On Thursday, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken appeared on the Senate floor to announce his resignation to his colleagues. Franken's announcement followed multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, the most recent of which came from a former Democratic congressional aide and all of which he has denied. But though he agreed to step aside, Franken's resignation speech lacked both an apology and accountability.
In his speech, Franken said that "women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously" — but that came mere moments after saying that he was "shocked" and "upset" to hear the allegations made against him. And though Franken said that he wanted to respect the women who had come forward about his behavior, he described some of the allegations made against him as "simply not true," adding that he remembered the situations differently.
And Franken's speech was ultimately self-serving. He described himself as having been a "champion of women" during his time in the Senate. "I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day," Franken told his fellow senators.
In making these comments, Franken sought to set himself apart from Roy Moore and Donald Trump, people who don't have women-friendly policies and have been accused of harassing and assaulting women, which they deny. But in doing so, Franken appeared to downplay the allegations made against him as though they were not as important or severe.
I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.
Franken faced criticism on social media for turning a speech about sexual misconduct into a speech about himself, rather than taking some time to think about how the women who made allegations against him must have felt.
Franken's assurance to everyone that he's "going to be just fine," citing his "beautiful, healthy family" incensed many people on Twitter, who took issue not only with the fact that he centered himself and his feelings in his speech, but also were upset about the fact that, well, he is going to be fine.
After six women came forward to allege that Franken had behaved improperly toward them, nearly all of the Democratic women and most of the Democratic men in the Senate urged him to resign. However, even though Franken said that he will do so in the coming weeks, his speech seemed to be both self-congratulatory and defensive — as though he didn't completely see why he was being called on to resign.
"Even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it has all been worth it," Franken told his fellow senators.
"Politics," Paul Wellstone told us, "is about the improvement of people's lives." I know that the work I have been able to do has improved people's lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. ... I know in my heart, nothing that I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.
In fact, POLITICO's transcript of Franken's speech indicates that he never once said the word "sorry," or explicitly apologized. Franken previously sent a letter to Leeann Tweeden apologizing for the impact his actions had on her, but he appeared to backtrack in this resignation speech.
Franken cannot claim to be a "champion of women" if he also does not hold himself accountable to the six women who came forward. For him to say that he remembers certain situations "differently" incorrectly implies that sexual harassment is a matter of intent, rather than impact.
As Nate Silver wrote for FiveThirtyEight, maintaining the moral high ground in politics "means you have to hold your party to a higher standard than the other party." Franken's decision to lash out at Moore and Trump in his resignation speech was not surprising, but it also seemed to be an attack on Republicans' handling of sexual assault specifically to deflect attention away from the allegations made against him.
The criticisms themselves were certainly justified, given the GOP's consistent support of people like Moore and Trump, but sexual violence is not partisan. It is a pervasive issue across the board, and it is important to hold any perpetrators accountable, regardless of how many progressive issues they have previously championed.