Columns » Gene Lyons

A difference



How low can a columnist go? On evidence, nowhere near as low as the president of the United States. I'd intended to highlight certain ironies in the career of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The self-anointed moral arbiter of the Senate began her career as a tobacco company lawyer — that is, somebody ill-suited to demand absolute purity of anybody, much less Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

Gillibrand's first job out of law school in 1991 involved representing Philip Morris in civil liability lawsuits and criminal racketeering investigations. Challenged, she has alibied that lucrative corporate shilling enabled her to do pro bono (charity) work on behalf of abused women and children, among other good causes.

Maybe so, but the New York senator's history nevertheless suggests a certain flexibility about ends and means that one would like to have seen extended to her colleagues during the current moral panic regarding sexual misconduct. "Democrats are so stupid," Bruce Bartlett, the former Reagan administration Treasury official and born-again scourge of Republicans, tweeted. "The obvious thing to say about the Al Franken business is that he will resign the day Trump resigns."

Fresh from leading the campaign to purify the Democratic Party by purging Franken, Gillibrand made a great show of urging President Trump to step down. Fat chance. Instead, the middle school bully in the White House essentially called her a whore.

"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand," he tweeted, "a total flunky for Charles E. Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. ..."

She'd do anything for money. Get it? Nobody ever said Trump wasn't a cunning bully. In effect, the president turned the liberal outrage dial up to 11, leaving Democrats sputtering and making a decent, accommodating fellow like Franken look like a weakling.

No matter how low you go, Trump will go lower. The man simply cannot be shamed by anybody playing by adult rules. So far, no Democrats have been willing to take the argument into the gutter. Nor am I saying anybody should.

But in the street, there are many things a beautiful woman like Gillibrand could say about a flabby old blowhard talking dirty about her. What's more, as a New Yorker, I'm pretty sure she knows how. But Democrats are supposed to be the polite party.

Backstabbers maybe, but polite. Consider, for example, the remarkable Atlantic article that led Gillibrand to declare that enough was enough, and that Al Franken had to go. Written by former congressional staffer Tina Du Puy, it tells about a 2009 party during which she asked Franken for a photo:

"We posed for the shot," Du Puy writes. "He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.

"I'd been married for two years at the time; I don't let my husband touch me like that in public because I believe it diminishes me as a professional woman."

Poor guy. The husband, I mean.

"It shrunk me," Du Puy said. "It's like I was no longer a person, only ornamental. It said, `You don't matter — and I do.' "

Hey, at least she didn't call herself a "survivor." Anyway, remembering this atrocity sends the author into an impassioned reverie in which she endorses today's "pervert purge" and throws poor Franken under the bus along with — who else? — Bill Clinton, whom Sen. Gillibrand also recently renounced after 20 years of politically expedient friendship.

Regarding Franken, I'm with Minnesota's former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, who has urged the senator to recant his resignation pending an Ethics Committee investigation. "Being a victim can be painful but the answer to an injustice cannot be to create another injustice," he wrote on his blog. "I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process."

I'd go further. Harvey Weinstein probably belongs in prison; any man who exposes himself at the office (Halperin, Lauer, Rose) should have been fired at once, and possibly prosecuted.

Men should keep their hands to themselves. But hyperventilating aside, a woman who gets patted on the posterior during a photo op is hardly a victim. The perpetrator may be rude and fundamentally silly, but he hasn't committed a sex crime. It's an insult, not an outrage. The refusal to make distinctions is characteristic of lynch mobs everywhere.

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