The current front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that allegedly involves several women and at least $70,000 combined in settlements. When most politicians are caught in similar situations, they confess and apologize. Instead, presidential candidate Herman Cain has defiantly insisted that the allegations against him are either untrue or unimportant. Cain is changing the way sex scandals are viewed by the American public, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
In the recent weeks, Cain has likened the allegations of sexual impropriety during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association to a “witch hunt.” Though it is still uncertain what exactly happened between Cain and his accusers, he has been caught lying about basic factual information that is easy to disprove. He initially claimed the accusations were “totally false,” then backtracked when more substantial evidence was brought forward. He initially claimed he had “never met” one accuser but then admitted the “remote possibility” that he did know her. To compensate, the presidential hopeful and his campaign have latched onto overly hostile and derogatory tactics to undercut the allegations.
While Cain simply dismisses the claims as the irrational focus of media scrutiny, his advisers and supporters are taking a more hostile tone. His lawyer has been attacking the allegations with particular energy. He threatened women considering coming forward by saying they should “think twice” before doing so, according to The New York Times. In another intimidation tactic, his campaign distributed “Who is Sharon Bialek?” — an email that itemized instances of opportunism in one accuser’s past, according to CBS News.
Cain’s hubris is deplorable. He has laid unsubstantiated blame on everyone from the “Democratic Machine” to the media to Rick Perry to the women themselves, but he is unable to see the hypocrisy of his own accusations. Adding insult to injury, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh said last week that one accuser has a “pattern of whining” because she filed a complaint at a subsequent employer. Reporting sexual harassment in the workplace is a legal right, hardly “whining.” The acrimonious, threatening discourse broadcasted by Cain’s supporters seems conducive to a culture of silence. That culture of mute acceptance is echoed in Cain’s reaction to the scandal.
“At some point during a career like this,” he said in a long and bizarre email to supporters, “someone will complain.” The statement is a tacit admission that accusations of sexual harassment are inevitable when you have a long career, which is patently untrue. There are men with much longer careers than Cain without allegations of sexual harassment, including his main competitor, Mitt Romney. Cain’s defiant handling of the situation can be compared to Sarah Palin’s “gone rogue” strategy deviations. Cain self-professedly “refuses to play by [the] rules.”
Playing by his own rules is becoming increasingly problematic for Cain. In the past week, he has made a series of derogatory comments toward women. Most notably, he ridiculed Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking female to ever serve in Congress, by calling her “Princess Nancy” at Wednesday’s presidential debate. Even amid a scandal involving his treatment of women, his campaign only realized the derogatory nature of the remark after posting it triumphantly on Twitter.
The American people have been complicit in Cain’s rebellious treatment of the scandal. A moderator of last week’s debate received resounding jeers when she asked Cain about the allegations. And he is not just receiving vocal support. Cain has raised $2.3 million since the scandal broke, according to the Los Angeles Times. Clearly, Americans want something other than a typical Washington politician. However, our dissatisfaction with Washington should not find its outlet in the support of a candidate with a questionable ethical record.
By definition, an allegation is something that is not proven. It could turn out that Cain was right all along. However, Cain’s defiant and hostile way of handling the scandal is the real problem. The presidency is a serious undertaking, and it is unsuitable for a man with an unforgiving attitude toward sexual harassment victims and women more generally. By trivializing them, Cain threatens to alienate women, purposefully rejecting the attitude one would expect of a president with character.
Katsounas is a finance and government sophomore.