Roy Moore May Be A Monster, Al “Frankenstein” Is Not
Roy Moore may be a monster, but Al Frankenstein, despite the new name, is not. That distinction is really significant, precisely because we need to pay close, careful and ongoing attention to the issues of sexual harassment in our culture.
To be sure, even calling what Roy Moore is alleged to have done “sexual harassment” seems a little bit crazy as, by all accounts, it seems like attempted rape or actual rape, in at least a number of cases, and child molesting in one case. And I only say “seems” because the allegations against him have not been proven in court. But, as many times as as many women have said something… let’s just say we all have plenty of reason to believe that horrible things were done.
For others to say that there isn’t something there, I don’t know, it seems to me that anyone who’s still making excuses for this guy has a pretty serious problem. No, not all of the details have been verified, but what we know is that a significant number of women, at great risk and with no benefit to themselves, are opening up intimate parts of their lives and feeling shame and embarrassment, which is sad in its own right, because nothing they did was wrong. Given those facts, we ought to believe them and that some portion of their accounts is true, which would be bad enough. Roy Moore would be a monster even if some portion of them is true.
I don’t think Al Franken deserves the title “Al Frankenstein,” though. The funny thing is there is almost nothing about Al Franken that I like. I am not some lifelong lefty. I’m a Bill Clinton centrist who also supported Ronald Reagan. I think Al Franken is often smug and obnoxious, and embodies much of what holds back the Democratic Party. Some might have thought I should be the kind of person just waiting to see him get his comeuppance, and in some ways I may have been… but this isn’t about that.
This isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives, mostly women’s lives. The fact is that, as gross as what he did is (and it is gross), as violative as what he did is (and it is violative), as big a jerk as he has been (and believe me that’s not the word I really want to use at this moment), to think of him as a monster, when it seems we have plenty of people in powerful positions who have done monstrous things, is a real mistake. It’s a mistake, especially, if we want this conversation about sexual harassment to continue.
Letting things get out of control and failing to make appropriate distinctions — failing to make distinctions between different levels of “badness” is a serious failing. And making such distinctions does not mean that all of the things done, or alleged to have been done, are not all bad. They’re all bad, but they are not the same kind of bad.
I’ll make it very personal: If any of my three daughters who are 23, 21, and 16 had ever gone through or will ever go through what Al Franken did to his victims, I’d be really upset. It’s bad.
But, God forbid any of them is ever subjected to what Roy Moore’s victims seem to have gone through. They’re not the same and it’s really important to acknowledge that, not because I’m a fan of Al Franken, but because the failure to distinguish between competing goods or, in this case, competing bads, often leads to the inability to make any distinctions between good and bad all together.
When we lump everything together, we tend to get overexcited about everything on the front end, and then lose our capacity to be appropriately excited about anything. It happens so often in American culture.
We simply scream and yell and shout that everything is falling part — that the wheels are coming off the bus –everything is wrong or that our entire system is broken. We write and talk and think about things in ways that suggest that Al “Frankenstein” is a monster unfit for public office just as Roy Moore is. People vent, and then they start to realize that the world is still spinning, we are still here, and tire of the issue, often claiming that what was originally a coalition seeking justice has become a mob seeking vengeance. That would be both tragic and dangerous, in these cases especially.
The very serious issues of both past and ongoing sexual harassment by people in positions of power could simply recede because we will have become exhausted by the topic if we lose the ability to make important distinctions between different kinds of bad, and I don’t want us to get exhausted by this topic. We cannot afford to, and probably hundreds of thousands of women’s safety depend on our not doing so.
We need to use this moment as an opening for sustained conversation about how people conduct themselves in relationships, about the seductions of power that actually allow, in many cases, otherwise decent people to do truly indecent things.
The truth is we’re not all Roy Moore. I don’t even believe we’re even all Al Franken. But I do believe we all have a propensity to find ourselves in situations and not make the wisest, healthiest decisions and can harm others along the way. We need a fundamental shift in our thinking about how sex and power are used, not just by monsters or near monsters, but by all of us.
We need to do all this, not as a substitute for holding Roy Moore, Al Franken, and so many others accountable, but because, as critical as it is to punish for the past, it’s at least as important to sustain building a better and safer present and future.
December 12, 2017
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