Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense (Adult Language)

Zero tolerance policies are a part of the enforcement philosophy that sends a kid to jail for stealing an ice cream sandwich.  Or expels an 8 year old from school for bringing a water gun to show and tell.  Or gives a guy life in a California prison being pulled over and found with a few ounces of marijuana in his pocket.  So I hate zero tolerance policies.  And now that philosophy is on steroids and is raging across our politics.


The runaway train of reckoning for men who have behaved badly has passed through the phase where it was surreal and has pulled into the stage where it has become absurd. The new buzz-phrase is “zero tolerance for sexual harassment” which evidently means that if a man is believed to have ever harassed anybody at any time, he is no longer fit for the workplace or for anybody to work with- even if it was ten years ago.  Even if nothing else has happened since.  This is obviously untenable and what happened today with Senator Al Franken exposes how ridiculous a position this is.


There is nothing crazy about Leeann Tweeden coming out and calling out Al Franken for that stupid shit that he did in 2006.  I cringed but I believed every word of her account as soon as I heard it.  And better still, I believe him when he said he was sorry.  I know he was embarrassed and had probably forgotten all about this- but of course Leeann Tweeden would never forget it because it happened to her.  Most of all I respect her position when she said she accepted his apology but made it clear that she was not exactly impressed by it.  She said she wasn’t calling for him to step down or be investigated.  She just wanted to get this off her chest after eleven years and be heard.  And she was.  In a sane world that would be the end of the issue.

But we are not in a sane world right now.  We are in an absurd and hysterical “zero tolerance” world where the Twitter-sphere blew up with calls for Senator Franken to resign his position.  And the loudest voices came from progressive figures who share every legislative reflex that Senator Franken has.  Sure they were authentically and appropriately outraged by Mrs. Tweeden’s account, but they really wanted to call for his head in a misguided effort to prove their ideological purity.  They are obviously laboring  under the misimpression that doing so will pressure Republicans not to seat the disgusting pedophile Roy Moore when he wins the Alabama special election in December.  In fact, Senator Franken even sought to placate these people (and give himself some cover) by asking for an official investigation to be opened on him for sexual misconduct.


This is absolute bullshit.  “Zero tolerance” policies are intellectually lazy and functionally ineffective.  They almost always wind up doing more harm than good simply because people have gotten so damned emotional about an issue that they can’t be bothered to actually gather facts, review the complete context, and render judgment on a case by case basis that they may have to actually defend.  It’s much easier to simply lump in Senator Franken with soon-to-be-Senator Moore (and Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Jeremy Piven, Bill Cosby, Ben Aflek, Mark Ratner, etc. etc.) and scream “ZERO TOLERANCE!”

Let me be crystal clear about the gravity of the situation:  I understand that Hollywood celebrities are citizens just like I am and they have a voice and a right to raise it where they deem it necessary.  But context is often a problem of perspective because losing a Senator is vastly more consequential than losing some studio executive.  The former could have tremendous consequences while the latter is virtually irrelevant in the big scheme of things.  You don’t treat these situations the same.  Al Franken is one of the 100 people in our country charged with making policy in the Senate- not some asshole trying to put out a good rom-com before award season rolls around.


Another problem with “zero tolerance” is that it conflates all sexual misconduct and lumps in Al Franken with Roy Moore and that helps Roy- big time.  If I were on the hook for a child molestation allegation and an accusation for attempted rape of a 16-year-old I would love to be lumped in with a growing mountain of cases where the accusations are not nearly as disgusting, damaging or disqualifying.   The circumstances of Moore and Franken are so different they should barely be a part of the same news cycle narrative but thanks to “zero tolerance” and resignation demands they have been all day.

Fortunately Al is a lot smarter than Roy and by every measure of the objective record he is a better man than Roy.  But Al fucked up.  He did something offensive, dumb and wrong in every way.  But if he hasn’t done anything along those lines since then are we saying that he is no longer qualified to do the job he was elected to do?


I listened closely to Mrs. Tweeden’s account and Senator Franken didn’t commit a crime or any act that is legally actionable.  What kind of a phony standard are we trying to impose here and at what cost?

People of good conscience like the women of the #MeToo movement need to be careful that this thing doesn’t go into a death spiral where we are no longer able to accept that people can make mistakes- sometimes ugly ones- and once repentant can move on with their lives.  If the man’s apology is good enough for the woman he offended with his juvenile and boorish behavior, who in the hell is anybody else to say it’s not good enough?

Pay attention to what you are doing when you call for somebody to resign from the Senate.  This is not the coaching staff of your daughter’s soccer team.  Senator Franken is the one who asked the questions that put Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the entire Trump White House on its heels in the Russian collusion investigation.  If not for him, they might have gotten away with the whole thing scott-free.  So slow your roll and recognize that the players on the field matter.  Al Franken is a good guy who did a bad thing- like a great many of us have.  But if the “zero tolerance” world disqualifies us all you will be left with the Roy Moore’s of the world- and they ABSOLUTELY NEVER APOLOGIZE.  Good luck with that.

∞ π


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