You knew it was just a matter of minutes before a sex scandal would erupt with one or another presidential candidate. Personally, I was betting it would be Michelle Bachmann and/or her husband. So much self-righteousness is usually a mask to hide some skeleton in the closet. But no, it was Pizza Dude Herman Cain. Though many of the first responders on Arena’s commentator bench say Cain is toast, I’m not so sure. Read on and tell me what you think…
Arena Asks: POLITICO reports exclusively that during Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by him. The women signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. How damaging are these revelations to Cain’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination?
My Answer: These allegations aren’t an automatic KO but they are big and they are damaging. How Cain comports himself in the aftermath will determine whether he remains a viable candidate or becomes cold pizza. So far, not so good.
This month is the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment by then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. A comparison to those events might shed light on what this might mean for Cain.
One needs only to take a look at the video of those 1991 hearings to see:
- An all-male Senate judiciary committee circling the wagons to disparage Anita Hill. It was a blatant exhibition of male privilege without any grounding in a search for truth. Cain’s angry reaction is stunningly similar.
- The committee chair (a fellow named Joe Biden) rushed the vote on Thomas, denying several other women’s requests to testify about their own allegations that Thomas sexually harassed them. This enraged rank-and file women who were riveted to the television. The fact that the women who spoke up were paid to shut up and leave in Cain’s case does not bode well for him.
- A furious Thomas responded much as Cain has done by puffing up. getting defensive, and bristling against the allegations rather than calmly empathizing with women who have been sexually harassed and demonstrating his personal knowledge about appropriate conduct. They protest too much.
In 1991, when the Mad Men-esque corporate culture was still prevalent, sexual harassment was “just the way things are.” Today, any woman’s (or man’s for that matter) claims of sexual harassment or impropriety must be taken seriously. We have recently seen a hotel maid’s allegations force one of the most powerful men in the world to resign his office, for even though the case was ultimately dropped, DSK had to acknowledge a pattern of sexual aggressiveness that shocked even his native France.
Many people will rightly point out that Bill Clinton engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct. But he’s not running for president right now; Cain is. And given that Cain is already vulnerable to challenges on the substance of his readiness to be president, his candidacy can’t possibly survive if his character is called into question as well.
Biden redeemed himself by becoming the prime sponsor and very public champion of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Cain doesn’t have three days, let alone three years to accomplish a visible agenda of that magnitude. We’ll see very soon whether he can turn this around. No doubt Mitt Romney is watching gleefully.
Here’s the link to my original post on Politico…