The enduring image of Herman Cain’s campaign may have been provided by a woman’s account of what allegedly happened in a car in 1997. Her response to Cain’s advances, repeated constantly for a few days by our insatiable media, was a snapshot of our confused culture, in which supposedly liberated women send ridiculously inconsistent signals to men. The obvious question: If she hadn’t had a boyfriend, would a grope in a car be acceptable — even welcome? As sexual-revolution nemesis Mona Charen tweeted while watching feminist attorney Gloria Allred stand by the woman’s side as she made her accusation, wouldn’t the proper response have been, “Back off, you creep!”?
The alleged encounter says a lot about what a mess we’ve made of the relationship between men and women. Mars and Venus are having an identity crisis; they should be complementary, but are now too often hostile. As much in need of the connections of nature and tradition as ever, they are now independent and individualistic. Knowing there are differences, but beguiled by decades of lies about balancing the uneven biological playing field.
Cain may be guilty as charged, or he may be an innocent man wronged by politics and the media. Either way, his story is a cautionary tale for every man with a ring on his finger and time on his hands. And for every woman in the same situation.
Cain has admitted to having what appears to have been at least an emotionally intimate relationship with a woman who was not his wife, and of whom his wife was not aware. Alarm bells should go off here.
Nancy and David French write honestly in their book Home and Away about the strains placed on a marriage when husband and wife are apart — and particularly when the man is in a war zone 8,000 miles away. David heartbreakingly recounts: “Men were coming home on leave to find their wives gone from their houses. Other men were getting the modern equivalent of the ‘Dear John’ letter via Facebook message or e-mail. Some guys discovered wives or girlfriends were pregnant, and still others were finding that their bank accounts had been looted by the very people they most trusted with their financial affairs.”
Before David left for Iraq, he and Nancy put together rules, in a painfully honest conversation about human frailty. There would be no drinking during the year of separation. Nancy would not “have phone conversations with men, or meaningful e-mail exchanges about politics or any other subject.” Nor would she be on Facebook, where “the ghosts of boyfriends past” could contact her. When Nancy innocently started e-mailing about faith with a man associated with a radio show she was on, she told David about it, and he asked her to end the relationship. David knew, with his “stomach clenching,” that “the most intimate conversations a person has are about life and faith” — and that “spiritual and emotional intimacy frequently leads to physical intimacy.”
Separations don’t come only in the army, of course. Business, and politics, frequently require such sacrifices. Washington, D.C., is a city where married individuals — many of them with spouses many states away — frequently find themselves at receptions where temptations can arise. Rules come in handy if we value our vows.
One congressional wife says emphatically: “Receptions are a danger zone. Members need to quickly learn that attending receptions is optional, and there are very few they actually need to attend. Members need to learn where to buy quick meals and how to use the microwave. Receptions should not be viewed as the place to get dinner. Married Members should avoid alcohol use in public and private conversations with single women. Do not give out or request private contact info. Staff can handle legitimate requests. Talk about the wife and kids to any and all women!”
She tells the story of her husband as a freshman member of Congress noticing the friendliness of young women on the Hill. And so she recommended that he spend a day without his congressional pin. Sure enough, there went the hospitality. She advises: “Learn to live without the congressional pin! After the first few months, Capitol Police and staff recognize members by face. Ditch the pin except for rare occasions and experience life on the Hill as an ordinary Bob and not part of a privileged class. What a difference a pin makes!”
What a difference little cautions make. I know married men who won’t have lunch alone with women who are not their wives, won’t take a cab alone with them, won’t close the office door during the most professional of conversations. It’s not just about temptation; it’s also about appearances. It’s a policy with added benefits, too: “It helps to insulate me against a false accusation by a woman,” Mark DeMoss, author of The Little Red Book of Wisdom, has told me. “If I fired a female employee and she leveled charges of inappropriate advances toward her,” he explains by way of example, “I would have an office full of women backing me and calling her a liar. I like that kind of protection. Yes, this is arguably overcautious, but no, I don’t think it’s silly. My wife appreciates it, and my employees respect it.”
Is all this overkill? Or perhaps an extreme but justified backlash to a culture whose mores have gone chaotic, a society that could use a little order and some higher expectations and standards?
In the 1980s, George Gilder wrote, in his book Men and Marriage: “Unless very securely married, virtually any man will sleep with any attractive young woman. . . . In Washington the liberated princess can sleep with senators.” Though some of the “liberated princesses” have become politicians and powerful players themselves in the more than two decades since Gilder wrote that, the Cain story reminds us that our fallen nature remains, with decades of cultural confusion compounding the chaos. If you doubt that, just pick up The Atlantic.
Good marriages are economic, educational, and psychological blessings for children. For men and women, too, and for the culture. We are disappointed when it seems that someone like Cain is not the man we had thought him. We like the fact that Mitt and Ann have been married for 42 years. We seem to value marriage. So let’s actually value it. Let’s have some rules. And show the kids how to do it.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.