Commentary Magazine


Herman Cain and Sexual Harassment

Conservatives need to avoid the temptation to dismiss Politico’s allegations against Herman Cain as evidence of a media double standard, or liberal hypocrisy on sexual harassment, and leave it at that. Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator appears to minimize the allegations, as does Roger L. Simon of PJ Media, by repeating Clarence Thomas’s famous phrase: “high-tech lynching.”

But conservatives were infuriated by the allegations against Thomas because they were false. And though Curt Levey of Red State concludes that there is “no there there” in the Cain story — his colleague Erick Erickson characterizes the “five-figure” settlements with the women who complained about Cain as “ ‘go-away’ money” — conservatives should not be so quick to make light of the allegations.

It is also true that the left is hypocritical about sexual harassment. But even if President Clinton was impeached not for sexual harassment but for lying under oath, and even if the rumors about his sexual mistreatment of women before he became president were factual, his adulterous behavior in the White House with a young intern should have been enough in itself to drive any self-respecting man from public life. That the same leftist women who fantasized about taking Monica Lewinsky’s place will now howl for Cain’s neck is sad, predictable, and entirely irrelevant.

Sexual harassment is real, and it causes real harm. I have seen its effects firsthand: two of my students at my last teaching post were harassed by a professor — late-night suggestive phone calls, “accidental” contact with breasts and buttocks — and both wanted nothing so much as to flee the department and the university. (They were even more upset at the way the harasser’s left-wing allies circled around him to deflect the charges.) What might seem “ ‘go-away’ money” to an outsider will feel very different to someone whose career has been derailed or those who mourn the loss of her talents to an organization or profession.

Above all, conservatives need to avoid giving the impression that we do not take sexual harassment seriously. We rage about political harassment on the job, we are outraged about the discrimination against conservatives in the media, the universities, and Hollywood. We need to make it clear that we loathe harassment of any kind, and will not tolerate a man’s using his position to force an “unwanted sexual advance,” in the words of one Cain accuser, on any woman at any time for any reason. The left’s injustice toward Clarence Thomas, and its hypocrisy toward Bill Clinton, does not excuse us from demanding justice and one law for right and left in this or any case of sexual harassment.