If the Charges Are True, They’re Serious

It’s a rare day when Don Imus is the sanest commentator on the right side of the talk radio/blogosphere. But among the ones I listen to and read, he alone did not waste a lot of indignation on the dubious reporting and problematic lack of visible accusers in the Herman Cain sexual-harassment controversy. He wanted to talk about what it meant if true.

It’s worth thinking about what it would mean if Herman Cain did serially troll for sex among the young women and junior employees at the National Restaurant Association when he headed it. What if he pressured and wheedled and promised and threatened stuff to get them to sleep with him? That is the definition of sexual harassment.

People who believe that sexual morality is an important component of the social fabric should not be too quick to overlook predatory behavior in men with power toward young women who work for a living and should not be asked for sexual favors as part of their employment contract. That is true even if the charge is frequently abused, and even if some women are oversensitive to harmless sexual banter. In a society where pretty much all single women work, it is a net gain to remove sexual harassment from the workplace, by creating incentives for men to watch what they say — as they should. If Cain is guilty, then even apart from the adultery and bad judgment, it suggests a failure to believe that the rules applied to him; insufficient fear of consequences or exposure; and a not very nice attitude towards women. I personally hated those attributes in Bill Clinton, and I don’t see why they are less of a marker of something distasteful in a guy whose economic policies and personal demeanor I may like.

To be sure, if Herman Cain were the second coming of Ronald Reagan, you could make a case that it pays to overlook this stuff. We could argue that age and maturity, or rededication to Jesus Christ, or to his wife, has cured him. But he is no Reagan. Ronald Reagan had vast experience in domestic Cold War politics, had served as the governor of California, and he didn’t have to make up policies on the fly to look credible. Herman Cain is a reasonably intelligent, genuinely personable guy with significant but second-tier business experience, who is charming and has a warm persona. He stumbles on the details of domestic policy, and he hasn’t put in quite enough effort on foreign policy; and it’s troubling to see him dismiss the importance of that entire sphere when he doesn’t have an answer.

Cain lacks the grounding and depth needed to be president. If he is serious about wanting to be president, he should be running for the U.S. Senate, or for a governorship, to prepare, because if anything is clear right now, it’s that experience matters. (By the way, it’s interesting to see how widely Republicans are responding to his avuncular warmth; my teenage daughters just love him in the debates, probably because we usually get hard-to-love cold fish, or raffish jerks, as our candidates.) Yes, he’d be better than Barack Obama as president. Much better. And yes, it’s nice that he’s black and conservative, and all these white Republicans are embracing him. But if the GOP’s goal is to win, Cain is a distraction. At the end of the day, if he is the candidate, we lose — even if it turns out that he had no behavior, ever, which could be confused with sexual harassment.

So, if this is true — if, and I am hoping to learn that it is not — then it would seem that his elimination from the field would be more of a service than anything else. I might respect the rival who eliminated him more than I currently do, for showing some Machiavellian creativity. 

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