When the Race Card Trumps Sexual Harassment

Anita Hill testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past week, the dominating headline about accusations of Herman Cain’s alleged sexual harassment during the nineties as head of the National Restaurant Association will be old news. Ever since Politico, generally considered a conservative leaning political blog, broke the story last Sunday it has been at the top of the news cycle. The story continues to pick up steam particularly since Cain’s response to the story keeps changing and also since new details continue to emerge. Even more troubling is that it doesn’t seem to have affected Herman Cain’s campaign in a negative way. After a week his numbers are holding steady.

In fact the conservative media have somewhat gleefully and with a false indignation, laid down the race card. Here’s a smattering of the responses:

Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show Monday night, Ann Coulter agreed that the Cain story is a “high-tech lynching,” adding that “it’s coming from the exact same people who used to do the lynching with ropes, now they do it with a word processor.”

She continued that liberals are “too dense” to see the “many wonderful qualities” about Herman Cain, because “all they see is a conservative black man. That’s why our blacks are so much better than their blacks.”

Oh my. Not to be outdone on inflammatory rhetoric, Rush Limbaugh weighs in:

Yesterday on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Touré attacked Limbaugh (among other conservatives) for not understanding the difference between racial politics and accusations of racism.

Limbaugh’s interpretation of Touré’s critique was,

“We own it! We [the left] own who’s a racist and who isn’t. Limbaugh can’t do that.”

Even Cain himself previously stated:

“I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.”

Yet when prompted by Charles Krauthammer as to whether race played a part in the allegations against him responded ‘Yes” but in typical Cainesian fashion stated that he didn’t have any evidence of this.

Nevertheless, “based upon our speculation,” he told Krauthammer, “race is a bigger driving factor” among his critics on the left.

Of course, “high-tech lynching” harkens back to the early 1990’s during the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas when he was was accused of similar conduct while heading up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan administration. His former assistant, attorney Anita Hill, came forward with allegations of misbehaviour. Thomas stated during the Senate Judiciary hearings:

This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.

Thomas at hearings

Thomas was eventually confirmed; despite a ‘no recommendation’ from the Senate Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 52-48; the smallest margin in over a century. He was also confirmed despite a thin résumé, an expressed desire to George Bush that he had no interest in being a judge, and accusations of a lack of intellectual qualities for the job. In his twenty years on the bench he has rarely voiced an opinion and has consistently voted with an obvious conservative bent. Recently, he has refused to recuse himself from cases that have a conflict of interest with activities that his wife was pursuing with a conservative political group (she recently left that position).

Anita Hill, on the other hand, has been vindicated since then. Currently a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis, her testimony would open a whole new era of workplace awareness and harassment protocol where employees would be required to attend gender equality sensitivity training. She was initially discredited by Thomas and his supporters but public opinion eventually turned in her favour. What was bothersome about this is that her enduring alleged sexual harassment was compounded with blame-the-victim syndrome as Thomas and his supporters attempted to assassinate her character by portraying her as an opportunistic gold digger. And the phrase ‘he-said, she-said’ entered the American lexicon.

Unavoidable comparisons have been made with the Thomas hearings to the current Herman Cain debacle. I have no desire to wade into the ‘which party is more racist’ argument though I do think the conservative right uses the Cain issue as a racism deflector shield. But that’s not what concerns me most about Herman Cain. What concerns me is that; as in the Anita Hill case, Cain will get a pass on what was potentially egregious behaviour by claiming he is being subjected to a racist witch hunt. In other words, his racism card trumps the sexual harassment claim and suddenly Herman Cain becomes the victim.

Cain has so far not been able to get his story straight. First it was ‘I have no recollection’ (Reagan would be proud). Then it was ‘I recall something but don’t know the details’. Then it was an acknowledgment that the complaints were addressed. The two women who were paid a settlement agreed to a non-disclosure clause and are barred from discussing the matter. A third woman who didn’t settle has come forward and may be heard from in the future. The fact that the National Restaurant Association paid the two women not to speak of the matter is damning in and of itself. But the fact that there are multiple accusations is indicative of a disturbing pattern.

Cain’s campaign manager blamed the leak of the story to Politico on Curt Anderson, a former staffer for Cain’s unsuccessful Georgia Senate run now working for the Rick Perry campaign. Perry and Anderson have denied it. Now Chris Wilson, a former pollster for the National Restaurant Association, has come forward to say:

I was the pollster at the National Restaurant Association when Herman Cain was head of it and I was around a couple of times when this happened, and anyone who was involved with the N.R.A. at the time knew that this was going to come up.

Wilson told Oklahoma’s KTOK radio station that if Cain’s accuser decides to reveal the details of her claims, “it’ll probably be the end of his campaign:”

Unfortunately, the privacy of these women will probably be out the window and they’ll face the same kind of hostility as Anita Hill. In fact, the attorney for one of the women says she has no current plans to go public with her story. Her lawyer, Joel P. Bennett, said his client “doesn’t want to become another Anita Hill,” and will instead make her statements through him. But as one conservative pundit pointed out this morning on Chris Hayes’ show, Cain’s numbers have not fallen precisely because the accusers have no public face. Their silence has been bought and paid for.

Cain himself will no longer speak of the matter with reporters. His wife suddenly cancelled an appearance on the Fox network, presumably to avoid speaking about it. Sexual harassment is a serious matter and Cain needs to account for it. That he will not is something that should deeply trouble people who are considering his qualifications for President of the United States.

Racism in today’s society is also a serious matter. Despite Mr. Cain’s declaration, it still exists. What would be deplorable is for someone to misuse racism for political gain regardless of their skin colour. I suspect that the race card is being used here; as I suspected happened in 1991, to deflect real, actual sexual misconduct by sweeping it under the rug.

Sorry, Mr. Cain. You do not get a pass for being lecherous merely because you are black or are being portrayed as the victim of political witch hunt. We made that mistake with Justice Thomas and in a post-Obama world there just simply isn’t that much white guilt or gullibility to go around. Cain will ultimately be judged by the content of his character and his qualifications. I suspect that both will be found wanting.

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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