How Cain Should Have Handled His Harassment Charges

Thursday, 10 Nov 2011 11:22 AM

By Susan Estrich

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I'm sorry, but everyone I know in politics (and many who never pay attention) can't stop talking about Herman Cain.

Bad enough (in terms of judgment) to run for president thinking no one will ever find out your company settled not one but two cases of sexual harassment. Bad enough to think you could stonewall the press on the whole thing. Bad enough to blame everyone but yourself when the stories started coming out. Bad enough not to assume that if there was one and then two, then there might be three and then four, and that you would have to find some way — like contrition — to stem the bleeding.

But to come out and call four women liars?

Forget about sexual harassment (for a minute). This is no longer solely a matter of very bad behavior, of abuse of power, of arrogance and insensitivity.

I know the nasty emails will start coming. I'm sorry. But Cain is too dumb to be president.

I have a rule of three for those fighting charges of sexual abuse. One woman may be crazy. Two women make it harder: Could they both be nuts or sluts? But once you get to three, you've got real trouble. Once you get to four, it's time for some major mea culpas.

What should Cain have done? Easy. He should have taken responsibility.

He should have stood up and said, sooner and not later, that he was sorry for the hurt he caused; that he had learned from it; that he simply didn't understand that what he might have found to be flattering or flirtatious was, to the women involved, anything but; that he preferred to settle these cases rather than fight them because he did not wish to inflict further pain, did not wish to drag these women through the mud with him; that he did not want to force them to keep working at a job where they were uncomfortable or worse.

As we used to say, he should have gone to the Betty Ford Center.

The first rule of politics is to stem the bleeding. Don't turn a one-day story into a two-day story. Don't turn a scandal into a circus.

With his press conference denying everything, claiming that he was the victim, not the women, and that he never even met No. 4, Cain ensured that this scandal will not be going away anytime soon.

He ensured that people like me would shake their heads and head for the word processor. He got himself in a fight he cannot win, one that will only go from bad to worse. Send in the clowns.

I know. Bill Clinton "did not have sex with that woman." But he was already president — not a newcomer to the political scene whom no one knew much about. She never claimed it was anything but consensual. He never paid her off. There was one of her.

No one ever was better at damage control than President Clinton. No candidate in my lifetime has been worse at it than Herman Cain.

A few simple points. If nothing happened, why did two women receive settlements? A year's salary is hardly a token payment. And when that annual salary turns out to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 and the man involved is the boss, you're talking about precisely the kind of inequality that goes to the very core of why we have laws against sexual harassment: abuse of power.

A few more simple points. I know Gloria Allred. Gloria is a friend of mine. I don't always agree with her, but she is smart and shrewd and knows her business.

She doesn't stand up there and risk her reputation without doing some checking. She doesn't hold a press conference based on nothing more than an unverified story. Mark my words. Call her client a liar, and she will come right back with the proof. Cain never met her? Watch for the chapter and verse, the corroborating witnesses, the friends she told at the time, the folks who saw her in the restaurant or talked to her within hours, long before Herman Cain was a household name.

Everyone makes mistakes, although most of us don't make the same one as often as Cain did. Was he arrogant? Was he insensitive? Was he a boor? Is the sky blue?

But the issue is no longer just sex or insensitivity or abuse of power. Honesty and judgment go to the core of character, and character is at the core of the judgments people make when they vote for president.

Cain has put his honesty and character on the line in a fight he can't win and that won't end anytime soon. And he has no one to blame but himself.




© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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