Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sex, lies, and Herman Cain

A lot is being written about the Herman Cain sexual harassment... scandal? I'm not sure what it is. Basically, as you probably know, allegations of sexual harassment recently came to light. He denied there was ever a settlement, then, oh, he started remembering again, it must have just slipped his mind after all these years, and if you believe that you're an idiot. He lied, plain and simply, and now he's trying to distinguish between settlement and agreement -- Stewart had great fun with this last night.

Some thoughts:

1) Cain is accusing the Perry campaign of being behind the leak:

This is one of the actions in America that is the reason why people don't get involved in politics," Mark Block, Cain's campaign chief of staff, said in an exclusive interview with Fox News' "Special Report." "The actions of the Perry campaign are despicable."

"Rick Perry and his campaign owe Herman Cain and his family an apology," Block added.

Sure, maybe. Maybe Perry's people did leak the story. But that's hardly the point. We all know how politics works. The point is whether Cain did what he is alleged to have done, and obviously the Cain campaign doesn't want to talk about that. Much better to try to make it a story not of sexual harassment but of political negativity.

2) Cain is claiming that it's all about racism:

Herman Cain is pretty sure that the attacks on him coming this week are racist. But he can't prove it.

It's just a sense he has. And it's a growing theme from his friends.

On Fox [Tuesday] night, Cain sat for yet another interview following the Politico story that threatens to upend his candidacy. And he seemed more than willing to stand behind his PAC, which called the sexual harassment allegations a "high-tech lynching" Tuesday.

Race has been a big part of the conservative pushback to the Cain story — yesterday, Ann Coulter summarized that response with her "our blacks are better then their blacks" line.

And then it fell to Cain to pick up the torch and accuse his opponents of racism. So he did, though he made it clear that he couldn't prove a word of what he was saying.

This is what Republicans do, claiming that the only real racism in American today is anti-white racism of the left, and certainly there are many conservatives rallying around Cain and making just this point, a core aspect of Cain's appeal (basically, he acts as a shield and allows conservatives to claim that they aren't racist). Of course, it's an utterly ridiculous claim -- and, again, one that Stewart tore apart last night. It's hardly the case that only blacks are subject to such negative politics (though, of course, this is just about revealing the facts of sexual harassment allegations, not making the allegations themselves). You need look no further than Anthony Weiner. As Jon Chait wrote:

Trying to understand the Cain phenomenon as an expression either of racism or of anti-racism is a dead end. Cain's appeal is the expression of a particular variant of white racial victimization. In this world view, color-blind conservatives are endlessly smeared as racists, while liberals are actually violating the true precepts of the civil rights movement. Obama won election largely or entirely because of his race, through explicit or implicit blackmail against whites, who either voted for him to prove they weren't racist, or shied away from attacking him for fear of being called racist. Cain's candidacy offers the promise of upending this dynamic, or even reversing it.

What's interesting, though, is not so much that Cain has his defenders on the right (Coulter, Limbaugh, Gingrich, etc.), which is what you'd expect, but that more establishmentarian Republicans are rejecting this line of anti-reasoning altogether. Take the WaPo's Jennifer Rubin, for example, who is generally tuned into and speaks for (often because she's leaked to) party-line GOP conservatism. She wrote yesterday that Cain's "racial inflammation" is "reprehensible":

Cain and his defenders, like actors in a theatrical tragedy, are falling prey to the very evil they labored against: the propensity to assign political identity by race and to invoke race to shield one from personal responsibility. Cain is in trouble because he didn’t handle a past claim that even a political novice would know would come to light.

She goes on to slam Cain on other grounds, including his embarrassingly ignorant comments about China "trying to develop nuclear capability," which of course it has had for several decades.

I suspect there are many in the GOP who agree with Rubin (and who may have encouraged Rubin to write this). But for now they're keeping quiet, letting Cain self-destruct right before our eyes. Why expend the energy trying to take him down when he's doing such a good job of it himself?

3) This story isn't going away. Not only because Cain's ridiculous response to it has only encouraged the media to delve further into it but because more evidence is coming to light. The AP is reporting that a third woman has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment while Cain was at the National Restaurant Association. And if Cain sexually harassed women at that organization, what else has he done at other times of his life? You can't tell me he only behaved badly at the NRA (not that one, this one).

4) Cain is done. He'll continue to poll well, for a time, but support for Cain is really nothing more than protest support from conservatives who don't like the other alternatives to Romney (Perry, mainly), and, as more and more about Cain comes out (these sexual harassment claims, the abject ignorance of world affairs, etc.), even most of conservatives who make up the GOP base (those who don't care about sexual harassment and who take pride in their ignorance of world affairs, etc.) will abandon him. Where they go is another matter. Perry? Maybe. (If he can get it together, which is hardly a sure thing.) It's just hard to see Cain remaining not just on top but anywhere near the top for much longer.

5) Even if Cain's campaign fails, he wins. He may not even want to win. As Chait also wrote:

The question of whether the Herman Cain sexual harassment story will hurt his presidential campaign sort of misses the point that there is no Herman Cain presidential campaign. There are certain things you do when you run for president. You try to raise a lot of money. Cain is not doing that. If you can't raise a lot of money, you campaign heavily in early primary states, trying to get some early success that can snowball into later primaries. Cain isn't doing that, either. You hire a staff of political operatives. You at least pretend to know something about world affairs. You try to attract as many people as possible to your events. Cain, by contrast, frequently charges admission.

Cain is executing a business plan. It's an excellent plan. The plan involves Cain raising his profile as a conservative personality, which he can monetize through motivational speaking, book sales, talk shows, and other media. Cain's selling point is that he's a black conservative who can capitalize on the sense of white racial victimization that has mushroomed during the Obama era.

And so the scandal won't really hurt him: "Since he is instead campaigning to boost his profile, it will help him."

Cain's time on the campaign trail, where is not actually campaigning, may be running out, but his self-aggrandizing strategy could allow him to remain a significant figure in the GOP, and in conservative media circles, for a long time to come.

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  • Herman Cain has it narrowed down now. He recently stated (wait for it) that the person who linked the info is from "the left or the right." The man is a genius!

    By Anonymous Anomaly100, at 10:52 AM  

  • To continue on Chait's tack, a presidential candidate first does oppo research -- on himself, to uncover any such politically damaging artifacts. With this, and the campaign contribution revelation, it would be hard to make the case that he was ever actually serious about running.

    By Anonymous heubler, at 8:30 AM  

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