I don’t yet know how history will remember the Herman Cain candidacy for President, but the pizza king /erstwhile GOP frontrunner has given us what I believe is a first in Presidential campaigning: the candidate went on a cable-news show yesterday evening and scooped his own accuser on a charge of a 13-year extramarital affair. Asked about the charge by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer—whose crew apparently learned of the upcoming charges in mid-interview—Cain denied the affair with a flat “no.” His lawyer, also apprised of the charges, left more wiggle room in his own statement.
This is hardly good news for Cain, although I’m not sure whether, after all the other controversies and substantive problems he’s had, it’s the sort of thing that will cause any diehard passengers still remaining on the Cain Train to disembark now.
Personally, I have a mercenary attitude toward the candidates I support for President. I’m hiring them to do a job: to implement the policies I prefer. I’d rather they were not sleazebags and hypocrites who mistreated people in their personal lives, but I’m not going to vote for a candidate whose politics I hate just to punish them for it. So if I were a Herman Cain supporter, which I’m not, this news wouldn’t change my vote. I’m a coldhearted bastard that way. (I can think of plenty of other reasons not to vote for Cain.)
Those are my priorities. But I don’t think it’s the duty of journalism to try to compel other voters to follow my priorities. That’s why, as I’ve written before, I hate the idea that it’s only fair game to report on candidates’ morals if there’s the excuse of “hypocrisy.” Who the hell am I to tell someone else that hypocrisy is a valid criterion for voting but morals, in and of themselves, are not? Another voter might not want a President—even if they support the candidate’s politics—who has shown himself untrustworthy, selfish and hurtful in his personal life. That’s their prerogative.
Just as it would have been Cain’s prerogative to simply say, “None of your business”—rather than issue a flat denial, then reiterate that the various earlier sexual harassment and assault charges against him were “baseless.” (Cain seems to believe “baseless” means “not documented on videotape.”) Then again, there may have been a weird advantage for Cain in doing so—linking an alleged consensual affair with alleged harassment and groping as if they were the same thing, i.e., “just sex.” But it also adds to the unshakable impression that the Cain Train of embarrassments is only getting longer.