Grop­er­gate! The halls of Congress un­der siege!

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN

When I was a young re­porter on a cer­tain news­pa­per in the South, fresh on a new job, I took a fancy to a sweet and pretty young woman (that’s how we talked in those days) work­ing on what news­pa­pers quaintly called “the So­ci­ety pages.”

One day one of the older re­porters, ea­ger to be help­ful, stopped by my desk. “It’s none of my busi­ness,” he said, “but the man­ag­ing edi­tor re­gards your young lady as his pri­vate stock.”

Per­haps the man­ag­ing edi­tor only wanted to in­spire the ob­ject of my af­fec­tions to a great ca­reer in jour­nal­ism. But man­ag­ing ed­i­tors were fear­some beasts in those days and I knew how to take a wellmeant tip. I soon moved on to Washington — I heard later that the young lady mar­ried a lawyer — and in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal I found out (news­pa­per­men be­ing quick learn­ers) that sen­a­tors are not the masters from Olym­pus they think they are, and are in fact a lot like man­ag­ing ed­i­tors, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing pri­vate stock.

Nev­er­the­less, the ex­po­sure of Al Franken as just another idol with feet of clay was hard for this old guy of crushed dreams and in­no­cent heart to take. Ghost of Strom Thur­mond, say it ain’t so. Al has been a tower of rec­ti­tude and virtue, serv­ing here in the very shadow of Abra­ham Lin­coln and Ge­orge Washington, and the charges against him are dif­fi­cult for a pa­triot to be­lieve.

The charges, sor­did as they are, have been prop­erly aged, like old bour­bon or VSOP brandy. Al is ac­cused of kiss­ing (and in the style of the French, no less) a fel­low thes­pian. Al has had a check­ered ca­reer, and this was on a USO tour in to en­ter­tain the troops in the Mid­dle East in the year 2006. He even posed lay­ing his hands on her, though she was sleep­ing and dressed in a flak jacket. It’s not clear that Al’s hand ever touched even the flak jacket. Flak jack­ets are made of tough stuff, de­signed to stop, well, flak, and though Al might have the rep­u­ta­tion as the last of the red-hot lovers, my money would be on the flak jacket in a test of stop­ping power. Mod­ern flak jack­ets could stop Strom Thur­mond. Still, as any fem­i­nist would tell you, it’s the thought that counts.

Al says it was all a joke on that drafty old C-47 fly­ing across the cold At­lantic on a night lo, those many years ago, and he un­der­stands now that it wasn’t funny. Al’s jokes have never been par­tic­u­larly funny, as fans of the old “Satur­day Night Live” episodes will re­mem­ber, but, dog­gone it, he tried. He was at his best in a go­rilla suit, play­ing off a straight man named Tom Davis.

Al spent most of Thurs­day apol­o­giz­ing to the lady late in the flak jacket, one Leeann (pro­nounced as two words) Twee­den, who has a ra­dio pro­gram in Los Angeles, where sex­ual ha­rass­ment, in­nu­endo and sug­ges­tion were first raised to high art. He is­sued not one, but two apolo­gies, the se­cond at great length just in case the first one didn’t take. He has learned well the Se­nate tra­di­tion of blovi­a­tion as elo­quence.

Such blovi­a­tion de­serves more than a brief ex­cerpt. “The first thing I want to do is apol­o­gize to Leeann,” he said in his dec­la­ra­tion to the world, drop­ping to a knee but with­out the tra­di­tional di­a­mond chip for mi­lady’s fin­ger, “to ev­ery­one else who was part of that tour, to ev­ery­one who has ever worked for me, to ev­ery­one I rep­re­sent, and to ev­ery­one who counts on me to be an ally and sup­porter and cham­pion of women.” The only party he omit­ted was Norm Cole­man, the man he stole the Min­nesota Se­nate seat from. “There’s more I want to say, but the first and most im­por­tant thing — and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine — is, I’m sorry.”

There’s more, as ev­ery­one ex­pects of a se­na­tor. “For in­stance, that pic­ture. [He means pho­to­graph, not pic­ture]. “I don’t know what was in my head when I took that pic­ture, and it doesn’t mat­ter. There’s no ex­cuse. I look at it now and I feel dis­gusted with my­self. It isn’t funny. It’s com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate. It’s ob­vi­ous how Leeann would feel vi­o­lated by that pic­ture.” And so on and so on, and so forth and so on.

Miss Twee­den’s rec­ol­lec­tion is 11 years old, as all such rec­ol­lec­tions seem to be, ex­tracted from mem­o­ries prop­erly aged in the wood. Round and round it goes, and where it stops no one knows.

There is no statute of lim­i­ta­tions on some felonies — mur­der, for ex­am­ple — and cer­tainly not on crimes such as ha­rass­ment, stalk­ing, a furtive grope, the wink­ing of a male male eye at a pretty girl. Grop­er­gate is the crime of our cen­tury. Wes­ley Pruden is edi­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

Al Franken and Leeann Twee­den

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