Monday, October 31, 2011

Cain Accusations Not Uncommon

As a means of introduction, I enjoy sharing this story. Anytime a politician ran into a scandal, or at least ran into strong allegations, my mother had a particularly helpful piece of wisdom to share. “All politicians will eventually hang themselves,” she said, “provided they are given enough rope.” For all of our cries of unfair character attacks and enemies with an destructive agenda, we are usually our own worst enemy. Should Herman Cain be guilty of sexual harassment, one wonders why he had the hubris to believe that the story would not break eventually. The timing is interesting. What has been uncovered so far has been brought to the full attention of the public on Monday morning, having all the markings of a major story in the process of development.

In campaigns, bad news is usually strategically dumped in a quiet fashion, late on Friday evenings or at other times where public and media focus is much less prominent. Smart candidates will come clean with all potentially damaging news to their handlers well before they even contemplate running. That way, they’re in charge of the pace and the framing of any and all potentially toxic allegations. Barack Obama’s election owes itself in part to skillful pre-emptive admissions, especially those regarding substance abuse in his first book, Dreams from My Father, and in his dealing with shady businessman Tony Rezko. The most notable example where the campaign failed to adequately prepare damage control occurred with the Jeremiah Wright flap. Obama was blindsided by his pastor’s incendiary statements, and the damage was severe enough that it could have cost him the Democratic nomination.

Those who have never been fully able to take Cain seriously now have even more reason to doubt. His discipline, nor his rhetoric on the stump hasn't been especially polished, which to some gives him everyman cred. In a weak GOP field, Republican voters have had to take what they could get. If the wheels are about to come off of the bus eventually, I suppose now is as good a time as any. Though I am a Democrat, I genuinely would prefer the opposition party's candidate to be well-spoken and at least slightly polished. A competitive race, I firmly believe, only makes both sides stronger and sharpens the sensibilities of whomever will win approximately one year from today.

Cain evidently has strong allies in the business community, allies who have proclaimed his innocence and denied the basis of these charges. In reading the original Politico article, it is clear that this story has been in development for a long while. That by itself often indicates that the sordid matter has legs and that more information is forthcoming. The candidate has not yet put forth a formal denial, but has tried to put a separate spin on these expensive payoffs in exchange for silence. Cain’s anger is understandable, but he must nonetheless accept that front-runner status means that every aspect of his past is now up for scrutiny and public review. Should he have other skeletons in the closet, now would be the time to exorcise them.

A particularly prominent part of me would like to explore the issue through the eyes of the women who accepted what appears to be hush money. Did they take these payoffs voluntarily? Were their arms twisted through intimidation, coercion, or legal means? Up until now, particulars have not been provided. My own specific allegiance makes me inclined to believe Cain less, and those who alleged sexual harassment more. Until then, I’m caught between wanting to extend the benefit of the doubt for the sake of fairness and recognizing how common it is to silence women’s voices in such circumstances.

An particular leitmotif that keeps turning up like a bad penny is that of men in high positions of authority crossing appropriate sexual boundaries with impunity. Having been caught red handed, they try to stonewall and deny their way out of a problem of their own creation. I can think of ten separate recent instances off the top of my head. A portion of the current controversy regarding economic inequality proclaims that some men with ample financial means believe that they are bulletproof and above the law. If we are able to take that matter on, removing for a moment any sort of political label or ideological identification, we would at least have scratched the surface. And if we can speak out about the 1%, we can include men who evade the consequences of their actions as a result of their wealth.

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