The big political news of the moment involves allegations that as president of the National Restaurant Association, Herman Cain was the subject of complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior by two separate female employees, both of whom received cash settlements and left employment from the association.
The story was broken by Politico, which reports:
In a series of comments over the past 10 days, Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints.
POLITICO has confirmed the identities of the two female restaurant association employees who complained about Cain but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names.
Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.
The latest statement came from Cain himself. In a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News — where the Republican contender had just completed an interview on “Face the Nation” — Cain evaded a series of questions about sexual harassment allegations.
Cain said he has “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.” His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
The story has several levels. On the most basic of facts — two women complained of harassment by Cain and received financial settlements — it seems solid. Cain’s supporters are nonetheless charging foul, with his campaign responding that “sadly, we’ve sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before – a prominent conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics.”
As you’ll see in this clip from Fox News, however, the Cain campaign is having a hard time bringing itself to deny that the payments were made:
Assuming the payments in question were indeed made, Politico has a journalistic obligation to report them. Such a record is absolutely relevant in assessing a candidate for president of the United States, just as it would be relevant in assessing a candidate for a corporate executive job.
Furthermore, the claim of conservative victimization doesn’t seem accurate. Democrats Bill Clinton and Gary Hart, you may recall, also had to face allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior during their presidential primary runs. Clinton survived it; Hart did not.
From there, however, things get much murkier. It is difficult to impossible to assess the validity of complaints made well over a decade ago by women who continue to remain anonymous, especially since we still have with no idea how extensive or candid an investigation was mounted at the time.
Politically, it is entirely feasible that such charges can redound to Cain’s benefit, at least temporarily, depending on how he handles them and whether additional cases emerge. His supporters are already defined by a deep alienation and distrust of both the political system and the media; such allegations could do more to inflame those resentments than to cast doubt on Cain’s fitness for high office among his followers.
It’s certainly not how Cain hoped to spend this week.
– Jay Bookman