Thursday, November 3, 2011

Notes on Politics: Seeing Sexual Harassment Allegations Through a Partisan Lens

Here’s my bottom line when it come to allegations that someone used his office and his power to attempt to intimidate/persuade female underlings/employees to engage in sexual conduct and/or to subject them to sexually harassing language or behavior because they’re women and you’re feeling a bit randy:

If the allegations have merit and the denials don’t hold water (because the stories/explanations vacillate all over the place or because the individual has been deemed to have evaded truth on many occasions) it doesn’t matter what party affiliation comes after their name. Party is irrelevant. I don’t care if you’re U.S. Senator Robert Packwood or President Bill Clinton or GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain. If you have indeed harassed a woman (or women) sexually in the workplace, you should be held accountable for it. If you’re a public figure, you’ve made it difficult if not impossible for the female half of your constituency to believe that you can or will respect them and their rights if you treat your female underlings/employees so shabbily.

But that’s not the approach people always take when it comes to accusations of sexual harassment involving political figures. Some people’s reactions are shaped by their partisan affiliation and they just can’t see past it. If you’re a Democrat and party is more important to you than, say, taking a stand against sexual harassment and abuse of power, you’re going to stand by your man no matter what lip service the politician and the party provide to supporting women in the workplace -- a la Bill Clinton and those groups who continued to support him in the wake of his sex scandals and his administration's trashing of Monica Lewinsky's reputation to try to discredit her. Yet these folks also wanted Sen. Packwood, who’d voted “correctly” on women’s issues, booted from the Senate because he was a Republican, and conservative Clarence Thomas' nomination not to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in light of Anita Hill's testimony.

On the flip side, conservatives who vigorously went after Clinton on issues of character after the Monica Lewinsky scandal (and the Paula Jones one and the Juanita Broaddrick one came to light) are defending GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain and calling the allegations nothing more than a sleazy smear. This sure sounds familiar.

I don’t know whether the allegations against Cain are true. I do know that the organization which he used to run handed two women who claimed he’d sexually harassed them some nice walking away money (one woman got a year’s salary, according to the New York Times). There are now rumblings about a third woman who was allegedly harassed by Cain as well.

Cain has denied the charges. (As, you might note, so did Clinton when it came to Lewinsky and as did former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards when confronted with stories that he got a campaign consultant pregnant and persuaded another staffer to pretend to be the father of the child.) Cain has said he didn’t remember what happened. He said he didn’t really recall if a “settlement” had been paid to the women.

But then we learned that he had allegedly spoken about these allegations with campaign aides in 2004 when he ran for U.S. Senate. Clearly he didn’t really “forget” and was not unaware of a “settlement.” As one political pundit suggested, Cain’s sounding awfully Clintonian. I’m just waiting for him to say it all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.

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