Monday, November 7, 2011

Herman Cain: Sexual harassment allegations threaten to derail presidential prospects

Recently, sexual harassment allegations surrounding Herman Cain, a top contender for the Republican Party nomination, have dominated the news headlines. Several women have come forward to discuss what they allege were unwanted sexual advances made by Herman Cain during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in the 1990s. Thus far, Cain has fiercely denied such allegations, stating that he did nothing improper with any of his female employees. These bombshell allegations are significant in that they have the potential to torpedo Cain's presidential campaign and this at a time when he is regarded as a front-runner for the Republican Party nomination, alongside Mitt Romney.

Before discussing the signficance of these developments, let's go a little bit further into the actual substance of the allegations made. Just today, Nov. 7, a fourth accuser came forward to offer detailed information about what allegedly transpired between her and Cain during his tenure as head of the NRA. The fourth woman is Sharon Bailek, who appeared today at a press conference alongside her attorney, the well-known Gloria Allred. She stated that she had recently been laid off from the NRA's education fund and had come to Cain looking for a new job.

She and Cain had dinner together and then she describes what took place afterwards. According to the yahoo news article; "After dinner, the two were sitting in his car when she claimed he 'suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals" and moved her head towards his crotch." She stated that she was shocked by Cain's behavior and told him "This is not what I came for." Cain replied, "You want a job, right?" He did, however, stop when asked to and he drove her back to her hotel. She says that she did not report the incident at the time, partly because she was embarssed.

The circumstances surrounding this fourth sexual harassment allegation may be in dispute, with Cain's campaign dismissing it as untrue, but it will undoubtedly further damage his nomination prospects. Even prior to this latest revelation, Cain's poll numbers had slipped after the earlier sexual harassment claims were made. This latest allegation is the first involving claims of actual touching, as opposed to simply using inappropriate language, and could potentially be the last straw that breaks Cain's presidential campaign prospects. Even many Republicans have begun to criticize Cain for not responding adequately to such charges of sexual harassment and again, this was prior to this charge of inappropriate touching.

These developments remind many of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings 20 years ago, which I covered in my last blog. That event also involved a rising star, who was being vetted to assume a place on the highest judicial body in the land. Here, Cain, who has never held political office, is seeking to assume the position of chief executive officer of the United States. Like in the Thomas-Hill hearings, this event involves a Black conservative who is accused of inappropriate sexual behavior towards women. Clarence Thomas, in response to Anita Hill's claims, famously referred to his treatment as a "high-tech lynching." Supporters of Cain responded in kind, putting out an ad that, among other things, quoted Rush Limbaugh as calling the recent accusations a "racial charged attack." Limbaugh is further quoted as saying; "What is known as the mainstream media goes for the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative."

It will be interesting to see how this scandal plays out and whether, as is very likely, it will ultimately destroy Cain's nomination prospects. It goes without saying that in any situation such as this, we must give the one who is accused the benefit of the doubt in the absence of any hard evidence that can somehow substantiate the charges made. This would certainly be the case if it was simply the word of one person against the other. Here, however, we have (thus far) four women who are making very similar accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct. Even for the most skeptical of those among us, it is very difficult to believe that all four women could be lying so blatantly, as Cain's campaign is suggesting. Whatever the truth is, it looks as if Cain's troubles, rather than subsiding, will only get worse from here on.


Rose Sawyer said...
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Caitlin said...

Thanks for posting about this scandal, Alejandro. I think that it is so interesting that so many conservatives are dismissing these allegations as untrue. While they are similar in tone to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas scandal 20 years ago, I think that they are also different. While Anita Hill was only one woman, we have four (and perhaps, more) coming forward. Additionally, Cain is candidate for President in a hotly contested race, not a single nominee for a lifetime tenure position.

What I think is most interesting is how dismissive the party seems to be of these numerous allegations. In elections, allegations of all sorts of things from candidates pasts come up. Who can forget "Niggergate," Rick Perry's so-called Texas Ranch, which surfaced a month ago? What is most troubling, however, is that unlike other scandalous news, the Republican party has largely been unaffected and Cain's numbers continue to soar.

Women are indeed treated differently in politics in this country. Men are given the presumption of innocence, and deeds that are downright disgusting and sexist are overlooked. Something is wrong with us as a society if we are willing to overlook such behavior when we choose our highest executive officer in the land.

I hope that Cain's past conduct is not overlooked by voters when primaries begin in January.