Last night, my colleague Rick wondered how Herman Cain’s political aspirations can survive the latest round of accusations of sexual impropriety. As I do every now and then, I’m going to disagree with my colleague and give him an answer: by the American people having a sudden attack of common sense.
First up are the initial accusations. Originally there were reports that two women had filed sexual harassment complaints against him while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association back in the 1990’s, and settled their complaints by leaving their jobs with a cash settlement. (At one point that I missed, a third case apparently emerged.) This is damning, to a lot of people. I merely note that there are two sides to every argument — and in this case, Cain apparently defended himself adequately enough that those who hired him never said “this guy’s costing us a lot of money; we should probably get rid of him.” Further, we only have one side of the story — Cain’s — because none of the accusers have stepped forward with their story. One was even released from her confidentiality agreement, but chose not to discuss the matter.
So we have a case where we only have second-hand or third-hand accounts of accusations, versus a categorical denial. Point to Cain.
Then we have yesterday’s bombshell. Ms. Beliak comes forward to discuss her own encounter with Cain: dismissed for poor performance, she approaches him for assistance in finding a new job. They meet, he is gracious, but then he makes a very crude sexual advance. She declines, he says “don’t you want a job?,” but then they part.
One aspect of her story strikes me as a bit odd. According to her, Cain simultaneously tried to slide his hand up her skirt and pushed her head towards his groin. That just sounds really, really awkward.
Another aspect that bothers me is the conduct of her attorney, Gloria Allred. For one, Allred is a rare type of lawyer — a determined liberal political hack and a major attention whore. Allred’s reputation is such that it tends to diminish the credibility of her clients. For another, Allred was trying to convince us all that this was a very serious, no joking matter — and then categorized it as Cain “offering her his stimulus package.” Not only was it a poorly-timed joke, it was a poor joke — Cain opposes stimulus packages.
But again, we have a simple matter of it being her word against his. And in the absence of any supporting evidence, it’s just not fair to blame Cain without proof.
Finally, there’s the “where there’s this much smoke, there has to be a bit of fire soemwhere.” I don’t buy that argument at all. Especially in politics, when piling on is such a common phenomenon.
Cain’s detractors are applying a variant of a phenomenon that I first heard as a quote from Josef Stalin — a quote I have used multiple times, because it has a lot of truth in it. “Sometimes, quantity has a quality all its own.” The theory seems to be that the merits of any individual accusation are less significant as long as there are a lot of them. Their weaknesses are lost in the crowd.
Sorry, I don’t buy that. Not for a moment. While the theory of strength in numbers might apply to sticks (easy to break individually, impossible to break when bundled together), that simply doesn’t apply here. There is nothing that is uniting the accusations together, and therefore no reason why we can’t test each on its own — and splinter them easily. In fact, there is every reason we should.
And yes, I know that I just ascribed aspects of Stalinism and Fascism to Cain’s accusers. (“Fascism” derives from “Fasces.”) That’s not intended to cast aspersions on them; I tend to think in political terms, and in this case they both seemed to fit. Plus, I happen to think Stalin was absolutely right in his observation in quality vs. quantity; I just wish that wisdom could be ascribed to someone a bit less monstrous.
The main strength of the accusations against Cain are in their numbers — and that is simply not a valid reason to take them seriously. To steal a line from a slightly less politically charged venue — Bloom County — “if 10,000 people do a silly thing, it is still a silly thing.”
Is Herman Cain a serial harasser? I don’t know. But I do know that there has yet to be a single case presented arguing that he is that has enough credibility to get me over my silly belief in “the presumption of innocence.”