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Salena Zito: For once, the joke is on Al Franken

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Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., holds hands with his wife Franni Bryson as he leaves the Capitol after speaking on the Senate floor. Franken said he will resign from the Senate in coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and a collapse of support from his Democratic colleagues. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

There is a strong argument to be made that Al Franken’s central reason for resigning from his Senate seat is that he knew he would be reduced to being shunned by his peers and the press if he had remained to represent Minnesota in the congressional upper chamber.

In short, he would have become a joke, an afterthought, a pariah, a no one.

For a man who was courted by everyone in the Democratic Party to headline their fundraisers — both for their re-elections as well as their state party’s coffers — fawned over for his Hollywood pedigree, and admired by progressives for his notorious grilling of Republicans appointed to Cabinet positions in the Trump administration, the mere thought of being reduced to zero status in American politics was a bridge too far for the egocentric Minnesotan.

In truth, it likely repulsed him.

He is a man used to being center stage, needed, wanted, catered to, fawned over, and courted.

If you have any doubt to the validity of this argument, consider his exit speech on the floor of the Senate when he announced he will resign his seat last Thursday; he never once admitted doing anything wrong. He also never said he was sorry.

“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 said.

In the end, he was defiant, blamed others, and was without the grace to show remorse.

This is not the mark of a leader, but candidly, was Franken ever elected to be a leader? He was a celebrity, a bulldog, a bully who was ironically heralded by feminists as a hero for women, but the truth is, he never was a hero for women — that was just code for being staunchly pro-choice. And, for many feminists, being staunchly pro-choice can cause them to overlook character flaws.

Franken has always been off-center about women. It is interesting how people have forgotten his first campaign for Senate in 2008. Voters knew he was coarse, vulgar, and unapologetic for bad behavior and elected him anyway; narrowly the first time, overwhelmingly in 2014.

Just like voters in Alabama know that Roy Moore has his own set of disturbing issues but are considering electing him anyways. But it is important to look at Franken outside of Moore, because these are two separate and different issues – Franken resigned because no one had his back anymore, and without that he would have become the David Vitter of the Democrat Party: the guy who did distasteful things that no one wanted to be associated with again.

His resignation was about him losing something, not remorse or personal recognition that he may have done something wrong. In fact, he tried to leave the impression that he had been wronged.

I often say we get the elections we deserve. We also get the candidates we deserve.

Minnesotans knew who they elected to the Senate: a former Hollywood writer and actor, provocative talk-show host, and satirist. His prominence in the Senate was pretty reflective of his previous life. There was a lot of noise, but according to research done by the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, his home state newspaper, his legislative career was weak.

Of Franken's 141 pieces of legislation (85 bills, 47 amendments, and nine resolutions) none became law.

Americans don’t just want members of Congress to be decent people, they also want them to actually do things that benefit them, their communities, and the country – what they don’t want is someone who solely uses their elected offices as a springboard to more power (it was the worst kept secret in Democratic circles that Franken was considering a run for president in 2020).

In short, voters want their members of Congress to do something.

America is in the middle of a political awakening of sorts with all kinds of moving parts. Franken did not survive because he was caught in the storm, he left because he was part of the storm that swept out our culture's moral compass a generation ago.

When we decided 40 years ago — at the beginning of the ‘me’ generation — to drop societal norms and boundaries, we gave people the OK to behave badly; especially men. It was cool to be naughty, uncool to be respectful and gentlemanly.

It appears that storm is fading fast in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in both our culture and our politics. And politicians and aspiring politicians who had the wink, wink, nod, nod OK to do this, while polite society looked the other way, don’t get any more winks or nods anymore.

Maybe the best test of all for our country would have been that Franken didn’t resign, but stayed to face the people who put him in office in the first place. It would be in that moment we would know if voters would bargain their values away in favor tribal of politics.

Or perhaps see their way through to vote what was best for their lives, their communities, and their country – I suspect that as candidates line up to run in 2018, there will be some opportunities to test this.

Politics is always about the best calculation for your team, voting is sometimes about what type of bargain you make when you pull the lever. Democrats calculated they'd gain more than they'd lose with Franken gone. A Democrat would replace him, at least initially, with Minnesota's Democratic governor putting a new Democrat in Franken's seat, and the stain of the accusations ceding with him gone.

It leaves Democrats free to say they are the party of moral authority, but also leaves them with the image of a defiant, unapologetic man poking them in the eye as he walked out the door. It will be interesting to see what the long-term impact of that might be as well.

Salena Zito is a columnist for the Washington Examiner.