Thursday, November 03, 2011

Does sexual harassment doom a political candidate?

This has not been a good week for Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.

Dogged since Monday by accusations of sexual harassment, Mr. Cain has struggled to find the complete (and it would appear, honest) answer as to whether he sexually harassed women while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association. His waffling has been exacerbated by his claims regarding what he knew about any payments by the NRA to his accusers.

Therein lies Mr. Cain's problem. The appearance of not telling the truth suggests he has something to hide. Or is lying.

Now, let me make something clear -- I am not advocating that a man sexually harass a woman and then admit it hoping that somehow clears him of wrongdoing. Instead, I am advocating that if any man believes he has a chance to become President of the United States, then he had better have a clear, complete and simple to understand answer to such charges.

At that point, it's up to the public to decide if the man has lost whatever chance he had to become president. (Of course, the scenario mentioned above applies to any circumstance.)

To give you a sense of Mr. Cain's ever-changing, never-complete story, consider the latest breaking news alert from Politico, which distributed the first story about allegations of sexual harassment. This alert was posted at 5:31 p.m. EDT:
POLITICO has learned new details making clear there were urgent discussions at top levels of the National Restaurant Association regarding an alleged unwanted sexual advance by Herman Cain toward a female employee.

The details put the woman's account even more sharply at odds with Cain's emphatic insistence this week that nothing inappropriate happened between the two.

The woman in question told two people directly at the time that Cain made a sexual overture to her at one of the group's events, according to the sources familiar with the incident. The accusation was also later brought to the attention of another board member as well as the restaurant association's general counsel Peter Kilgore.
If Mr. Cain on Monday had said something like what you're about to read, he might find himself in a better situation tonight:

"While I was at the National Restaurant Association, I did say some things to women that were unacceptable. Those words constituted sexual harassment, and they were wrong. I apologize to them, and I also apologize to my NRA colleagues who were put in an uncomfortable position of dealing with my mistakes. I ask the American people to also accept my apology. I will work hard to reclaim the trust I was trying so hard to build in this campaign."

Would such words have answered all questions? No. Would they have been sufficient? Perhaps. But they would have provided Mr. Cain with a firm way to address all subsequent questions: "I've admitted my mistakes. I'm saying no more."

Mr. Cain's presidential ambitions might survive the sexual harassment allegations. But, in my opinion, the waffling, finger-pointing and inadequate answers speak loudly about the man's character. Of course, so do the sexual harassment allegations.

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