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More on zero tolerance

A few days ago I wrote about my fear that the Democrats would adopt a zero tolerance position regarding allegation of sexual impropriety. Not surprisingly, some have:

As calls for Senator Franken’s resignation rose yesterday, there was talk about the need for zero tolerance of sexual misconduct. For example, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) tweeted: “We must commit to zero tolerance—which is where I believe we as a country and Congress should be—and that means Senator Franken should step down.”

This sort of extreme view seems to have become almost settled wisdom among Democrats in DC, but if my own observations are any guide, it is not so widely shared outside the DC bubble. Opinions were almost unanimous, and most strongly voiced by some of the women at our recent Drinking Liberally group, that Franken should not have resigned.

It does appear that people not totally immersed in the bubble are beginning to see that a bit of nuance, and, at times, cold political calculation, are necessary, particularly in the political clime in which we now find ourselves. Nancy LeTourneau, the blogger whose post I linked to above, went on to make an observation similar to that I made in my post:

The arena in which I am most familiar with the use of zero tolerance is schools. It began as a slogan over 20 years ago to suggest that schools should draw a clear line about what was unacceptable behavior and administer harsh consequences to any student who crossed it. The entire effort was a huge failure that became the feeder for the school-to-prison pipeline. Here is an ABC News report on zero tolerance that aired back in 2003.

At this point, a lot of people (especially politicians) are trying to position themselves as “tough” on this issue by gravitating to simplistic responses like zero tolerance. Those of us who are actually interested in real change need to speak up on behalf of responses that help all of us grapple with a difficult issue and set the stage for some common understanding of a complex problem. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.

It should be noted here that already Republicans are taking advantage of the Democratic zero tolerance push. The Republican governor of Michigan has put off a special election to fill John Conyers position, thus depriving his consitituents (mostly black, so who cares, right?) of representation for almost a year, while, the Democratic governor of Minnesota has done what all Democrats seem to do:

Now Gov. Mark Dayton is throwing a wrench in the works by evidently appointing a caretaker on the condition she not seek to keep the seat, which opens the seat up to the real possibility of Republican capture in 2018 (maybe by Norm Coleman, the Republican Franken defeated in 2008). I wonder how many Senate Democrats calling for Franken’s head would have thought twice if they’d known Dayton was going to pull that boneheaded move, instead of appointing a younger star like state Attorney General Lori Swanson who could build a real Senate career.

As the post above goes on to point out, there’s something not quite right about demands that people resign without any form of due process. Democrats were unwilling to let the ethics process play out, and, if Heitkamp’s statement is any guide, will be unwilling to do so in the future. So, someone like Franken, who acknowledges wrongdoing, the seriousness of which is not yet really known, must go, while politicians who simply deny, deny, deny, get to stay. This, of course, yet again favors the Republicans.

The national Democrats act as if they have Senate seats to spare, and can easily throw a few away in service to a zero tolerance policy that make no real sense. I suspect with good cause that their constituents don’t see it in such black and white terms, but the beltway bubble is a real cultural phenomenon. A lot of us are more concerned about the fact that by throwing Franken under the bus, the Democrats may have destroyed any chance we have to prevent a Trumpian takeover of the Supreme Court. Our always marginal chances of taking over the Senate have not been enhanced by this move and that’s the point most of the Liberal Drinkers, male and female alike, were ranting about at our recent gathering. The future of the planet is at risk. We really have to think twice about imposing purity tests on our own, when we have no capacity to impose like standards on the Nazis who currently control our government.

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