Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cain Proves Why Ethics Still Matter

He could have held out for Vice President.

Granted, nobody who embarks upon a campaign for United States President has their sights on landing the Number Two spot on the ticket.

But Herman Cain could have gone a lot farther in his campaign than where he'll likely end up:  in the dump.

Earlier this week, yet another woman came forward with claims of sexual promiscuity on Cain's part; this time, in the form of a 13-year extramarital affair.  This latest accuser says she's publicizing her story now because a third party threatened to go public with their secret.  Cain's alleged mistress would have us believe that she has nothing to gain by broadcasting her identity as a woman whose repute is beyond something I care to publish on my blog.  And she's probably right.  If not about the former, then at least about the latter.

By now, however, the she-said he-said in Cain's campaign has become a mute point.  Despite his desperate whining that political foes are sabotaging his campaign, does it matter anymore if Cain is right or not?  Haven't too many women come forward, ostensibly putting their own self-respect on the line, for some thread of truth to not exist between their accusations?  For his part, simply denying they're all liars doesn't work when you're running for an elected office as prestigious as President of the United States.

Cain apparently hasn't been able to come up with any proof of his innocence.  He hasn't furnished any evidence that might shed the faintest of credibility on his strenuous denials.  Nor has his wife characterized the typical spouse who's as clueless as Cain claims to be about all these claims.  Unless she's been a complete and utter basket case behind closed doors, his wife has been remarkably stoic to apparently endure these allegations against her husband and her marriage with only the quiet chagrin she's displayed.  Or maybe she's simply tired of yet another rumor to add to what she's already managed to learn about her husband's skirt-chasing.  Whether any of that, over the years, has been proven false or not.

And why Herman Cain anyway?  Suppose he's right that his political enemies are out for blood.  Why attack the first black Republican to successfully mount a presidential campaign?  If it was racism, aren't there more subtle ways to do it?  After all, the Republican Party isn't exactly colorblind, but it's not stupid, either.  He-said she-said dilemmas always leave the door open for skepticism, whereas to destroy somebody's political career, and commit the deceit and fraud to do it, wouldn't you want something far more fool-proof and decisive than some women claiming marital infidelity?

Undoubtedly, with his blunt style and unconventional pedigree - a conservative black pizza king from Atlanta? - he not the favorite of the Republican elite.  At least, not to head the ticket against Barack Obama.

But he might have been a useful Veep choice, considering how many suburban middle-class blacks are becoming disillusioned with liberal Democratic policies, and the fact that Cain is enough of a political outsider to attract the Tea Party vote.

The Allegations Aren't Cain's Main Problem

Alas, we'll never know whether any of this could have been.  Because as I pointed out early on when the first of these accusations surfaced, Cain blew his chance at salvaging any credibility in this race.

It was not his denial of the sexual abuse claims that initially tripped his campaign.  It wasn't even the credibility of the women who were making the claims.  It was Cain himself, who, upon first hearing reporters questions him on the allegations, pretended to never have been accused.

That charade, more than any of the allegations, made everything else he said unreliable.

As the press kept wheedling away at him, Cain finally recalled that yes, there'd been some accusations, but one of them had been settled out of court.  Unfortunately, that was too little, too late - even if it was true.

It should be Ethics 101.  What Cain should have done was, upon initially announcing his candidacy for President, cut the media off at the pass by bluntly and plainly informing them that yes, in his past, there were two women who had misinterpreted some of his gestures and folksiness, and some lawyers had to come in and sort things out.  No, he'd never had sex with any of them; no, he'd never wanted to have sex with any of them; they were just honest mistakes on his part, being a friendly, sincere, fun-loving kinda guy.

If the media had sat there during his press conference and heard him aw-shucks his version of those events, they would have been deprived of any malicious ammunition that Cain has since accused them of wielding. As I've said before, you never want to leave something for the media to find later on.  If they discover anything like a secret past, particularly if it involved sex, it's like giving candy to ADHD kids.  Especially if you are innocent of the charges that could be used to malign your integrity.

But Cain didn't do that.  He apparently hoped none of this would come out in the wash, that somehow even being accused of something he never did would never come up during the world's most closely-watched political race.

In fact, that's why Cain isn't presidential material.  He didn't take the race seriously enough to consider what the press wants to cover in the 21st Century.  People don't really care that you managed to salvage  Godfather's Pizza.  Most of them probably don't really even care that you're black.  Voters want integrity, now so more than ever.  But they love even the hint of scandal.  Yet by admitting any past indiscretions, if there were any, and any claims of abuse, even they were false, that hint of a scandal would have hung in the public's consciousness for about three seconds.  Until the next politician made a far more public blunder, like Rick Perry's been doing for weeks now.

Cain could have neutered the press and even his campaign rivals if he'd just told the truth from the beginning.  If either the press or his political rivals brought up the subject, he would be in the position to simply admonish them with "I've already told you that."  And that would have been that.

Yet Another Teachable Moment in Politics

Please understand:  This is not an exercise in kicking a guy when he's down, or playing an easy blame game.  Whether he'd guilty of the sexual allegations against him is one thing.  But Cain is incontrovertibly guilty of not manning-up to things he's been accused of, and not allowing those things to be dealt with honestly and fairly as he embarks on a mission of this magnitude.  He's certainly not had the guts to take the offensive.  Marital infidelity is one thing, but pretending it never took place when pointedly asked about it only makes things worse.  Especially if you're innocent of the original charges.  Why is that so hard for many people to see?

Perhaps it's because personal ethics have become such a muddled thing these days.  People assume ethics are more subjective than objective, so they try and pick and choose those errors or sins that are worse than others.  Forgetting, of course, that all sin is evil in God's eyes.

The voting public may be more gracious than public figures assume they'd be to a person who admits remorsefully to certain sins and indiscretions.  Even our legal code views such things as lying under oath about sexual infidelity more grievous than the infidelity itself.  But it's all equal to God.  Equally bad.

So when we insist on pretending that some things are worse than others, especially if we have skeletons in our closets, and particularly if we're vying for a public office that we know will be excruciatingly scrutinized, trying to be open and honest about it all might be a good step in righting any wrongs we might have done, or further taking ownership of our own innocence.

True, you still might not get the top job.  But you won't automatically disqualify yourself from the next best thing.

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