The current situation which finds Herman Cain is up to his eyeballs in dealing with accusations of sexual harassment when he was with the National Restaurant Association, can show and tell us a lot about Mr. Cain.
No, not whether the accusations are true or false. That may be shown down the road, or more likely never at all conclusively as is typical of “she said – he said” cases. But the way in which Mr. Cain has dealt with the situation has shown us a lot about the man as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States.
Unfortunately a far as Cain’s political future is concerned; his behavior doesn’t bode well. The best you can say about the way he has handled things is that; he and his advisors are rank amateurs at the game of high profile politics. Cain tried to seem genuinely surprised by the sexual harassment accusations being made public; but he shouldn’t have been. Politico, the news organization that made the information public had told Cain’s camp about the information and asked for a response 10 days before it went public with it. Cain and his people had plenty of time to look into the how, when, where and why the information came to Politico from an anonymous source. And yet, when he was asked about it, he acted as if he didn’t know what the reporter was talking about.
In fact for a day or so Cain said he didn’t recall anything about it. Then he recalled little bits about it. Then he tried to excuse his apparent failure of memory by saying he thought that the accusers where “gagged” from speaking by an “agreement” which was in his mind was not a “settlement”; and if it was a settlement he hoped there wasn’t much money involved. He at first denied he had even been accused of sexual harassment. And then he said, other than the ones made when he was at National Restaurant Association accusations; he hadn’t been accused of sexual harassment. All the while he did say that after he slowly remembered the incident, he was entirely innocent of doing anything wrong.
First Cain blamed the accusers, but that gambit only led to a call for Cain to ask the NRA to let the accusers out from under the non-disclosure gag order. Then he blamed the media for wanting to make trouble for him; when in fact the media is only looking for grist for their mill where any and all candidates are concerned. Cain’s continued success at the top of the Republican candidate field was already plenty of good material for the political media. Then he played the race card using Clarence Thomas’s phrase “high tech lynching”. But that was too thin to hold up when it was pointed out that any allegations, peccadilloes or behavior of an alleged sexual nature got Front Page treatment no matter the color of the candidate; from Gary Hart, to Bill Clinton, to Governor Sanford, to Newt Gingrich. So next Cain turned and tried to place the blame with the Governor James Richard “Rick the Hair” Perry’s campaign. It seems a former associate of Cain to whom he had told the sexual harassment accusation/agreement/settlement story, had gone to work for Perry two weeks ago; just when Politico got the information about the settlement from their anonymous source. Cain’s camp says this former Cain associate told Perry’s people about the “scandal” and they in turn told Politico, who in turn told the world.
The long and confused (as least on Cain’s part) tale has shown the American voter in general and the Republican Party in particular that Herman Cain doesn’t appear to have the political savvy or smarts to handle the very many accusations, allegations, misrepresentations, crisis of all sorts and downright lies that fall on any President’s plate on a daily basis. If he can’t explain something in which he says he was innocent after two week’s notice; what will he do when a real problem pops up in “Wherethehellistan” at 3 AM? Yes, Cain says he’ll have a lot of advisors who know where “Wherethehellistan” is and what may be going on there. But shouldn’t the man (or woman) who is Commander in Chief know who, what, when, where and why; instead of pleading ignorance and spreading the blame like so much manure when a problem arises?
Herman Cain’s biggest problem with the sexual harassment accusations from twelve years ago isn’t so much the unknown answer to the question of is he or is he not guilty as charged. The answer to that, no matter what it is, may or may not disqualify him for the job of President. The real problem is the behavior Cain exhibited in his curious and inconsistent attempts to deal with the “crisis” created by the revelations. Friendly bluster trying to pass itself off as confidence due to real knowledge, may have brought him to the front of the pack on tax and debt issues, but it’s not a technique or style that enables one to answer questions of a factual nature. And lack of recall or confusion real or pretended, doesn’t stand a chance of satisfying the Presidential job requirements on a host of issues from foreign policy, to national defense, to practical steps to fix the economy.
The bigger, more theoretical question brought up by “L’Affaire Cain” is the whole issue of past (or even present) personal behavior that may or may not be allowable for a Presidential candidate. Cain’s crime, if he committed one, involved actual laws we appropriately have to prevent sexual harassment in the work place. Workplace behavior is public behavior and an area totally appropriate for scrutiny by the press and in turn the public.
One the other hand, George W. Bush was privately a reformed drinker and drug user; and that was okay enough with almost a majority of American voters for him to be President. Bill Clinton was personally pretty much known as a “player” when it came to the ladies; but the American voter still liked the guy, though they didn’t like his behavior, even after it became a public scandal. When it comes to sex, drinking and other personal “moral shortcomings” that are shared by many of us, Americans can be pretty forgiving. It was the cover-up by Clinton of his relationship with Ms. Lewinski, although understandable on some level (in that it was highly personal and private), which legally got him into trouble. It was not telling the truth to Congress while under oath that gave the Republicans grounds to publicly pillory him until Al Gore felt he had to run away from Clinton’s “dishonor”. Had Clinton, instead of wagging his finger and lying on day one said; “My personal life is none of your business”. And had Gore said not just that he didn’t approve of Clinton’s personal behavior, but that is was also really none of the Congress’ business. And then he added that Clinton was still a hell of a good president who gave America eight great years and he was proud to be his Vice President; he wouldn’t have had to win the election and then lose to the Republican Supreme Court. Had Gore made a strong point in separating Clinton’s personal foolishness from his public performance; he could have saved this country most of the grief that was a result of the Bush presidency.
When it come to a public official’s personal corruption, that’s a whole other matter. While the American people can identify with drinking or “stepping out”; stealing by public officials is a real and huge No-No. From Dan Rostenkowski to Tom Delay and many others of both parties, political corruption is exceedingly abhorred by the American people; at least when we can see it is pretty incontrovertibly true. We justifiably hate it when it can be proved that politicians are either stealing our money directly (rare) or getting paid to pass legislation to allow a few individuals or corporations to steal our money (common). And as we become more aware of the ubiquitous nature of this corruption; the less we are going to tolerate it.
But when it comes to personal behavior, like sex, smoking or drinking, that for the rest of us are, between us, our God (if we believe) and our families (if we have one); is it really anybody’s business? And more importantly does it in anyway bear on a person’s ability to serve the public well and honestly? Presidents FDR and JFK both had relationships outside their marriage. Yet both are considered great Presidents (except by a few unreconstructed Dixiecrats and such). Presidents Nixon and Carter were by all accounts completely faithful spouses. And both are considered poor, if not, bad Presidents (albeit for different reasons) by most Americans. There appears to be no direct correlation between being a person without common moral flaws and one who is capable of being a good or even great political leader and visa versa. So other than our prurient curiosity; why do we care about what goes on behind their closed doors? And more importantly since it has little or no relationship to a politician’s ability to do his job well; is it any of our business or do we really have any right to know what goes on there?
As long as it is legal and consensual, we should pay a lot less attention to a public figure’s personal life and a lot more attention to the way they behave behind the closed doors of the cloak room. Their relationships with lobbyist, while stone cold sober with all their clothes on; is much more dangerous to our lives and treasure than anything they do at bars or in bedrooms at home or on the road. It is the legal private “access” meetings of special interest by individual or multinational corporate “citizens” where they ply public officials with the legal bribes of campaign contributions to pass or eliminate laws for the advantage of the bribing entity that is the true threat to the American people. If whatever the corruptors want done was fair, moral and in the best interest of the American people; they wouldn’t have to bribe anybody in secret to get it done. We would all support something that worked for all of us. It is because the profit enabling nature of legislation the corruptor wants passed or eliminated is not in or is outright against the best interest of the American people that the bribes are necessary. A couple of drinks too many or an illicit affair by a politician doesn’t actually cost any of us a penny. But a toast at a Country Club fundraiser, or handshake at a private meeting or a kiss on the cheek on a yacht, may cost all of us uncountable billions.