It is a lesson we insist on learning over and over again.
These sexual harassment cases that have been flooding the airwaves in recent months are merely manifestations of the latest symptom of something that was stated clearly and eloquently many years ago:
And that is what these cases are really about, isn't it? Power. Who has it and uses it.
That is the thing all these cases have in common. People with power feel entitled to things, even if (or, perhaps, especially if) that sense of entitlement tramples on someone else's rights.
Today the subject is sexual harassment. That — or a variant on that subject — has been a recurring theme over the years, but in the past the subject has also been racism, religious intolerance and anything else that offends people.
Sometimes the offense du jour is silly, but other times it is not and should not be treated as if it is. This is one of those times — although I will admit that sometimes it threatens to veer off in that other direction. That is something that every American should hope we can avoid. If we do not, it will trivialize and demean a serious matter that has long deserved a serious public examination and discussion.
It is certainly not funny when reprehensible behavior forces someone to pay a heavy price — as it has with Sen. Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live funnyman who resigned from the U.S. Senate today amid allegations of sexual harassment. It is a tragedy for Franken and his family.
But neither is it funny when a false accusation destroys someone's life. Thus we must exercise due diligence in such cases.
One thing we need to stop doing is treating matters like these as if they are party problems. They are not. Neither party has a monopoly on offensive behavior. And neither party is morally superior to the other.
If these recent revelations have proven nothing else, they have proven that there are offenders in both parties. Yet I have seen many examples of people who were clearly willing to overlook such offenses in those with whom they agreed on issues but all too ready to condemn those with whom they disagreed.
Even Franken indulged in some of that in his farewell speech to the Senate today.
"I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony," Franken said, "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 preyed on underage girls is running for the Senate with the full support of his party."
Sexual harassment is wrong; those who are willing to overlook it in their friends but condemn it in their foes take their position entirely because of politics. It has zero to do with defending victimized women and men.