Hike the Campaign Trail via Email!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Cain Fiasco

The amount of negative publicity that Herman Cain has received in recent weeks is astounding. Ever since he tied with Romney as the leading candidate, the media has had him square in their sights, trying their darndest to illuminate his flaws and lack of experience. They are doing a mighty fine job. Apart from the past month,Cain has spent most of his political career being ignored as a non-contender, and I think he was legitimately taken by surprise to see his name rise in the polls so quickly. Consequently, he was unprepared to be on the defensive so frequently by opponents and by a media who all of a sudden find it worth their time to attack him. The result has been Republicans blasting his tax plan because it adds another tax without removing the others (even though it lowers them), the media blasting his total lack of foreign policy experience (made worse by his not knowing that China had nukes) and apparent flip-flops on abortion. But all of this pales in comparison to the "sexual harassment" scandal he's now bogged down in. With each day that goes on, the drama surrounding this issue resembles less a political campaign and more Cosmopolitan Magazine celebrity gossip.

On Sunday, Politico unearthed a story claiming Cain had been involved in a verbal sexual harassment case with two former secretaries from the National Restaurant Association (not the other NRA!). Cain was asked if he had ever been accused of sexual harassment. Taken by surprise, he said no. When pressed with the details of the allegations (which occurred back in the 1990's),  he admitted it he had been accused but hurriedly poo-pooed it, rightfully saying that it was settled "long ago" and that he has never committed any sexual harassment. This apparent contradiction drove further interest in the story and it was unearthed that the former colleagues had each received severance pay in exchange for dropping their suits and leaving the company - 35,000 and 45,000, respectively. The elevating publicity of the story eventually caused Cain to address the details of one of the allegations: he said he told one of them that she "was about the same height as his wife" and gestured this by putting his hand up to his chin. This caused even more drama, because apparently discussing those details of the allegations violated the severance agreement reached with the two women. In response, the lawyer of one of the two women sought judicial permission for her to give a public interview saying her side of the story some time in the future.

Frustrated by the growing publicity of what honestly should be a non-issue in the campaign, Cain then went on the offensive. He blamed the "liberal media" for launching a withering, hateful attack on him because he is a black conservative, which many liberals particularly abhor. He compared the allegations to the attacks on black conservative supreme court Clarence Thomas back in the early 90's for alleged sexual assault, which many Republicans at the time called race-based. Cain then blamed a former aide to his 2004 Senatorial campaign named Curt Anderson for leaking the story to the press to sabotage his campaign; Anderson now works for Rick Perry's campaign, and Cain claims he told them about the allegations in a private conversation in 2003. Anderson has denied the conversation and says he found out when everyone else did on Sunday. The result is a massive distraction and lots of bad publicity for Cain on an issue that really has no bearing on who is best suited to be President of the United States.

On one hand, I feel bad for Cain. If what he said is all he said, then this should not be a story making headlines 15 years later. The media is liberally biased, and if he actually did have that conversation with Anderson then the timing of the release is quite a coincidence. But while the allegations themselves don't concern me and I don't think they affect whether or not he's qualified to be President, I think his campaigns response to the allegations may affect his likelihood of getting elected. His personal response to this in the moment was bumbling and uncomfortable, and his campaigns response was unprofessional and made it into a bigger issue than it really was. As the newcomer on the block, he has to prove that he is a legitimate contender in what is going to be a very long, very heated, very ugly general election. So far, he hasn't looked up to the task. I guarantee Mitt Romney would have come out of this looking much better than Cain has; he would have known exactly what to say, what level of controversy warrants what sort of a reply and what to dismiss as too baseless to deserve an answer. And by playing the race card, he has contradicted his message that race shouldn't be an issue and people should stop blaming it for their problems.

Only time will tell if this particular issue will hang around long enough to seriously impede his campaign, but unless he shores up on both foreign policy and how to work the media it might not make a difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment