Believing Cain

The talk of the town today is of course Politico's story detailing how two women who worked for Herman Cain at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990's accused him of sexual harassment, and were then given payouts to leave the organization (and made to sign non-disclosure agreements, of course). Although Politico relied extensively on anonymous sources for their story and obtained only some details about the alleged harassment, it does appear that they worked it pretty hard and didn't publish until they were confident about the facts they had.

There are two possibilities here when it comes to the allegations. The first is that the women's allegations are true, which would mean Herman Cain is a pig who preys on women who work for him. The second is that the allegations are false, which would mean Herman Cain is an innocent man besmirched by allegations he can't escape.

At the moment, we have no basis on which to determine which of those two is more likely to be true. When something like this comes up, until there is some real evidence (and even after), we tend to judge by how we felt about the person beforehand. Liberals who disagree with everything Cain believes are going to feel in their guts that he's probably guilty. Conservatives who like Cain are going to feel in their guts that it's a bum rap, and a true conservative like Cain would never do such a thing. There are also pre-existing ideas about sexual harassment that have nothing to do with Cain himself: liberals are more likely to think that it happens frequently when powerful men are in positions to victimize relatively powerless women, while conservatives are more likely to think that harassment claims are usually trumped up by bitter harpies looking to sabotage job-creators.

Whichever of those ideas you think has more validity, none of them tells us anything about whether Herman Cain is actually guilty of what he was accused of. And we may never know. Chances are that Cain is going to continue to refuse to answer any detailed questions about the incidents, and if the women hold to their non-disclosure agreements, they won't talk. Conservatives will no doubt convince themselves that this is all a liberal plot, and Cain can go on to lose the nomination race to Mitt Romney or Rick Perry, just as he was going to all along. He'll then get his show on Fox, and continue to be a hero to conservatives. After all, as long as you've got the right enemies, conservatives can forgive an awful lot.

And that's the strategy Cain is beginning to employ: make it a story not about sexual harassment, but about mean liberals and mean liberal media. As Cain's campaign said in a statement, "Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain." As idiotic as that sounds to you and me, it resonates with people who don't want to believe the accusations, giving them a narrative they're comfortable with. Herman Cain will never be president, but he'll probably come out of this just fine, because he has never had a target audience outside the right anyway.

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