Washington – It was inevitable, from the moment the story broke of sexual harassment allegations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, that the parallels would be drawn to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In the lightning speed of modern media, it happened almost instantly. An hour after the Politico story was posted, Ann Coulter was on Fox News denouncing the report as “another high-tech lynching” by the liberal media.
“It's outrageous the way liberals treat a black conservative,” she said. “And even what the allegations are here, I mean, just shows you how the civil rights juggernaut has gone off the rails. The idea of civil rights laws to begin with ironically was to protect blacks from Democrats from the South who wouldn't protect them. Now it's, you know, white women in Scarsdale who say, ‘Oh, I didn't like that he called me honey.'”
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Rush Limbaugh followed up, denouncing the Politico report as an “unconscionable, racially stereotypical attack” that plays on the “ugliest racial stereotypes” and represented the “politics of minority conservative personal destruction.”
By the time Cain spoke Monday at the National Press Club, the candidate himself was edging into high-tech lynching territory, denouncing “this witch hunt.”
Here we go again. There is no indication whatsoever that his race — or, indeed, his political affiliation — is relevant in any way to the accusations or to Politico's careful, responsible reporting on them. If anything, I suspect that the only role Cain's race played was to influence the extraordinary amount of time — 10 days — that ensued between Politico's contacting the Cain campaign for comment and its posting of the story.
Imagine that the Politico story instead involved Mitt Romney's days at Bain Capital. Does anyone think Politico would have ignored it or treated it with any less seriousness? The ones playing racial politics here are conservatives, not the supposed liberal media.
Coulter's dismissiveness about sexual harassment is unsurprising but nonetheless disappointing. “What's being alleged here isn't even genuine harassment,” she said. “It isn't touching, it isn't groping. It's ‘Ooh, he said something and we thought it was inappropriate.'”
Well, if the Anita Hill hearings taught anything, it was that sexual harassment doesn't need to rise to the level of the uninvited grope — particularly in the workplace, and particularly when the person whose conduct is at issue is in a position of power over the employee.
Unlike the Thomas hearings, Cain's situation involves complaints that were made at the time — and by two separate women. An investigation was conducted. Cain, whose campaign had told Politico that he only “vaguely” remembered something about a complaint, now asserts that “it was concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis.”
Well, what did the women allege? Did Cain dispute their accounts entirely, as Thomas did with Hill? Or did Cain argue that his actions or words had been misconstrued? Cain contends that there was no financial settlement, but reporting by Politico and others suggests differently.
This is no high-tech lynching. It's good, old-fashioned reporting about a matter that is relevant to Cain's fitness to be president — and, yes, so were questions about Bill Clinton's conduct, before and after he was elected.
Cain can make the blanket statement that he did not engage in sexual harassment, but sooner rather than later, he is going to have to answer questions about what, exactly, took place. And I expect that, confidentiality agreements notwithstanding, before too long we'll be hearing from at least one of the women involved, if not seeing the report that Cain asserts exonerated him.