Herman Cain says he doesn’t want to talk about allegations that he sexually harassed women, but that’s not quite accurate.
The Republican candidate for president is all too happy to minimize and trivialize the allegations (without providing any specifics that back up his claims). He just refuses to answer specific questions about the charges. And, even worse, what he says in the morning often contradicts what he says in the afternoon. For example, on October 31, Cain told the National Press Club, “I am unaware of any settlement” for sexual harassment. Same day, different forum: “yes, there was some sort of settlement.” Amazing. Cain speaks in generalities and still somehow manages to get the facts wrong.
Today, we learn that what was once “some sort of settlement” that (according to Cain) amounted to just two or three months salary, turns out to be two separate settlements — one for $35,000 and the other for $45,000 (according to Politico.com).
The Cain campaign has tried a trio of unconvincing responses to these allegations.
1. What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?!”
First, no one running for the highest office in the land should mistake the court of public opinion for a court of law. And even in the judicial system the burden of proof is higher or lower depending on the context. No doubt there are all sorts of spurious claims out there and a candidate can’t and shouldn’t be expected to take them all seriously. (Yes, birthers, I’m talking about you.) In Cain’s case, however, the charges he first denied entirely have turned out to be true. He was the subject of sexual harassment charges (plural). What people want to know now, and they have a right to know, is the substance of the charges.
Further, the only way to learn the truth is for Cain to ask his former boss, the National Restaurant Association, to allow the women who made the charges a chance to respond to Cain’s spin on what happened. The women, as part of their settlement, are bound by a confidentiality agreement — a gag order — that prohibits them from telling their side of the story. It seems odd that Cain, the stickler for due process, is speaking out on the subject while the women can’t. In fact, it’s quite possible that Cain has violated the settlement agreement himself by speaking about it. A confidentiality clause usually applies to both sides in a settlement — not just one.
2. A settlement is not an admission of guilt.
Technically true. But in the real world, defendants with deep pockets (such as the NRA) will not pay even a small settlement for sexual harassment unless there’s evidence of wrong-doing. If they did, said one lawyer I talked with, it would encourage others to extort money by making similarly false charges. Many companies pay more to fight a claim than the amount demanded by a charging party for this very reason. No, substantial settlements, as the NRA paid in these cases, doesn’t mean guilt. But it does mean there was enough credible evidence in the cases to make paying the best alternative — and companies do not want to pay these claims.
3. Cain is the victim of racial bias.
Cain’s PAC recently charged that the “Just like they did to Clarence Thomas, [the left-wing media] are engaging in a ‘high tech lynching’ by smearing Herman Cain’s reputation and character.” The reference of course is to charges of sexual harassment against now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his senate confirmation hearings. Conservative pundit such as Ann Coulter were quick to play the race card rather than deal with the facts of the case. But Cain beat them all to the deal: he preemptively played the race card at the beginning of the campaign, predicting that liberals would subject him to a “high-tech lynching.”
Cain’s campaign should take the advice of a different conservative: former Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration, Condeleezza Rice.
“I don’t like the race card,” Rice told CBS news recently in an interview about Cain’s response to the allegations of harassment. “I don’t like the race card when people say that people are criticizing President Obama because he’s black. I don’t like that very much either. He’s being criticized because he’s president.”
Rice had other good advice for how Cain should address the current charges.
“Let him answer them with full disclosure….and let the American people decide.”
Cain needs to stop equivocating and hair-splitting and finally answer the legitimate questions about the sexual harassment charges. Or he’ll risk having the American people decide on his character based on what he’s not saying. And that rarely works out well for a candidate.