The Campaign Spot

We Never Really Know a Public Figure

In the first Morning Jolt of November 2011 . . .

Well, Herman Cain’s Name ID Issues Are a Thing of the Past

Do you know Herman Cain?

I don’t. I doubt you do, either. Even if you know him personally, you cannot know, with absolute certainty, what happened when he interacted with the employee who lodged a sexual harassment charge against him when he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association. You may think you know. You may feel you’ve spent enough time around him to be absolutely certain that he wouldn’t be capable of boorish or hostile or abusive behavior. Certainly, the vast majority of the people who have worked with him over the years have found him charming, warm and a perfect gentleman.

Except that I’ll bet that staffers and supporters of Mark Sanford didn’t see his scandal coming, either.

Sadly, excellence or high achievement or even high character in one aspect of one’s life does not guarantee high character in other aspects of life. Duke Cunningham was the lone flying ace from the Vietnam era, and one of the earliest graduates of Top Gun school. Throughout the 1990s, there were fewer House conservatives more well-liked. And he pled guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Rudy Giuliani was a fantastic mayor and a sterling leader in a crisi. He sounds like he was, at least in the past, an extraordinarily difficult husband.

So while we may like Herman Cain, and we may find the claims a bit sketchy, we cannot know that he did nothing wrong here.

There are some fans of Herman Cain who will be very, very bothered by the above statement. They’ll insist the charges are a smear. They may very well be a smear. The Politico story relied on unnamed sources, and the descriptions of the charges are vague, and corporate America’s Danegeld philosophy towards expensive lawsuits ensures that we can determine very little from the fact that there was a cash settlement involved.

But we don’t know that nothing happened. Yesterday morning, Cane’s chief of staff Mark Black offered the absolute, no exceptions, blanket denial that there was any harassment involved — and then in the same breath pleaded complete ignorance about any settlement in a harassment claim. In short, they are absolutely familiar with the charge and can deem it baseless, except that they don’t know anything about how it was handled. Less than reassuring.

From Cain’s account, the trigger for the complaint is baffling to the point of being nonsensical:

Van Susteren asked what Cain did that led to the accusation. There were reportedly more than one accusations in the complaint, but Cain said he recalled just one incident. “She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying — and I was standing close to her — and I made a gesture saying you are the same height as my wife. And I brought my hand up to my chin saying, ‘My wife comes up to my chin.’” At that point, Cain gestured with his flattened palm near his chin. “And that was put in there [the complaint] as something that made her uncomfortable,” Cain said, “something that was in the sexual harassment charge.”

Van Susteren asked whether the woman complained at the time. “I can’t recall any comment that she made, positive or negative.”

Height comparisons? Is this some subtle form of flirtation? “You know, my wife comes up to here on me . . . if you know what I mean.” “You know what they say about tall men . . . they bump their heads a lot.”

Considering how the mainstream media ignored much more plausible reports about John Edwards for the duration of his 2008 campaign, the double standard is even more spectacularly egregious than usual. Glenn Reynolds asked: “Would Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman, Anna Palmer and Kenneth Vogel have put their names on a similar piece, with no named sources, aimed at Barack Obama? Would Politico have run it?”