Monday, October 31, 2011

Close-reading Herman Cain

The charge that Herman Cain sexually harassed two women when he headed the National Restaurant Association may indeed be false. But the candidate’s responses merit close reading.

“I never sexually harassed anyone,” Cain insists. Consider this statement in light of an exchange from Sunday’s Face the Nation (before the scandal broke), concerning an electric border-fence:

Bob Schieffer: You also said at some point that you might want to back that fence up with a moat and fill it with alligators. Was that a joke too?

Cain: That was totally in jest, Bob. Some people are getting used to my sense of humor and as I get more attention I will tone down this sense of humor until I become president because America needs to get a sense of humor.
Thus “I never sexually harassed anyone” can easily translate to “That was totally in jest.” And of course the women involved need to get a sense of humor, &c.

Consider too Cain’s “Nothing happened.” What does this assertion deny? It might mean that no mingling of bodies took place: “We just talked. Nothing happened.” This denial too seems to deny, uh, nothing. It depends on what the meaning of nothing is.

Given this candidate’s willingness to joke (?) with the American public about electric fences and moats, I think it’s reasonable to wonder what he might say in private.

Related reading
Herman Cain claims on cash settlement raise questions (CBS News)

7:42 p.m.: There’s already more — an odd story about commenting on a woman’s height, and this exchange:
Judy Woodruff: Was there any behavior on your part that you think might have been inappropriate?

Cain: In my opinion, no. But as you would imagine, it’s in the eye of the person who thinks that maybe I crossed the line.

Cain Confident He Can Win Nomination, Says Harassment Claims Are “Baseless” (PBS NewsHour)
Next day, 8:12 a.m.: And still more:
“I believe I have a good sense for where you cross the line relative to sexual harassment but you have to know the lady, the individual.”

Herman Cain Changes Story, But Tells FOX He’s Innocent (Talking Points Memo)
[In 1998, when Bill Clinton told PBS’s Jim Lehrer that “There is not a sexual relationship,” I immediately asked (yes, out loud), “But was there?” Would things have turned out differently had Lehrer asked that question?]

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