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Thursday, December 14, 2017

How the Democrats shot their foot off

The current frenzy for reporting incidents of male sexual harassment is a revival of a flurry of such accusations that the nation experienced during the early 1990s.  At that time, it was fueled by the forced resignation of Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, who had quite a reputation for his overt expressions of lust for women.  And by the hearings of accusations of harassment of Anita Hill by Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. As a previous post reports, higher education addressed those allegations as they affected both the accusers and the accused.  Men responded, then as now, with admissions, denials, and counter accusations.  Women complained that they weren't believed or feared retaliation if they reported incidents. But a lot of men were fired or otherwise disciplined in summary ways that avoided due process in which the accused would face their accusers.  Professional organizations that deal with due process stepped in and restored some semblance of justice to the proceedings where they could.

The presumption that guided harassment accusations in academe was that everyone, accuser and accused, deserved due process.  And due process requires that an accused person has the right to know who the accuser is and to present exculpatory evidence.  In the zeal to correct a wrong, many institutions neglected due process sometimes to save embarrassment to the accuser, to prevent retaliation, and sometimes to evade the hostilities that such cases produce.  A lawyer who worked on such cases said,  "It's cheaper to fire someone in many cases than it is to defend against a claim of sexual harassment."  In a few cases where men did pursue and prove false claims, however, the results were damaging to institutions as well as to the person who made a false accusation.  The settlements of civil cases were harshly expensive, and in some jurisdictions the making of a false harassment charge could be  considered a criminal act, thus implicating the organization that fired or took disciplinary action without following the procedures of due process.  

In the current flurry of accusations, the mistakes of a quarter century ago are being repeated.   In the frenzy to respond effectively in behalf of harassed and assaulted women, due process is largely forgone.  A columnist for a teen magazine expressed a current attitude:

Here's an unpopular opinion: I'm actually not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations. First common false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It's a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population). And more importantly: The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth + the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man's reputation.
The cases of Al Franken and Garrison Keillor in Minnesota are two in which the absence of due process is a glaring omission.  There is inherent dubiousness in some of the accusations and a severity of punishment and a dismissal of human worth that is more characteristic of a vengeful rage than of an act of accountability.

In Franken's case, the first accuser is herself photographed in some on-stage acts of groping and sexual horseplay.  Daily Kos and comedian Tom Arnold claim that Leeann Tweeden was coached by ultra conservative associates and the she was a birther in claiming that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. Subsequent accusations followed a meme-like repetition that women asked to pose for picture with Franken and in the process he squeezed their butts. Politicians and their staffs have challenged the credibility of those circumstances.  In large public gatherings, politicians have staffs around them to manage and organize their appearances.  They would be aware of any incidents, and an objective of the appearances is to give the politician a favorable exposure to the public and strenuously avoid any offense. People who know Franken, especially his staff, say he does not behave in such a manner and is simply not stupid enough to engage in such behavior.  Most egregious, is that some of the accusations were anonymous.  What happened to Franken is that members of his own party lynched him in order to demonstrate their moral superiority over the opposition.

Franken asked for a full investigation by the Senate ethics committee.  However, when members of his own party demanded his resignation, he saw that he would be unable to function as a senator, and resigned.  Not one politician in the Senate which claims to be the nation's most upstanding deliberative body in upholding liberty, equality, and justice mentioned due process.

Former Republican Governor of Minnesota Arne Carlson spoke for many people on the matter.   He wrote:
I am deeply troubled by the resignation of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process... a rush to punishment is totally unacceptable.

While the Democrats were flaunting their parade on the "high road," they were in fact flouting any pretense to justice and showing disdain for the most basic principle of democracy.  They destroyed any credibility to what they claim the party stands for.  The kindest thing one can say about their performance is they showed a level of stupidity that befits the era of Trump.  The U.S. Senate seemed to compete with him to see who could show the most abject failure of decency.

The case of Garrison Keillor was similarly excessive and insanely so in Minneapolis Public Radio's attempt to totally obliterate him.  Apparently, he had seething enemies who longed for a chance to reign vengeance on him.  He  has indicated he does not intend to go quietly into the night, however.

It has been encouraging to see that harassers and assaulters of women have been called onto account.  But that encouragement was dashed into bits when those exposures became reason to abandon even the most rudimentary forms of justice.

***Early in the accusations against members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi was asked about how the allegations should be handled and she mentioned due process, for which she was soundly scolded by pundits and commenters.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States