It didn’t take long for the vultures who circle the fields of American politics to pounce on Herman Cain, with undocumented allegations that are drawn right from the playbook of dirty tricks. Clearly, if Cain was not perceived as a threat and a viable candidate, he would not merit such attention. And while attention for the leak has focused on the Rick Perry campaign (the old “staffer” leak), no one knows the provenance of the initial information – perhaps even from another campaign or even another party.
Two questions present: what if the allegations are false? And what if the allegations are true?
To date, the anonymous accusations boil down to what, at worse, is boorishness, and at best, a lack of chivalry. Even for the sexual harassment industry – and it is an industry – this is quite tame. Every decent person can recognize that unwanted physical contact between a male and a female is, and should be, a crime, and that persistent verbal harassment – pathetic attempts at humor or seduction – should be actionable. One can even subscribe to the notion that a “hostile work environment” can be created that justifies the involvement of the justice system.
But a one-time joke, or a spurned offer of romance, neither of which affects job performance, promotions, salaries or standing? It is easy to see why those are distasteful and objectionable, but much harder to see how the courts and lawyers should be involved. Attorneys are quite familiar with two notions – nuisance settlements and deep pockets – that are both inducements to litigation. For most cases and clients, especially when the allegations are mild and certainly when they are false but relatively innocuous, it is fiscally prudent to just settle for a small amount of money than to litigate – and even prevail – while paying a much greater amount in legal fees. It is just more cost effective to settle. (Back in the day, I represented a number of people who were innocent but pleaded guilty to non-criminal offenses and paid a fine, rather than pay a substantial amount to a lawyer – to wit: me – to defend them to the great moral victory. It simply made no sense to miss endless days of work and pay legal fees when the stakes were not that great.) A similar dynamic occurs in negligence cases, where insurance companies routinely settle “nuisance” claims when the cost of litigation is excessive. It is sad that the system works like that, but it does.
And businesses, like insurance companies, usually have deep pockets, which is the reason that they are sued for idle comments that bear a randy message and not your average construction worker whose random comments are far more lascivious but who lacks money to pay.
Fabricated sexual harassment claims in the business world are as common as fabricated sexual molestation charges are in divorce cases. They both have the advantage that the accusation is tantamount to a conviction, and the accused bears a presumption of guilt, not innocence. They are powerful weapons to wield, and the only inhibition is decency, a quality that is not as widely dispersed across society as we would like. An aggrieved spouse, like a disgruntled employee, can fire this arrow, and once it crosses the barest threshold of credibility – i.e., the accuser is not a raving lunatic – the accusations must be dealt with, defended, depositions taken, trials held or, most likely, settlements reached.
These Cain cases, settled as they were for incredibly small sums, fit this pattern well, with one additional wrinkle. The settlements are always accompanied by non-disclosure clauses, binding each side to silence. That is the point of the money – to make the case go away. It is therefore fascinating that allegedly, one of the alleged victims, has now offered to tell her story publicly, which she should, once she returns the money, with interest, to the National Restaurant Association that paid her.
All of the above assumes that the charges and claims are frivolous. What if they are not – what if each allegation is true and Cain is guilty of…we know not what but it certainly made some women “uncomfortable”?
I am not sure it means much of anything, although the sordid events tell their own side story. Clearly, a double standard exists in politics, wherein Republicans and conservatives are judged harshly for this type of misconduct, and Democrats and liberals are given a pass. Two words suffice, Bill Clinton, but some elaboration is necessary. Today’s news reported that the first three days of the Cain business generated some 50 stories from the major networks compared to just seven stories, total, for candidate Clinton’s three crude accounts in 1992 in their first three days. And Clinton’s accusers had names and faces. Senator Bob Packwood (R) was driven from the Senate because of his uncontrollable kissing disease; Senator Ted Kennedy (D) was re-elected to the Senate numerous times, and became a presidential candidate, after leaving a woman in his car to die, or something worse than that.
Of course, I don’t really mind the double standard, except when the accusers carve out an exemption for themselves. Then, their pursuit of moral excellence is expedient and hypocritical. And it is good to know that the accusations presuppose some moral norms, whose violation triggers some reaction. But it is still phony. Anyone can be sued for anything, and the story remains, even if dismissed, certainly if settled. There is no harm in suing, because in America, the loser is rarely assessed the costs of the other side, as is common in the rest of the world.
Assuming there was no physical contact, no groping, no intimidation, and no serial harassment – as the facts that have emerged to date reveal – then do these allegations (making some women “uncomfortable”) disqualify Herman Cain from the presidency ? It is hard to see why. This whole narrative challenges many of the feminist shibboleths, especially the equality of men and women. “Equal” is a poor term; men and women are different, not equal. One would laugh, out loud, at a man who claimed to be offended (and sued) because someone made him “uncomfortable.” In a normal world, whoever doesn’t like a joke, is allowed to say “that is not funny” and walk away, and whoever is crudely asked to a hotel room by a man not her husband is allowed to say, “Not if you were the last man on earth.” Those putdowns should end the discussion, and if there are no further consequences, should never give rise to litigation. That, of course, is in a normal world.
Our word is not normal, is exceedingly litigious, and many Americans have used lawsuits to enrich themselves or shield themselves from the consequences of their own actions. For example, an employee about to be fired can inoculate himself (or herself) from termination by making the appropriate charges. At worst, you can buy yourself a nice severance package and save your pride. It happens.
That is not to say that one’s private life should be off-limits when running for a public position. One’s private life often sheds light on one’s values and true personality. Those who discounted, for example, Bill Clinton’s cheatin’-lyin’ ways behind closed doors should not be surprised that he outright lied to PM Netanyahu (first term) when he promised Netanyahu that if he came to Wye and an agreement was reached, he could take Jonathan Pollard back with him to Israel. Clinton simply lied (this, first-hand knowledge, from a participant at Wye). A lying private life eventually maneuvers its way into one’s public dealings as well. And Clinton remains quite popular.
It is sad, but you could see this coming a mile away. It is one reason why many people – sensible people – eschew politics altogether. Because so much money and power is at stake, it often attracts people with character issues, and attacks from others with even greater character flaws. Cain has revealed himself to be, at best, a prudent businessman in settling and disposing these claims, and at worst, a lout, if not just a typical man. The first is his main qualification for the presidency, and the second is not at all a disqualification. The anti-Cain forces have come alive; but if he is to fail in his quest, let it be for his policies and experience, not for these piffles.
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