A Philosopher's Blog

Cain’s Harassment Problem

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 2, 2011
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Politico recently stirred up a media frenzy by posting a story about accusation that Herman Cain engaged in “inappropriate behavior.” According to Politico, two women accused Cain of said behavior while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. While details have been somewhat lacking, it has been claimed that two women received payouts and left the association after making complaints against Cain.

Since important details are not available, it is rather difficult to assess the impact of this on Cain’s campaign. While it is tempting for people who might not like Cain or his views to run with this accusation, this would be rather unfair. After all, it is not clear what actually happened. It is also important to note that it is not uncommon for businesses to make a payment (which might or might not be considered a settlement) to avoid going through a harassment trial. This can occur even when the accusations are lacking the merit that would be required for a ruling against the business. After all, the legal expenses and the cost to the business in lost hours could easily exceed the cost of a payout. As  such, the fact that the matter was settled by a payout does not indicate that Cain actually did anything wrong.

Another point worth considering is that the 1990s were, in many ways, a high water point for what some call “political correctness” and a case could be made that it was relatively easy to bring charges of harassment against a person. This is, of course, subject to debate-but is still worth keeping in mind as a point of concern.

Naturally, though, it might be expected that a payout situation must have at least some basis. After all, if companies just handed out money for any old false accusation, they would soon be out of business. That said, what might be considered basis enough for a trial might not, in fact, be sexual harassment. After all, an accusation is very different from a conviction. Thus, even if there was a basis to the charge against Cain this basis might be something that is rather trivial (such as Cain’s claim that the charge arose from him saying that the woman was the same height as his wife and making a gesture indicating height). Then again, it might be far more serious-as this is being written, the details are still unknown.

There are various factors in Cain’s favor. The first, as he pointed out, is that he has only had one (or maybe two) accusations during his entire career in business. While people have been quick to point out that one accusation is rather bad, it is worth noting that there does not seem to be an established tendency on his part to engage in such behavior. Given that the details of the incidents are not known, it could well be the case that the accusations were lacking in merit (as he claims) and this would certainly help explain why these were the only incidents (or incident).

The second, as Cain also pointed out, is that other people have testified to his integrity and character. As it now stands, the evidence seems to favor Cain in terms of him being a decent person and not the sort that goes around sexually harassing women. This could, of course, change with new revelations.

As far as the damage this will do to his campaign, it is natural to compare Cain’s situation to that of someone like Bill Clinton. As such, while this news (or rather old news) is not something Cain would have wanted to come up at this time, it seems like something that will fade and, of course, we have had presidents that have far worse (even assuming Cain did something at all).

That said, one other point of concern is how Cain handled the damage control. While his campaign folks had been aware of the Politico story for quite some time, the matter seemed to catch Cain by surprise and he handled the matter rather badly-at least until the end of the day. He did admit, in a nice bit of honesty, that he wished he had handled the situation at the start the way he handled it in the last interview of the day.

His lack of preparation for such an incident as well as his handling of the situation does raise some questions about how well he will handle the presidency. This is not to say that we want a president who is adept at handling “scandals” but rather to say that the president should be able to handle situations effectively. If Cain is slow to master the impact of a story drawn from over decade ago, one might wonder how he will fare with something like a crisis in the Middle East or another economic downturn.  There is also the concern about how he will handle the inevitable troubles of office that will lead the press to ask about various real or alleged difficulties or misdeeds.

However, it could be argued that Cain was actually genuinely baffled by the impact of the story and the fuss being made over it. Something that happened over a decade ago and was settled with a payout, one might argue, is probably not going to really stand out in the mind of a man who has been a major businessman and who beat colon cancer. Also, if the incident is as minor as Cain claims that it is, he would no doubt not have bothered to prepared a defense or even really worried about it. That said, it might be expected that he should have still been able to handle it better. But, to Cain’s credit he got back into the ring to fight the story and seemed to show that even if he was not ready to handle such things, he is at least a fast learner. I was also impressed by the fact that he did not resort to bashing the “liberal media” as a defense, but engaged the media in its own den. This does indicate that Cain has substance and not just empty talking points.

As a final point, this could actually help Cain by motivating his supporters to his defense and it will also appeal to the folks who do think that the liberal media is out to get conservatives.

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17 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on November 2, 2011 at 7:56 am

    The Clarence Thomas case at work again. Democrats fear the shattering of their monopoly on race issues. I read an article a few weeks ago that predicted the media would begin its dirt digging on R candidates. Notice that they failed to dig the tons of stuff from Clinton’s history before he became President. Hundreds of affairs, sexual harassment, misuse of the Arkansas State Police.

    But since about 90% of journalists vote Democrat, it’s understandable. They’re just keeping America safe.

    • WTP said, on November 2, 2011 at 8:26 am

      Not to mention John Edwards. That story was right under their noses and they chose not to see it.

  2. dhammett said, on November 2, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Pundits and pseudo-pundits on both sides of the political spectrum will be scrabbling over this for weeks. You’ve pretty well covered the situation as it stands now. The independents among us will let the dust settle and see what facts (disputable or otherwise) arise before accusing or defending the man.

  3. FRE said, on November 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    We don’t know what Cain did. It could be that he did something improper, or it could be that an innocent remark was blown up out of proportion. A few women might even see it as sexual harassment if a man said, “I really like your new dress,” or, “That’s a nice coiffure you have.” And, in the 1990s, such innocent statements would have been more likely to be seen as sexual harassment than they are now.

    Relating to women is complicated by the fact that some are unduly sensitive and quick to twist a compliment or innocent remark into something sinister. That said, I definitely oppose sexual harassment, but it ought to be possible to be friendly without risking being accused of something improper.

    • WTP said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      Back in the 1990’s in Orlando, someone of significant public exposure (can’t recall who, but I think it was a city official) got in trouble for introducing a coworker as “The lovely and talented …”.

      • FRE said, on November 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm

        That’s carrying things way too far. We have to be extremely careful now days, and not only how we relate to women. Once a kid, who was trying to find a way to earn money, rang my bell and asked whether he could do some yard work for me. There was work to be done, but the situation made me so uneasy that I turned him down. What if he asked to use my bathroom then accused me of something?

        • dhammett said, on November 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

          You can always argue that he initiated everything when he “rang your bell”. 🙂 *

          * For those who might find this more offensive than ‘humorous’, no offense is intended. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.’ Oh, I do hope the needle thing occurs after I die.

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on November 2, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    After Bill Clinton, who gives a _____?

    • dhammett said, on November 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

      I do. Very much so. Collectively we’ve gone through a lot since Clinton. And as we all know from the bumper sticker “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
      As a people we’ve matured. *

      * In my opinion, this line deserves three of these: 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. marcjan said, on November 3, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Herman Cain is in play now more than he ever was before. Alleged victim and Accuser No. 3 rains on Herman Cain’s campaign parade with her accusations of sexual harassment.

    Join the conversation and leave a comment on: “Accuser No. 3 rains on Cain’s campaign parade with sexual harassment allegations,”

    MARCJAN’S BLOG LINK: http://marcjan.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/accuser-no-3-rains-on-cains-campaign-parade-with-sexual-harassment-allegations/

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      Things are looking even worse for Cain. From a practical standpoint, his initial attempt at damage control had roughly the same effect as trying to put out a little fire by spraying it with gasoline. The story, it would seem, has gotten well out of his control and stands a good chance of doing very serious damage.

      Interestingly, one of my students asked me if this was all pre-planned-that is,if the whole Republican “battle” for who gets to be the candidate is just political theater with a pre-set ending.

      • marcjan said, on November 3, 2011 at 6:32 pm


        Things look bad at the moment.

        But if Cain survives and wins in Iowa, it’s going to be off to the races in the other GOP primaries.

        The thought crossed my mind that all of it may have been pre-planned. But, if so, it’s apparent Cain may have exceeded the expectations of the planners.

  6. chamblee54 said, on November 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    It is a couple of days further along in the affair.
    To me, when the Cain campaign accused the Perry campaign of the leak, they confirmed that the allegations were true.
    It really does not matter at this point if the stories are true or false. The reaction of Cain, and his right wing hallelujah chorus, is more damning than any story of improper behavior.
    Mr.Cain gave an interview recently where he discussed his military record. I caught his lips moving.

  7. chamblee54 said, on November 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Herman Cain is a liar.

  8. chamblee54 said, on November 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Do you moderate comments? I recently posted a repeat of a comment. If these comments are moderated, and this is a duplicate, I apologize.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 5, 2011 at 11:58 am

      I’ll check the spam filter. It is usually pretty good, but sometimes snags a legit comment while letting in something about large breasts.

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