Columns » Autumn Tolbert




In last week's column, Gene Lyons asks the question, "How low will a columnist go?" before he insults the integrity of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), sympathizes with a man whose wife won't let him paw her in public, and equates Sen. Al Franken's alleged groping of women during photo ops as mere "insults." All while minimizing and dismissing the voices and experiences of the women he mentions.

After yet another woman accused Franken of inappropriate touching, Gillibrand called for the Minnesota Democrat to resign. Lyons implies Gillibrand is somehow unfit to question another's ethics because she represented Philip Morris, a tobacco company. Nonsense. I go to court week after week and represent men and women charged with rape, murder, DWI, theft and domestic violence. Some are guilty. Some are innocent. I don't do it because I support rape, murder, drunk driving, theft or battery. I do it because I support the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys are not their clients and zealously representing unpopular ones does not make us compromised about "means and ends." This smear is as unfair now just as it was when used to discredit Hillary Clinton.

Lyons references accusations made by former congressional staffer Tina Dupuy, who describes Franken as "grabbing a handful of flesh" at her waist and squeezing a couple of times during a photo op. Sounds similar to the accounts of the other women who accused Franken of grabbing their buttocks or breasts. Dupuy points out how demoralizing it is to be minimized down to body parts, and for that reason does not allow her husband to touch her that way in public. Instead of speaking up for Dupuy's right to body autonomy, Lyons expresses sympathy for her husband seemingly because the man is not allowed to get handsy with his wife in the company of others.

"Getting patted on the posterior." That's what Lyons calls what happened to Franken's accusers. Lyons claims Franken's actions are merely "insults" instead of an "outrage." No, Mr. Lyons, calling someone "fat" is an insult. Calling someone "stupid" is an insult. Molesting a woman on her rear end or on her breast without permission is an outrage. We spend our lives trying to deflect off-color jokes, unwanted advances, hugs that go on a bit too long, and men who just won't take no for an answer. We are way past being insulted. We are outraged.

Look, I know Franken was adored by many on the left. I liked the guy. I thought he honestly cared. I believe we should be wary of false accusations because they absolutely happen. However, the pattern of credible complaints against Franken means he has to go. I agree it's not fair that Trump remains while Franken steps down, but, as I was always taught, two wrongs don't make a right. If Democrats want Franken to stay in the Senate because he is a "good guy" despite his assaults on women, then they are falling into the same "imperfect vessel" trap many evangelicals use to justify support of Trump. And to those who argue it benefits Gillibrand to have Franken out, my response is that she still did the right thing by joining the chorus of those calling for his resignation. Franken, not Gillibrand, is the political opportunist. He used his fame and office to cop cheap feels on unsuspecting women.

I disagree with Lyons that this will drive Democrats away. The majority of progressives I know, especially women, believe Franken's behavior has no business in the Senate or in any workplace. Women want to be recognized for our accomplishments at work. We want to walk down the street and not be catcalled. We want to run for office and not have all the focus on our outfits and hairstyles. We want to stand next to our elected officials for a photo without being felt up. We want to be able to speak out against harassers without being accused of having ulterior motives. And we want a political party that will stand up for us every step of the way, even against a party darling. Is that really too much to ask? If some Democrats would rather protect Franken than stand up against harassment, then they better get ready for pushback, because we are over it. Completely.

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