Friday, December 2, 2011

Troubles with Cain

We can try to separate things political, economic, and social, but in our real world they are interrelated. So, as I begin this process of measuring presidential candidates (political sphere), I start with the rules for civilization. 

Herman Cain, photo from Fox News
Specifically, the rules for civilization include having a people who believe in God as the giver of their inalienable rights; to not believe in God as the right giver is to give that honor arbitrarily to a human. So, while it’s possible to be an adequate administrator while not believing, it isn’t possible to lead a country toward civilization without believing. 

Among the behaviors belief in God requires are the basics of the 10 commandments (true whether a person belongs to a Judeo-Christian faith or something else). Among the 10 commandments is this proscription: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This brings us to the second rule for civilization: family is the basic unit of civilization. Leadership toward civilization must include preservation and nurturing of the family—from which all rules for civilization are passed from generation to generation. Without a critical mass of strong, intact families, civilization decays into savagery—always.

So, does it matter whether a politician is a sleazebag? Yes, it matters. Can such a person still love the country and make wise decisions concerning the execution of constitutional laws? Yes, it’s possible—but it’s not probable. In addition, when such a leader secretly behaves sleazily, he not only breaks a solemn oath to those closest to him, his own family; he puts himself in the position of being vulnerable to blackmail, which puts our nation at risk, possibly at critical turning points. 

If it doesn’t matter, let the politician admit openly to being a sleazebag, instead of lying to the voters. 

This opinion is at odds with an opinion piece from Fox News yesterday, by Dr. Keith Ablow, who says: 

I am simply stating a fact: The sexual histories of political candidates and elected officials have no place in politics because they can distract us from supporting those men and women with the skills to reduce the nation’s debt, create jobs and defeat our enemies.
The world is far too dangerous to exclude from public office those men and women whose sexual histories make us blush or make us sick. We shouldn’t even indulge our obvious, regrettable and seemingly insatiable hunger to peek in on them.
Like it or not a man can be unfaithful to his wife and a patriot who is faithful to his nation. A man can make horrible, unfathomable decisions about who he goes to bed with and make brilliant decisions about the economy and foreign policy. A man can break his marriage vows in sleazy motel rooms and be willing to die for his country.
The reasoning that suggests that a man who cheats on his wife can’t be trusted with the public till or legions of soldiers or nuclear weapons is naïve to the point of being foolish, and distracting to the point of endangering our national goals. 

So rest assured that I am aware I am considered naïve and foolish for thinking it is important that the prime leader of a civilization should himself be civilized. Nevertheless, I believe I am right. 

I don’t, as Ablow implies, have an insatiable hunger to peek in on the private, intimate relationships of politicians. I am comforted to see a healthy marriage and family; it gives me useful data. Its absence also gives me useful data. 

So, with this background, let me say that I do not assume all rumors are true. The first one, then two, then three accusations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain strike me as opportunistic and unlikely, considering lack of detail, lack of consistency with any other reports on Cain’s career, and the odd connections to Chicago (and its political machine, which Obama has always been part of). I don’t know enough yet about these women coming out of nowhere, suddenly now, and then the addition of this week’s accusation of a long-time affair. 

I don’t deal with lying well. I don’t understand using lying as a tactic or tool, either of attack or self-defense. So it’s hard to assume someone is lying without some kind of surrounding information. When a man has a long, distinguished career, with no apparent evidence of sexual dysfunction, it would be cruel to jump to the conclusion these accusations are true. It is also difficult to get into the heads of someone who would put herself forward with a lie, simply to destroy someone. So I don’t dismiss the women, but I do find their timing and details suspect. 

Then we get to the media narrative about Cain: he doesn’t answer the accusations well. In future posts I’ll cover some of the other media narratives and why we shouldn’t heed them. Unfortunately, this one strikes me as accurate. Here, for Cain’s use, is an example of a clear answer: “I categorically deny that I have ever behaved in a way that could be construed as sexual harassment by these women or any others. It happens in business that people in power can be a target of disgruntled employees who sue with baseless accusations. These nuisance lawsuits are occasionally settled because that is more efficient and cost-effective than litigating. While you may disagree and would have preferred there be no settlement, because settlement leaves my reputation vulnerable, I acted in a way that I thought was best for my organizations.” 

Instead, he said there may have been a settlement, but he didn’t know. And then he said we know the accusations were baseless, because when they were investigated they were found to be baseless. But—he presumably didn’t need an investigation to know that; he already knew they were baseless. What he may have meant was, “While I, of course, knew the accusations were baseless, investigations verified that.” 

Then there was the new accusation this week, about the affair. Let me speculate on how Romney would handle such an accusation. Following laughter, he would say, “That is absolutely false. Everyone who knows me knows it’s false. I carry out my life in a way that prevents even the appearance that such behavior could be part of my character. Ask anyone who has known me well during my entire life.” And thousands of people would indeed verify as to this aspect of his character. 

Cain, instead, failed to categorically deny, and said the accuser was an acquaintance, someone he had thought was a friend. He said something about his lawyers’ giving him information about what was supposed to be in the story. Then a day or two later he claimed that his (or any other candidate's) private consensual sexual life is none of the media’s business. And then it comes out that since the accusation he hasn’t talked with his wife about what really happened. Really? Not even a phonecall of reassurance? It looks bad. 

There’s still a chance this was nothing. I have a hard time believing a person of his business acumen would have the hubris to run for president—as his first elected office—when he knows his behavior has been so bad that a single true revelation would completely destroy his chances. Would such a man take that risk? If so, he’s not wise enough to be the most powerful leader of the free world. 

The sexual accusations aside, there are other stumbles that trouble me. A singular example is the way he handled an accusation of racism against Perry. Perry’s family leased hunting land for some decades. A rock near the entrance (not actually on the property, if I understand correctly, but only next to the entrance) contained an unacceptable racial epithet, as part of a place name of the adjacent property. About three decades ago (but I don’t know how long after the family began leasing the property) Perry and his father covered up the offensive word. Enough of their covering had worn away that it was possible to see part of the word and ascertain what it had been.  

The media went to Cain with the information that Perry had a bad word on his property he hadn’t promptly covered up. It was a set-up. Cain didn’t perceive it. Instead he answered that, if it was true Perry had neglected to do something about that word, he was indeed racist. Instead of doing due diligence, he gave the knee-jerk reaction the media was seeking and accused a decent, respected man with a long history of contrary evidence, of being racist. When you’re the lone black man on your side, with the idea of showing conservatism is not equivalent to racism, as the media conspires to say, then that was a serious gaffe. 

With my advantage of hindsight, I suggest Cain could easily have said, “I have a hard time believing my esteemed opponent Rick Perry is a closet racist. Let’s assume we don’t have all the information yet.” 

I didn’t write off Cain because of this error. But I did become more skeptical. My guess is that the accumulation of these errors—along with the possibility that he may be guilty of any of the sexual accusations—will end his campaign well ahead of the first primary state, maybe within a week. Overall, I think he has been a valuable addition to the political debate. I wish he had been a better man.

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