‘Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here,” is the placard that Herman Cain must have read last week when he descended into the Sexual Harassment Inferno, from which he has not yet emerged.
I thought it was only a matter of when, not whether, Gloria Allred, the leftwing billboard lawyer, would show up at a press conference with more “evidence” of Cain’s “serial” transgressions against the meek and defenseless of yesteryear. All the usual Allred landmarks were there: her crass quip, “stimulus package”; the “no-questions” evasion of cross-examination; the long-distant, heretofore-dormant act of harassment some 14 years in the past, whose graphic details were not shared at the time even with close friends, but are now oddly to be disclosed to 300 million.
As of now, Cain has confessed only to expressing admiration for a female worker’s height, as best he can remember that remark and perhaps others some years back. Most establishment conservatives — perhaps mindful of the fates of Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle — don’t necessarily disbelieve Cain but do feel that four or five “victims” are too many and that Cain’s responses are too sloppy. He thus should confess at least to a married roving eye, or perhaps even leave the race — and thereby ensure that a Ross Perot–like tea-party candidate without any political experience won’t blow an otherwise good Republican chance to unseat Barack Obama.
Cain’s supporters bewail the unfairness of it all — the three previous anonymous accusers, the fourth identified when coaxed by Gloria Allred, a fifth, and who knows how many more, who years later suddenly feel pangs of conscience — as they reckon up the relative media uninterest in sex-poodle Al Gore, the serial wenching of Bill Clinton, or Eliot Spitzer’s prostituting — not to mention the fact that the National Enquirer was alone in breaking the John Edwards love-child story. All that is in antithesis to the supposed sex talk of Clarence Thomas, Donna Brazile’s demand for George H. W. Bush to “’fess up” about a supposed affair, or the rumors that were floated about Dan Quayle, who supposedly had danced “extremely close and suggestively” with a Washington lobbyist. As John McCain closed in on Barack Obama in 2008, the media floated rumors of his purported affair with a Washington insider — in contrast to their lack of interest in just how much cocaine Barack Obama had really admitted to using or how exactly he had gone from Occidental to Columbia to Harvard Law School, or how patently untrue were his characterizations of his relationship with Bill Ayers.
Both supporters and detractors agree that Cain should know by now that alleged misdemeanors by Republican frontrunners are always more serious than known transgressions by Democratic rivals. All true — and all irrelevant in the age of liberal indulgence and exemption where noble ends sometimes must justify tawdry means. Yet it is not quite clear whether Cain is supposedly guilty of attempted, fantasized, or foiled womanizing of the sort that Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich have confessed to actualizing. Or is he just a little creepy, in the manner of Al Gore and his masseuses, or the late Strom Thurmond and his wandering hands, or the late Ted Kennedy and his late-hours frolicking?
Note there is no exemption for Cain even though the charges date from over a decade ago, and even though Cain in the interval was given a 30 percent chance of survival from stage-IV metastasized colon cancer. Cain’s opponents in the media (and perhaps in other campaigns) either wish to portray him as a serial harasser and clumsy denier, or to keep him so busy denying that he has no time to campaign — or both. For Cain, who at first seemed blindsided and defensive, the hysteria must seem like yet another round of toxic chemotherapy. Oddly, so far no African American spokesman has stepped forward to “contextualize” the charges in the long history of sexually charged stereotyped slurs about supposedly undisciplined ascendant black males.
Cain, who has not as of yet actually been accused of engaging in sexual intercourse with a female subordinate, finds himself in the “sexual harassment” labyrinth, from which there are few paths out in the present era. The idea of “sexual harassment” started out as a noble enough effort to stop the proverbial casting couch — to stop mostly older men in positions of power from coercing younger women to acquiesce in sex in return for, at worst, keeping their job, or, at best, getting a promotion. One then wonders why Ms. Bialek did not simply lodge just such a complaint against Cain 14 years ago — since his supposed efforts to force himself on her would clearly have been a violation of her person, a criminal assault well beyond sexual harassment.