Feature

Cain tested by sexual-harassment scandal

Will allegations of sexual harassment derail Cain's campaign?

What happenedSurprise Republican front-runner Herman Cain faced the biggest test of his presidential campaign this week when allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed two women in the 1990s. Two women who worked for Cain while he was chief executive of the National Restaurant Association between 1996 and 1999 complained about his inappropriate behavior toward them and received settlements to leave the association, according to Politico.com. Cain offered conflicting accounts about whether he remembered the specifics of the allegations and whether the women received settlements, and said there could be “legal implications” to a lawyer’s request that he release the women from confidentiality agreements they signed as a condition of receiving settlements. But Cain insisted that the original allegations were “baseless,” and that the leak to Politico was politically motivated. “There are factions that are trying to destroy me,” Cain said. “I have never sexually harassed anybody in my life.”

A third former employee told the Associated Press that she also considered filing a complaint against Cain because he invited her to the corporate apartment after telling her how attractive she was. One of the accusers who did file a complaint received severance of a year’s salary—$35,000—after alleging that Cain made suggestive comments during a work outing in which there was heavy drinking, according to The New York Times. The developing scandal rallied some conservatives to Cain’s defense, and both they and the Cain campaign likened the allegations to those against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991. This is “another high-tech lynching,” said conservative commentator Ann Coulter. It shows liberals are “terrified of strong, conservative black men.”

What the editorials saidCain “deserves the benefit of the doubt,” said the New York Post. He has been “ambushed anonymously” by 15-year-old allegations. The supposed improprieties are confusing and vague. At one point, Politico describes his purportedly offensive gestures as “not overtly sexual,’’ but “improper” in a work setting. “Whatever the hell that means.”

Until Cain stops being evasive, this scandal isn’t going away, said the Chicago Tribune. Even self-styled “unconventional candidates” don’t get to stonewall voters on matters like this, especially those running for president. These allegations speak to Cain’s character, and “character counts. A lot.” Americans are watching how he handles this threat to his candidacy, and so far, “something’s not adding up.”

What the columnists saidActually, this “profoundly underwhelming” story tells us nothing about Herman Cain, said David French in NationalReview.com. As a lawyer who has worked on sexual-harassment cases, I can tell you that “the existence of a complaint is not proof of guilt.” Neither is a settlement. Payments are given out for many different reasons—including to save money that would be spent fighting false claims. These allegations should have no impact on the respect that millions of Americans, “myself included,” have for this impressive man.

That’s ridiculous, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. The reflexive instinct of some conservatives to “circle the wagons when a conservative is accused of something bad is misguided.” First of all, it’s far more likely that this leak came from one of Cain’s Republican adversaries than from liberals, who would have waited until after he got the nomination to set off this “time bomb.” Second, Cain has handled this situation like an amateur; clearly, he “had no idea of what running for president was all about.” Republicans really ought to think hard about whether “a complete political novice is their best bet to beat President Obama.”

Cain’s presidential campaign will not be damaged, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, because “there is no Herman Cain presidential campaign.” When you run for president, you try to raise a ton of money, campaign aggressively in primary states, and “pretend to know something about world affairs.” Cain isn’t doing any of this. What he’s doing is “executing a business plan” to raise his profile as a conservative personality and make loads of money. Since he can now claim to be persecuted by the liberal media, this scandal will actually “help him.”

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