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Morality doesn’t have a political affiliation: Holding Andrew Cuomo accountable

Those urging Dems not to “Franken” Governor Cuomo seem to think being against sexual harassment is merely a selective, strategic performance of principles.

Morality doesn’t have a political affiliation: Holding Andrew Cuomo accountable
[Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images (Franken); Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images (Cuomo); Alejandro Barba/Unsplash]
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One of the great mysteries of the COVID-19 era is how New York governor Andrew Cuomo had it so good for so long.

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He was far from beloved before the pandemic, but his belated course correction following New York’s initial, subpar response, not to mention his inexplicably Emmy Award-winning daily briefings and cutesy appearances on his brother Chris Cuomo’s CNN show, gave rise to an outsize love for Cuomo that even earned him a deal for a quickie book about defeating (?) COVID-19 in New York and talk of presidential aspirations.

Perhaps it was because the federal response was so inept and irresponsible. Maybe it was because Republican counterparts such as Governor Kristi Noem in South Dakota or Ron DeSantis in Florida never even came around on safety masks or lockdowns. For whatever reason, it took a nursing home scandal and multiple sexual harassment allegations to very slowly turn the tide of public opinion against Cuomo. Now that the outrage has reached critical mass, though, and Democratic politicians are calling for Cuomo’s resignation, a certain strain of liberal has begun urging those Dems not to “Franken” the governor, referring to the sexual assault allegations against Minnesota senator Al Franken that led to his resignation in January 2018.

It’s a misguided message that reduces principles to mere performance, and it needs to stop.

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First things first: What happened to Al Franken is not some lamentable American tragedy easily condensed into a verb. In fact, it didn’t happen to Franken; it was Franken’s own alleged behavior coming back to haunt him. At least eight women came forward in late 2017 with accusations of inappropriate behavior, including groping. It might scan as suspicious that one of those accusers was a conservative radio host, but that woman, Leeann Tweeden, had an incredibly damning photo of Franken pretending to grope her as she slept on a plane. Whether in jest or not, this is the kind of photo and accusation that would create problems at work for anyone, let alone a sitting senator.

Franken was a comedian and pundit at the time of his alleged misconduct. If those were his occupations at the time the allegations broke, perhaps an apology and some time out of the public eye would have sufficed. Since the allegations came out when he was a U.S. senator, though, and the #MeToo movement was peaking, Democrats could not in good conscience keep him in their good graces. Not after all of their justified outrage at President Trump’s elision from any consequences for the dozens of credible sexual assault allegations levied against him.

It’s not a tragedy that Franken resigned; being a U.S. senator should not be a position where ethical considerations are waived. (Honestly, it’s a bit of a miracle that a comedian ever made such an effective senator in the first place.)

But even those liberals still incensed at Franken’s ouster, who have directed a disproportionate amount of their anger at New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand over it, should be able to see that the allegations against Governor Cuomo are of an entirely different magnitude. What he’s accused of doing occurred while Cuomo was in office, and two of the accusers, Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, worked for Cuomo, bringing into play the outsize power that he had in these relationships.

An investigation is an appropriate response, and one is indeed in the works, but considering how neatly the accusations fit into the governor’s pattern of bullying behavior, and considering the concurrent nursing home scandal, anyone calling for resignation at this point is entirely appropriate as well.

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Some liberal voices, whether they invoke Al Franken or not, seem to think that it’s unfair once again to expect Democrats to clean up their own backyard while Republicans remain mired in untamed roughage.

The same week that the second and third accusations arrived against Cuomo, several women made allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against a rising Republican star, North Carolina representative Madison Cawthorn. But while Cawthorn should have to answer sufficiently for his apparent behavior, this matter should have no bearing on whether Andrew Cuomo resigns or not. Morals aren’t conditional. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Crossing a certain threshold of outrage only if it’s directed across the aisle misses the entire point of accountability.

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An unfortunate reality in 2021 America is that any Democratic politician’s scandal is a matter that merits investigation, while any Republican’s scandal is just cancel culture run amok. It’s a hypocritical double standard, but that only means that the Republicans need to rise to the standards of Democrats, not that Democrats should sink to the standards of Republicans.

It stinks that cutting Al Franken loose didn’t inspire Republicans to take seriously the dozens of harassment and misconduct allegations against Trump, or to hold Jim Jordan accountable for his role in the Ohio State wrestling scandal. In a fair world, this disparity would not exist.

But the right thing to do doesn’t cease being the right thing to do just because of whose side one is on.