A Philosopher's Blog

Cain’s Defense

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 9, 2011
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 07:  Sharon Bialek spe...

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As it stands, Herman Cain has been accused of sexual harassment (and worse) by four women. His damage control attempts have been somewhat lacking in efficacy.

The first woman to go public was Sharon Bialek. She alleges that Cain groped her and pushed her head towards his groin, apparently using the offer of a job in an attempt to acquire sex. Cain has, as might be imagined, denied these allegations.

Cain’s main defense against this accusation has been to focus on Bialek’s financial problems. Bialek filled for bankruptcy in 1991 and 2001. From a logical standpoint, this approach does have some merit. After all, the credibility of a source depends (in part) on whether the source is an interested or disinterested party. Since Bialek could make money from such accusations, this would provide a financial motivation that could justify regarding her as an interested party and thus lower her credibility. Naturally, such accusations of interest do not directly refute her claims-to think otherwise would be to commit  an ad homimen fallacy.

Since this situation is a “he said, she said” sort of scenario, if Cain (and his people) can show that Bialek has less credibility than Cain, then it would be reasonable to accept Cain’s word over Bialek’s (all other things being equal). However, Cain faces some serious challenges here.

The first is that Bialek is only one of four women who have made accusations against Cain. The second is that settlements (or agreements) were reached involving Herman Cain and some of his accusers when he was heading up the National Restaurant Association. The third is that Bialek has said that she has no intention to seek financial benefits from this situation (for example, she did not sell her story) and this undercuts the attempt to show that she is making the accusation out of a desire for financial gain (and even if she were, the accusation could still be true).

It could be countered that while Bialek is not motivated by the hope of financial gain, she could still be an interested party on other grounds. While she has said that she is a Republican, the Republicans are currently divided into factions around the candidates. As such, it could be claimed that she is acting out of a political motivation and this lowers her credibility.

If it were shown that she had a political interest in the matter, then this would lower her credibility. Of course, it can be countered that Cain has a political motivation in deny the accusations. Also, even if she did have a political interest in the matter, her claim could still be true. After all, whether her claim is true or not depends on the facts, not on her interests or character.

While Herman Cain is being at least somewhat civil in his damage control, others are not. Rush Limbaugh, for example, has succeeded (once again) in disgusting me with his response to the situation.

When discussing the matter, Limbaugh pronounced Bialek’s name as”Buy-A-Lick” and made a licking/slurping sound. Given that Bialek alleges that Cain was trying to trade a job for oral sex, this seems rather pernicious. After all, Bialek is claiming that she was a victim of what seems to be legally sexual assault and this sort of commentary is certainly hateful and hurtful towards women who have been victims (which might include Bialek). While this is part of Rush’s persona, it is not any less reprehensible. After all, questions about credibility can be raised in a civilized and adult manner.

Oddly enough, Rush’s anger was also directed at Bialek’s thirteen year old son. According to Bialek, she asked her son whether she should tell or not and he said that she should do the right thing. Rush said “You think Obama doesn’t love hearing this? A 13-year-old tattle-tale. I mean, that is a brownshirt preview here. Exactly what big government types like.”

Rush seems to be really packing the fallacies in here. He starts by what appears to be the guilt by association fallacy by trying to link the boy to Obama.  After that, he uses a dsyphemism (possibly an ad hominem as well) by calling the boy a tattletale.  He then launches the argumentum ad hiterlum. This is an ad homimem variation is which a person is attacked by comparing that person to Hitler or a Nazi. He then finishes with a repeat of guilt by association by saying that this is what big government likes.

In addition to being what appears to be a string of fallacies, his claims seem rather bizarre. How, for example, is what the boy did (telling his mother to do the right thing) a “brownshirt preview”? Is he really saying that Obama and big government (whatever that means) are big fans of thirteen year old tattle-tales?  What could that even mean? Perhaps it is just a reflex of his to throw in Obama, Nazis and Big Government when attacking anything, whether it makes sense or not. In any case, these tactics do get him plenty of attention-thus showing, once again, that if he is crazy he is crazy like a fox.

Interestingly, if Rush thinks that the boy is a tattletale (rather than a liar) that would imply that he thinks that Bialek’s accusation has merit. After all, a tattletale is someone who tells on someone who has done something.

In any case, none of Rush’s bashing disproves Bialek’s claims. The truth (or falsity) of these claims is independent of the success or failure of Rush’s rhetoric.


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Cain’s Harassment Problem

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 2, 2011
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31:  Republican presi...

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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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