It’s been such a long time since we’ve had a good, full-blown, as it were, presidential-campaign sex scandal that I feel the need to restate my position on such episodes: I never touch the stuff. Fleeting moments of human frailty, especially of the testosterone-addled kind, are inevitable and should remain private, absent extenuating circumstances (like physical assault). I’m generally opposed to the press’s setting moral standards that most of us can’t meet, especially when there is far more important business — like Herman’s Cain prohibitive lack of knowledge about almost every relevant issue — to be discussed. I also find the lascivious and self-righteous media extravaganza that attends such events to be disgraceful. The more privacy we grant politicians, the more world-class human beings will think about running for office.
Some additional thoughts:
1. Yes, sexual harassment is different from general poking around since it is a form of aggressive behavior, but it is difficult to prove (although the two women in question received cash settlements from the Restaurant Association, which means we’re probably dealing with some form of industrial-strength obnoxiousness here).
2. All this may work to Cain’s advantage. I was listening to Rush Limbaugh for a few minutes in a cab today and the immediate assumption by Limbaugh and several callers was that Cain was being set up by the liberal media. The notion of black man as sexual predator is a particularly toxic stereotype — and it may intensify the self-righteous satisfaction some Republicans are getting from supporting a conservative black man for President. As in: those liberals pretend to be pro-black, but every time a Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain comes down the pike, they throw sex at him.
(MORE: Cain’s Other Campaign Scandal)
3. Bill Clinton’s situation was different during the 1992 campaign: the relationship with Gennifer Flowers was consensual … and I think it worked to his advantage with working-class white males, who figured that dating lounge singers, dining at McDonald’s and being smart enough to be President was the coolest thing ever. (I mean, why did Clinton once mention that he had a pickup truck with AstroTurf carpeting the bed?) Clinton’s ratings began to dive a few weeks after the Flowers scandalette when his draft-avoidance letter to the Arkansas National Guard surfaced — that really hurt him with voters, at least for a while.
4. If Cain begins to lose altitude, I don’t think this story will be the cause. His equivocation on abortion is a far more serious problem for Republican primary voters. On the other hand, Republicans are sufficiently infuriated by the non-Fox press that they may be tempted to keep the pizza man afloat for a while, just to protest the media, ah, harassment.