The Paradox of the Democrats? Ellison, Franken, and #MeToo
On August 11, Karen Monahan accused Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison of domestic abuse. Three days later, he won the Democratic primary election for Minnesota Attorney General. Monahan, an ex-girlfriend of Ellison, has come forward with allegations that the Congressman repeatedly emotionally and physically abused her during their long-term relationship, which ended in 2017.
Monahan stated that she was the victim of narcissist abuse, which is not officially recognized in psychiatry, but which Monahan described as a pattern of lying and gaslighting throughout their relationship. She also detailed a case of alleged physical abuse in which she claims Ellison screamed at her and attempted to drag her off a bed. Monahan claims to have a video of the physical abuse, but she has refused to release it on the grounds that it would be unfair for her as a victim to have to bear the burden of proof. Monahan provided other evidence to substantiate her claims: she released a report which noted that Monahan told a doctor in 2017 that she “was in a very stressful environment for years, emotional and physical abuse by a partner,” whom she identified as Ellison. Thus far, the DNC has released an announcement stating that they would review the allegations, but it has made no further indictment of Ellison.
The Ellison case is neither the latest nor the highest profile of the #MeToo movement, but it bears an uncanny ressemble to the story of another Minnesota Congressman: Al Franken. In November of last year, journalist and radio host Leeann Tweeden accused then Senator Franken of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in 2006, then released a picture of Franken appearing to grope her while she was asleep. Franken issued a lukewarm apology in which he stated, “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Over the following three weeks, amid a storm of public outrage and a growing number of calls for Franken to step down from the Senate, seven additional women came forward, some publically and others anonymously, with stories of Franken’s inappropriate behavior. With each accusation, Franken’s apologies became more profuse. Several high-ranking Democrats in Congress, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, called on Franken to step down. On December 7th, he announced his resignation from Congress.
With the allegations against Ellison falling just months after Franken’s resignation, people have asked why the Democratic response to the two cases has been so different. Almost no Democrats in Congress have indicted Ellison’s character, and none have asked him to resign. Both Republicans and #MeToo activists have said that Democrats are trying to avoid the Ellison story because of the upcoming election cycle, and are silencing victims in the process.
However, the Franken and Ellison cases are very different, and so the value of comparison between the two is limited. In Franken’s case, the photo of him appearing to grope Leeann Tweeden, even without any of the other allegations against him, was enough to show that he was capable of severely inappropriate behavior towards women. Furthermore, seven additional women came forward after Tweeden, further corroborating her story. Democrats then had good cause to call for his resignation even before the Senate Special Committee on Ethics finished its investigation into Franken’s behavior. In Ellison’s case, there are only text message screenshots and a doctor’s report.
Democrats have been criticized from both sides for overreacting to Franken’s offense and underreacting to Ellison’s. Monahan’s allegations are serious, and should be treated as such, but I would argue that Democrats have issued proportionate responses to allegations substantiated by varying amounts of evidence.
What Democrats should do, and what they have done, is investigate the allegations to determine what exactly happened. On August 14, the DNC announced that it was reviewing the allegations against Ellison. So far, the party has not disclosed its findings to the public. Calling for further investigation in cases which do not have sufficient evidence for the party to make a decision is the only way for Democrats to respect the nuances of different situations, and respect the victims who have brought them to the fore.