview framed the question by relating Franken to Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), who resigned under pressure of similar charges in 1995 during his fifth term in the U.S. Senate (during my third term). I was startled and stuttered a little. I know both Packwood and Franken; I said they are both gifted men and that I was deeply disturbed by these charges.
Washington political chatter has also turned away from any technical discussion of the proposed tax bill to talking about what to do about these alleged sex scandals. It is felt by many that Republican senators such as Packwood and several Republican House members were forced to resign. On one hand, many Democrats such as Bill Clinton or Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) were merely reprimanded. Some explain that the Democrats have a reputation of being more pro-women’s rights and should be given more leeway. But Packwood had a strong history of championing women’s rights. He was an unusually moderate Republican, but he was still a Republican. I was there the day in the Senate when Packwood dramatically and tearfully resigned just before the Ethics Committee chairman was bringing up the motion for expulsion.
A chorus of liberal Democrats is now announcing they believe Bill Clinton should have resigned, which is coming in parallel with their demand that Senate candidate Roy Moore pull out of the race.
Many Republicans and Democrats have indicated they will not accept Moore in the Senate even though the voters of Alabama will decide Dec. 12. Many of both parties, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have declared they think Moore is unfit to take a Senate seat because of the allegations against him.
And then, suddenly, the balloon carrying the anti-Moore message deflated with the allegations against Franken. Do we now have to kick out the sitting Franken, as Packwood was kicked out? Or do we use the Bill Clinton standard that he should remain in office, which was espoused by many Democrats?
Liberal Democrats have shifted by saying Franken’s situation should be handled by the voters of Minnesota, which will not happen for four years, and Moore’s should be handled by the voters of Alabama, which will happen in three weeks. There is no standard argument for these cases, no principled stance. It is always political, and we should change that.
The dilemma of all this is that each of these cases is just a little different, and proponents on both sides will point to those differences to try to protect their party while attacking the other. But when the argument turns to drawing a line in the sand for what behavior is acceptable or not, the principles get muddied. Neither side is able to take a firm stand against sexual assault and harassment because they must make concessions to protect their own.
When Mit Romney ran for the Senate in Massachusetts in 1994, he found himself facing at least five liberal senators who fought for Ted Kennedy’s reelection. Reports of drunken debauchery threatened Kennedy — and his alleged mistreatment of women in the Mary Jo Kopekne matter and subsequent cases was troubling. Nevertheless, Democratic Senators Patti Murray, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulsky, and Carol Mosley Braun all flew into Massachusetts to endorse Kennedy.
How could these senators so committed against sexual misconduct campaign for Ted Kennedy? The answer, I think, is pure politics.
I am disappointed in all the above-mentioned cases, and I don’t have all the final facts. The Franken revelations have changed the debate substantially. The anti-Moore voices have quieted down, somewhat.
On top of all this, the highly respected CBS anchor, “60 Minutes” star and PBS titan Charlie Rose has been taken off the air amid sexual harassment charges while he has essentially been calling for Moore’s exclusion.
I hope Congress can still focus while still dealing with this sobering issue. We seem bogged down by this, and I honestly do not have all the answers, but we must try to use a moral standard and not politics in deciding these cases.
Sen. Larry Pressler was a U.S. senator for 18 years and congressman for four years. He is a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law graduate and a Vietnam veteran.