Last Saturday, Hermain Cain “suspended” his presidential candidacy amid a torrent of accusations of sexual misconduct and a long-running extramarital affair. Cain fought valiantly for weeks as a seemingly endless line of women came forth with allegations of sexual harassment and other trespasses, but when Ginger White brought to light a 14-year affair with the candidate, the tide was too strong and Cain was washed away. Herman Cain was a popular candidate — holding the lead at one time according to many polls — and his supporters are a diehard bunch. Many cried foul, saying that a candidate’s personal life shouldn’t matter, and that voters should only focus on the issues. They said Herman Cain’s past is none of our business.
But are they right? Most people seem to think not, as evidenced by Cain’s plummeting poll numbers. While it’s true that Herman Cain’s extracurricular activities don’t directly affect his ability to govern, they do speak to his character. It seems very likely that he did sexually harass and/or have affairs with at least some of these women, which shows that he’s unfaithful to his wife. And by covering it up and lying about it, he’s proved himself dishonest. Why would the American people vote for someone they know to have such glaring character faults?
Then again, one can’t deny the fact that the punishment for fooling around is hardly meted out evenly or fairly. Bill Clinton was impeached for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but didn’t lose the presidency. Neither did serial philanderer John F. Kennedy, who to this day is one of the country’s most beloved presidents. Newt Gingrich, the new Republican front-runner, has had several affairs, but that doesn’t seem to be hurting his chances at the moment. In fact, he’ll probably win the nomination.
So why is everyone ganging up on Cain? It seems that timing has a lot to do with it. Bill Clinton was a popular president already in his second term when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, so ousting him from the White House was something few people had an appetite for, especially with a strong economy. People just didn’t want to rock the boat. Kennedy was president at a time when there was an implicit understanding with the media that the president’s sexual escapades were off limits. Reporters turned a blind eye, and few people knew about the president’s affairs until long after his death. Newt Gingrich’s affairs are old news, and thus don’t have the shock value of Cain’s recently uncovered dalliances. Unfortunately for Herman Cain, there are a few characteristics to his scandals that don’t play favorably for him:
- He’s not entrenched like Clinton, so it’s easy to cast him aside. The country is not invested in Herman Cain yet, and at this point it looks like we never will be.
- These scandals just came to light, so they’re big news: such big news, in fact, that they easily trump everything else about him as a public figure.
- The allegations are numerous. News runs on a 24 hour cycle, and the public has a short memory, but not when new details and new accusations come out seemingly every week.
So should Herman Cain’s sexual life play into the country’s decision of whether or not to elect him? In my opinion, yes, for the reasons stated above. Namely, that he has proved himself a liar and a cheater, and if given the choice between someone I know to be a liar (Cain) and someone I strongly suspect of being a liar (any other politician) I’m going to go with the guy who at least has a chance of being honest. It also doesn’t help Cain that his policies are unpopular with much of the country, and that he’s made several gaffes that suggest he has a tenuous grasp on the issues. Put all of that together and it’s no wonder the guy is toast.