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Q: Can You Be A Sexual Harasser and Still Be President of the United States?

November 2, 2011, 9:56 am

I have to give you the short answer, because my internet is still in and out due to the Halloween Nor’easter:

You betcha.

For all the women who wanted to have sex with the prez pictured at left, how many do you think pushed away a groping hand? Or went along for the ride, whether they wanted to or not, at a moment in history when any man could have a job for which a more skilled and intelligent woman would not even be interviewed? At a time when one of the best political jobs most women could hope for was running Jackie’s schedule?

Of course the idea of “sexual harassment” was introduced by that same feminist movement that no longer made it absolutely necessary to exchange sex acts for participation in politics, commerce or any other kind of work.  We have even developed a new language for the many ways in which sex is used as a way of exercising power and influence in both directions. We now speak, for example, of “unwanted sexual attention.” This distinguishes it from the wanted kind of sexual attention that makes the plot line of George Clooney new politiflick, The Ides of March, so compelling.  The action turns on a moment in which, after having bopped a high-profile campaign intern, Ryan Gosling, the campaign media specialist, discovers that the candidate has not only gotten there first, he has also impregnated the little darling.  We learn, from Gosling’s horrified response, that a presidential candidate can do almost anything but he can’t “f**k an intern!”  But both wanted and unwanted intimacy can qualify, legally, as sexual harassment.  Absurdly to many of us, in the case of Monica Lewinsky, many people argued that whether this young but adult woman pursued the president or not, the structural distribution of power in the West Wing made President Clinton’s actions unethical, as well as immoral and dumb.

OK, so these women at the National Restaurant Association who worked for Cain weren’t interns:  they were underpaid staffers, and the attention that is alleged is not only said to have been unwanted, but the Herminator says he doesn’t even recall it. Today’s Grey Lady notes that:

The precise nature of the encounters between Mr. Cain and the two women remained murky. He has said over the past two days that he joked with one of the women about her height. But he has not addressed what happened with the other woman — the one said to have received the $35,000 payment. Her friends and colleagues said she had told them at the time that she was deeply uncomfortable about the situation.

One of the reasons the encounters remain murky is because, in exchange for the money, the women agreed not to speak about what happened (myself, I would have asked for more than $35,000.)  At least one of those women would like to be released from that agreement, since Cain is talking about it, and inferring that the she is a sleazy fortune hunter.

While sexual harassment may well occur equally among all groups, it is also the case that black men, powerful or not,  are disproportionately likely to be accused of it.  So briefly, let us address the race question on everyone’s mind:  are these allegations against Cain “like” the charges that Anita Hill publicly lodged against Clarence Thomas? No.  And yes.

No, in the sense that Clarence Thomas never paid anyone to go away, as far as we know. This strikes me as an important point. More importantly, lots and lots of powerful people sexually harass people who are at their disposal and sometimes genuinely seem not to know that they are doing it.  Why would we see a comparison between two Black, male conservatives (one of whom is a businessman, one of whom is not; one of whom is a politician, one of whom is not) as uniquely relevant?

In this larger sense, Cain and Thomas are the same, and both of them are “like” John Edwards. They are like any number of men who get their hands caught in the cookie jar and then try to mansplain it away as they begin to drown in the ugly truth.  People who have a documented disregard for the well-being of others, and who fail to explain to the public (much less themselves) the reasons that they have harmed people close to them, demonstrate no real empathy for how their actions have an impact on people less privileged than they.  Thus, they ought not to be in a position to make policy decisions about the fate of others.

Which would make Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain like a great many people we have, unfortunately, no internet time to tell you about.

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