In this thickening season of accusations of sexual misbehavior descending on the corridors of politics and entertainment, the two dominant stories from the political world involve a Republican and a Democrat, providing an opportunity for all of us to take an objectivity test.
It is a given that conservatives are going to dive in with greater furor on the Al Franken grope of Leeann Tweeden, and with greater acceptance of further accusations that may follow.
Similarly, most liberals are more than prepared to believe the accusers who have surfaced just in time to blockade Roy Moore’s previously guaranteed U.S. Senate win in deep-red Alabama.
There are key differences between the two. In Moore’s case, the charges range from a creepy-but-legal taste for teenage girls when he was roughly twice their age, to a harrowing tale of molestation of a 14-year-old.
In Franken’s case, there is a he-said/she-said of a “rehearsal” kiss, but photographic proof of a grope of a sleeping victim.
Politics will differ among decent people, but that decency gives us a proper revulsion toward the very prospect of such behaviors. And there should follow an accompanying fairness that neither instantly accepts nor rejects charges that are unproved.
In Moore’s case, it is not unjust to conclude that billows of accusatory smoke must mean there’s a fire in there somewhere. But nor is it unprincipled to wonder about the timing and nature of the charges against him, leaving open sufficient doubt that falls short of conviction in the court of opinion.
In Franken’s case, a photo does not lie. But what is it a photo of? Some may view it as an unforgivable moment of debauchery against a defenseless woman, and a cause for Franken to resign. But not everyone registers disfavor with a default setting of expulsion.
There are plenty of people blasting Franken for a terrible image captured forever, but with the following mitigating factors: It was 11 years ago, before he was a senator; it was in his prior life as professional comic vulgarian; his apology was immediate and carried at least the veneer of sincerity; and his victim accepted that apology and does not seek his head on a platter in penance.
We are all welcome to react to a confirmed event in the manner of our choosing in the Franken case. Failing to call for his immediate expulsion does not suggest approval of his leering grab.
Similarly, despite what haters of Judge Moore are widely asserting, conservative skepticism toward his accusers is not evidence of ambivalence toward child molestation. Nor is it a firm conclusion that those accusers are lying; it is, rather, a position that holds that the charges do not rise to a level of certainty that warrants handing a vital U.S. Senate seat to a Democrat when we have a country to save.
For the record, if similarly unconfirmed charges swirled around a Democrat in a solid blue state, I would accept precisely the same logic in reverse.
Some Alabama voters will bail on Moore when votes are counted Dec. 12, and others will not, for reasons that are their business. This entire election is their business, not to be superseded by those who would call for their choice to be denied. If current or additional charges solidify after his victory and installation, one presumes his ejection would be immediate, giving Alabama voters the reset button many wish they had today.
In Minnesota, Franken is not up for re-election next year, but the 2020 election season is closer than anyone realizes, and that is the perfect arena for determining his future, as well. By then, he may benefit from faded memories of the offenses that fill headlines today.
But whether an election looms in a couple of years — or in Moore’s case, a few weeks — when the air fills with valid arguments for or against a candidate’s worthiness, the best resolution is found at the ballot box.
Mark Davis is a radio host and frequent contributor to The Dallas Morning News, which first published this piece.