Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cain, Thou Dost Protest in Vain

Give it up, Herman Cain.

BEEEP! "Thank you for being on our show. We have some lovely parting gifts for you from our sponsors as you leave. Goodbye."

What is it with male power brokers who apparently are competent enough to run for president, but whose moral memory is so faulty?

Cain is stumbling and bumbling all over revelations that he was accused of sexually harassing female subordinates back in the 1990's.  He's making the story even worse by either feigning forgetfulness over the incidents, or trying hard to pretend that they didn't happen.  For a while, he wouldn't even admit to there being two incidents.

Either way, what should have been a blip on the political radar has turned into a fiasco for Cain's campaign.  And yes, you can blame the press for hounding him, but it's all Cain's fault for letting it blow up like it has.

It's not the Questions, it's Cain's Answers

Think about it: is not remembering being accused of sexual harassment once - let alone twice - a trait you'd want in your president?  It took several interviews for him to concede that, oh yeah, now he remembered what the press had found out.

Either it suggests that his view of the opposite sex is one of triviality and inconsequence, or that he's skated on such thin ethical ice privately for so long that all of the near-misses have congealed into one blur in his mind.

Frankly, considering the history of sexual exploits of former presidents, the incident of which Cain has finally admitted to being accused is relatively tame stuff, isn't it? Something about crass jokes and innocent gestures misinterpreted by a potentially disgruntled employee. Hardly anything over which the press would have salivated if, at the beginning of his campaign, Cain had simply warned the media he had some baggage in his past that had never been proven. I mean, we've all got baggage, and it doesn't sound like Cain's was anything salaciously extraordinary.

But Cain could still have been viewed as being insensitive towards women, even with the mellow circumstances surrounding the past.  So if he considers himself a respectable sort of person, having an incident which ended up involving lawyers should have touched his psyche in a significant way.  At least enough to remember some details before the second reporter asked the same question.

Granted, lots of things happen in business these days that involve lawyers, but reaching an out-of-court settlement incorporating a gag order isn't just an innocent misunderstanding, is it? And if Cain was genuinely, completely innocent, shouldn't he also have been insulted enough to remember the episode? Not for vengeful purposes, of course, but out of ordinary personal integrity?

Wouldn't you remember if somebody's lawyer accused you of sexual harassment, and you were innocent?

I would like to think Cain used that incident as a teachable moment for himself, even if he was completely innocent. For example, were there things he could have done differently to avoid even being accused? Were there attitudes about women he needed to refine in order to be more gallant towards them in the future? Good grief - even if his accusers were lying through their teeth, did they have character traits he should learn to spot in the future so he could avoid people like them?

Interestingly, it's not the accusations that are rapidly tarnishing his reputation anyway, but his constant revisions of the events, almost as if his lawyers doing damage control in the background are trying different word choices to see if something will stick.

Doomed to Repeat History?

What is it with these guys - and they're almost all guys - who think they can spin their way out of perceived problems? Because obviously, Cain and his advisers thought the allegations would be worse than their sloppy contrivances at covering them up. Watch any video on Cain's increasingly dubious explanations, and you can virtually watch his presidential chances withering in front of your eyes.

Despite some right-wingers desperate flurry of support for his campaign.  And Tea Partiers dragging out their reliable - if inaccurate - rant of media witch hunting.

Unfortunately, this whole episode brings us back to our society's repressive tendency to view women as sexual objects. Women know it's an easy way to score revenge points regardless of whether sexual harassment has taken place. And men usually try to pretend all claims of sexual harassment are undeserved or overblown, which ends up marginalizing all women and perpetuating sexist stereotypes for both genders. Meanwhile, the legitimate instances of sexual harassment get that much harder to recognize and punish.

If either of the women who've accused Cain were your own daughter, would you treat this situation differently than you're doing now? What if the man accused of sexual harassment was your son? Somewhere in these allegations, a real victim exists; either the accuser, or the accused. And either way, its a sad state of affairs - pardon the pun - in which to be.  Especially now, since the drama has moved beyond the events in the 1990's to Cain's obfuscations today.

Remember, it's not the charges of sexual harassment, but his responses to those charges.  Still, he's not the only player in this story who needs to establish some credibility.  It will be interesting to see if either of - and how - his accusers do what needs to be done to get out from under the settlement-imposed gag orders.  Will they have to return any of the settlement money?  If their claims were as heinous as the settlements insinuate, should they have ever signed a settlement at all, and pursued the cases in the courts as far as possible?  What if some opponent of Cain's pays back to the women whatever amount they are forced to return, making this an even bigger cash cow for them in the long run?

Sheesh - what a mess.  Even if some conservatives don't want to admit it.  A mess that bears a striking resemblance to the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill debacle, which should have taught Cain a lesson about having a target on his back as a powerful and charismatic leader.  It's also a mess that most likely could have been avoided if Cain had been straight and honest about the situation even before the press caught wind of it.  Especially if he was completely innocent of the allegations.  After all, shouldn't politicians by now have learned that you never want to allow the press to feel like they've uncovered a story?  Telling something new to the press is far easier than having the press ask you about it.

Plenty of his supporters are encouraging him to stay in contention for the presidential nomination and not let the press win this battle.  But it's not the press's battle to win or lose; it's Cain's.  And since he apparently hasn't recognized that yet, might that be enough proof that he's not who we want in the Oval Office?

Shouldn't character still count - whether one's guilty, or accused despite being innocent?

How long can we keep playing this game?
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